SKILLS4You: The Path to a Better Life for Migrant Women
Photo: Noura (far right) with her fellow students from the Individual Support class.
When Noura attended her first Australian job interview, she kept reminding herself of the training she had received in the CareerPathways Program* she had completed at Macquarie Community College in 2017. A program that provided a bridge for women looking for careers in the care sector but found themselves held back due to barriers such as limited English language skills.
SKILLS4You, a new program launched this month by Macquarie Community College, now offers a similar program for migrant women wanting to work in caring careers (aged care, disability care and childcare).
Dealing with Cultural Confusion
“Look into the interviewer’s eyes, sit up straight, speak confidently about what you do,” her trainer had told Noura.
She remembered back to when she had newly arrived in Australia from Sudan. A doctor had asked her why she kept turning her face away. “Have I done something to upset you?” the female doctor had asked.
Noura was embarrassed. The opposite was true! In her Sudanese culture, it was a sign of respect to avoid looking a person of authority directly in the eye.
Cultural confusion is one of many challenges faced by migrants seeking work, health care, and education in Australia. What is polite and what is disrespectful? Are there differences in language use when it comes to talking to someone at the shops, writing a resume, and talking to a potential employer in a job interview? The Refugee Council of Australia says that there is a strong correlation between poor levels of English, and lower employment and income—with many employers not even recognising overseas qualifications or work experience.
Noura had been proactive about learning English when she first arrived in Australia in 2008.
“I took free English classes for two or three months.” But while the government program offering 500 hours of free English tuition for refugees sounds like a lot to those who already speak English, it’s not enough for an adult with adult responsibilities if they have no experience speaking, reading, or writing English. Added to this, she lacked the confidence to approach English speakers. She thought, who would want to stop what they are doing and help her practise English, especially with her strong accent and limited vocabulary?
Noura was disadvantaged in other ways as well. Although she had completed her first year of nursing at a university in Khartoum before she married a Sudanese-born Australian migrant at 19, she never finished. Instead, she moved with her husband to Australia and had children without the support of friends and family.
Then, during a visit back to Sudan, her husband walked out on Noura and the children. With no career qualifications, no husband, and three small children to support, Noura was at a severe disadvantage. While she could live with her Sudanese family in the short term, what was she going to do in the long term?
Noura decided to move back to Australia. It would give her and the children the best chance of surviving—and even flourishing. A difficult decision, she left the children temporarily with family in Sudan while she prepared a life for them here.
The Path to Empowerment and Employment
After a false start in an earlier Aged Care course, in 2017 Noura finally found that the CareerPathways Program provided the foundational skills she needed to prepare her for work or further study in Australia. This program, delivered by Macquarie Community College, gave her the traction she needed to establish her independence in Australia.
Noura quickly followed up the English and study skills course with a CHC33015 Certificate III in Individual Support, specialising in Aged and Disability Care and then a CHC43115 Certificate IV in Disability along with many of the same women in the program who had, by now, become close friends and supporters for each other.
“I began work before I even finished my course,” says Noura. Work placement, a crucial component of the course, not only gave her necessary work experience with aged care providers but also the opportunity to prove her worth. Quickly convinced of her value, she was offered employment and her ability to understand both English and Arabic was seen as an advantage.
Noura is now in high demand as a care worker, with several employers offering her work.
Brand New SKILLS4You Program for Migrant Women
The brand new SKILLS4You program provides a holistic environment in which to improve employment readiness, capability, and work experience for migrant women.
It provides wrap-around support services combined with formal training in English language, (including language specific to working in caring careers), job readiness and formal qualification training.
It assesses the individual’s level of employment readiness for the Australian workforce, sets employment-related goals, and provides an individualised training plan to achieve a successful outcome.
The launch of the new SKILLS4You program comes at a crucial time, with critical labour shortages across the Aged Care, Disability Care, and Child Care sectors.
Macquarie Community College is under contract with the NSW State Government as a Smart and Skilled and Adult Community Education (ACE) provider. This means that the program is fee-free for eligible students. The College was also recently recognised by the NSW Department of Education as a High Performing Provider for Smart & Skilled.
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*The CareerPathways Program was run by the Department of Family and Community Services in partnership with the Department of Industry and Training, for which Macquarie Community College was a training partner.