“English means the difference between getting a job and not getting a job”

29 Jul, 2019

Alex Taylor, Employment Coordinator, Asylum Seekers Centre

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure.

“English means the difference between getting a job and not getting a job, but it also determines the types of jobs which will be available for people.” For Alex Taylor, Employment Coordinator at ASC, the importance of English is that simple.

Over the years, ASC’s Employment team has observed that people with low levels of English have worse employment outcomes and are more vulnerable to various forms of workplace exploitation.

In the past two years, our Federal Government has progressively cut financial allowances for people seeking asylum. These cuts do not take into account people’s level of command of English. People with almost no command of English are still deemed work ready and therefore cannot access Government support.

According to Helene Do, Employment Service Manager at ASC, these cuts do harm people and are also very counterproductive. “Many people work really hard to learn English. Having income support used to enable people to focus on improving their English while looking for employment. Typically people would attend classes in the morning with our English teachers, then attend night-classes at TAFE while looking for work in the day.”

Without this basic financial support, people cannot afford not to work while they study. While a good command of English could have led them to a qualified position in their field of expertise, they now need to take the first job they are offered. This can leave people in vulnerable and precarious situations, sometimes having to take on labouring work when their skillset might be more in accounting or administration.

Great expectations

When Mariam* was referred to ASC’s Employment Service almost a year ago, she didn’t speak English at all. She needed to call her daughter, Nadia, to translate every conversation. She did speak a bit of French, but had never been fully fluent or literate in any language.

Mariam had young dependents overseas, which meant there was a lot of financial pressure on her shoulders. In spite of this constant pressure, she worked relentlessly on her English for months. Through ASC’s English classes, and additional one-on-one coaching, she learned numbers and how to write.

Miriam is now able to have a flowing conversation in English and has secured part-time kitchen work with a catering business. Her confidence has also grown and she no longer reaches for the phone to call her daughter to translate for her. Watching Mariam’s dedication and drive, in spite of the uncertainty of her situation and the financial pressure she has been under, has been humbling for all at ASC.

*Name changed for privacy and safety reasons

Did you know?
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