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You are reading: Career Guidance for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Migrants and/or Refugees

Alexander Newman1, Sally Baker 2, Clemence Due 3, Karen Dunwoodie 1

Executive summary

Although growing numbers of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Migrants and Refugees (CALDM/R) are entering higher education, the sector has limited knowledge of how they are supported to transition out of higher education and seek employment after they graduate. This is likely the result of CALDM/R students’ invisibility in the current formal Australian Government categories used to direct equity policy, funding and practice (which include students from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, Indigenous students and students who live in rural and remote Australia). For example, although some CALDM/R students may reside in low SES areas and/or regional/remote areas, the specific needs of this cohort are not recognised within these broad categories, while other CALDM/R students may not fall within any of the current equity categories at all. The focus on these current equity categories means that institutions are not mandated to respond to the nuanced needs of other specific groups, which is particularly problematic for CALDM/R because of their relatively poorer employment outcomes.

The project

To identify gaps in the provision of career guidance for CALDM/R students and to ascertain how such guidance could be improved, this project adopted a mixed-methods design, comprising three stages:

  1. A desktop audit of publicly available information about career guidance on Australian university websites.
  2. A national survey of 32 career practitioners from 20 higher education institutions, and individual interviews with career practitioners who had signalled interest in exploring the survey themes in greater detail.
  3. Data collection via three focus group interviews with seven currently enrolled domestic CALDM/R university students.

To address a limited understanding of the role played by career guidance in supporting CALDM/R students to transition into higher education and obtain employment when they graduate, the present study addressed four research questions:

  1. How effective is the career guidance provided to CALDM/R students in terms of assisting their transition out of higher education studies (and into employment?)
  2. What specialised career guidance, if any, is provided to CALDM/R students during their higher education studies?
  3. What works well and what is missing from the career guidance provided by universities to CALDM/R?
  4. What would ‘best practice’ career guidance look like for CALDM/R students?

Key findings

The findings of this first Australia-wide study into the provision of career guidance to CALDM/R students revealed that few universities offer career programs and services tailored to the needs of CALDM/R students. Instead, most institutions offer generic career and employment guidance for all students, with some providing specific support for international students, which CALDM/R students were able to access on the same basis as other students.

This was also true for work-integrated learning (WIL), with very few universities providing specific WIL opportunities, such as internships for CALDM/R students. Participants indicated that CALDM/R students were given the same access to such opportunities as other students—especially when these were embedded within courses.

In line with the lack of dedicated career guidance and programs, staff within the universities identified a number of challenges they faced in supporting the career development of CALDM/R students. These included a lack of targeted resources and programs for CALDM/R students, with staff highlighting that their careers units did not have sufficient staff and financial resources to develop programs specifically targeted at different equity cohorts, including CALDM/R students. Universities tended to offer more general support to all students irrespective of their background, with some offering dedicated programs for international students. Staff also cited difficulties identifying and engaging with CALDM/R students in the first place, suggesting that careers services at many institutions do not collaborate with equity and diversity units to develop targeted careers and employment support to meet the needs of different equity groups. Finally, staff also acknowledged the difficulties faced by CALDM/R students in engaging with employers, suggesting that the perceived level of English language proficiency among CALDM/R students and their lack of permanent residency or ongoing work rights because of their visa status, contributed to an unwillingness on the part of employers to consider candidates from a CALDM/R background.

Correspondingly, both staff and student participants stressed the need to improve current service provision of career guidance to CALDM/R students. One important issue identified was that many institutions placed a significant proportion of their funding and resources into supporting pathways for CALDM/R students to access higher education rather than supporting them to transition out of higher education. The lack of resources dedicated to supporting CALDM/R students’ transition out of higher education constrained the ability of careers practitioners and WIL staff to interact with CALDM/R students.

In summary, it was found that although most institutions offer career guidance to students, they rarely provide targeted career guidance to CALDM/R students, instead offering generic programs to all students and programs that target international students. Based on these findings, we highlight the importance of providing targeted career guidance that meets the needs of this student cohort, to support them to transition out of higher education. This is extremely important given the increasingly complex, ever-changing world of work in which careers are no longer linear, and individuals need to adapt to a dynamic job market.

This study also invited participants to provide suggestions for improvement to careers programs for CALDM/R students at their university.


Recommendations for policymakers (federal and state governments):

  • Increase funding: Federal and state governments should consider providing universities with dedicated funding to offer targeted career guidance for CALDM/R students, scaffolded for various stages of career guidance, including guidance on accessing internships and WIL opportunities.
  • The Australian Government should recognise refugees as an equity subgroup and provide dedicated funding for career guidance.
  • The Australian government may also consider directing some funding from the National Career Institute Partnership Grants to support initiatives aimed at supporting CALDM/R graduates to obtain employment that is commensurate with their university studies.
  • State governments may also consider funding dedicated programs aimed at supporting CALDM/R graduates to obtain employment within their state.
  • Provide training for employers: Governments at the state and federal level should consider providing training to employers on the benefits of hiring people from a CALDM/R background as part of a dedicated employment strategy.

Recommendations for peak bodies

  • Provide training: Peak bodies such as the National Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (NAGCAS) and the Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA), and to a lesser extent the Australian Association of Graduate Employment (AAGE), arguably have a role in terms of advocating, if not actually offering, CALDM/R-specific training to career practitioners as part of ongoing professional development.
  • Develop subgroups or special interest groups: Peak bodies should consider establishing equity-focused subcommittees or special interest groups to continuously monitor and support universities in relation to employment for CALDM/R graduates, including remaining up to date with relevant research.
  • Active collaboration with other networks: Peak bodies should work more closely with other related sector-wide peak bodies, such as the Equity Practitioners of Higher Education Australasia (EPHEA) and the Refugee Education Special Interest Group (RESIG) and the Australia and New Zealand Student Services Association (ANZSSA).
  • Advocate for more resources and increased policy attention.

Recommendations for higher education institutions

  • Develop dedicated career guidance programs for CALDM/R students that meet the specific needs of such students and are developed from the existing evidence-base and in consultation with student bodies.
  • Provide training for staff: Provide dedicated training for career guidance practitioners and academics that highlights the barriers faced by CALDM/R students in obtaining employment and how their needs may be better catered for through individualised career guidance.
  • Embed career guidance in the curriculum: For example, introduce compulsory work-integrated learning units into courses and scaffold career guidance into the curriculum. This will be beneficial to CALDM/R students who often have competing demands on their time and find it difficult to engage in extra-curricular programs.
  • Build partnerships with employers: Higher education providers should work closely with large employers to provide dedicated pathways for CALDM/R students to obtain work experience during their studies and hence improve the employability of this cohort.

Recommendations for CALDM/R students

  • Act proactively: Students from a CALDM/R background should be proactive in seeking support from careers and work-integrated learning units in their institution.
  • Build student groups and societies: Students from CALDM/R backgrounds should consider building their own student groups/societies (where these do not exist) to advocate for their needs and interests and, where such groups already exist, approaching broader student unions and other bodies for representation on higher-level university committees.
  • Seek out external opportunities: Students from CALDM/R backgrounds should seek out not-for-profit, social enterprise and industry-based internship programs, relevant volunteering opportunities or careers development initiatives such as Career Seekers internships, Crescent Foundation graduate careers clinics, Deakin CREATE refugee careers clinics or the Brotherhood of St. Laurence Given the Chance Program.

Read the full report: Career Guidance for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Migrants and/or Refugees.

This research was conducted under the NCSEHE Research Grants Program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

1Deakin University
2University of New South Wales
3University of Adelaide

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