A solution to the skills shortage is closer to home than you think 

Jarrod Brown
By Jarrod Brown
5 Min Read

New research has uncovered 620,000 hidden migrant workers settled on Aussie soil are stuck working outside of the industries that need them most. 

This study, commissioned by non-profit SSI, found that unlocking this hidden workforce could pump a whopping $70 billion into the economy over the next ten years – if permanent migrants worked in jobs that matched their skills at the same rate as Australian-born workers. 

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said Australia’s migration program might have attracted international talent, but poor policies and red tape have failed to harness the potential of overseas workers.  

“For years, we’ve known that the underutilisation of skills and qualifications was an issue for our migrant and refugee workforce, but for the first time, we can now quantify just what we as a country are missing out on,” she said. 

According to researchers, the move would add 51,000 full-time jobs, increase wages for migrant and non-migrant workers alike, and increase productivity at the industry level, with construction, manufacturing, trade and financial service seeing the largest bump.

State by state, the largest benefits would flow to New South Wales (increasing the state economy by $2.5bn and 12,357 jobs), Victoria ($2.2bn and 12,351 jobs), Queensland ($1.8bn and 9,706 jobs) and Western Australia ($1bn and 4,148 jobs).

Migrant workers are currently earning $3.9 billion less than they would if they worked at their skill level at the same rate as Australian-born workers.

Business NSW CEO Daniel Hunter said that businesses crying out for workers need to broaden their search.

“There is a double whammy effect from employing skilled refugees and migrants. Not only does it help people reach their potential, but it also helps ease skills shortages and increases participation in the economy,” he said.

“It is time for businesses, government, and community leaders to come together and ensure that every individual has the opportunity to thrive and contribute to NSW’s and Australia’s prosperity. 

“The future of Australia depends on our ability to unlock and harness the potential of all our people.” 

“Lack of Australian work experience”

Since arriving in Australia in 2023, Syrian refugee and Electrical Engineer Alaa Daher has been rejected by over 70 jobs that more than fit his qualifications. 

Despite developing his English language skills, obtaining his driver’s license, jumping through administrative hoops to have his degree recognised and a crippling engineer shortage looming over the sector, he says his “lack of Australian work experience” has forced him to work outside his field as a banking assistant to support himself. 

With countless engineers like Alaa sidelined by the industry, former Professionals Australia CEO Jill McCabe said alarm bells should be ringing. 

“A shortfall of 200,000 engineers by 2040 threatens Australia’s capacity to deliver major infrastructure projects, large-scale transformation of the energy sector and intensified technological innovation across the economy,” said McCabe. 

“Without targeted policy interventions at the federal and state levels, the shortage in engineering skills will significantly undermine Australia’s future productivity and economic growth.

According to SSI’s research, unlocking more opportunities for migrant and refugee workers would be possible by simply streamlining overseas qualification recognition, ensuring all migrants have access to language training in employment contexts, combating racial discrimination, and more. 

“This would deliver a significant economic benefit, but the real win is to individuals – dismantling barriers excluding migrants and refugees would ensure these workers have equal opportunity to realise their full potential,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

Business Western Sydney Executive Director David Borger said he has seen for himself the potential of migrant workers coming together in his own suburb. 

“Western Sydney is a vibrant, diverse community, home to many new Australians who possess a wealth of skills and talents that are often underutilised,” he said.

“Despite their qualifications and experience, too many migrants and refugees find themselves in jobs that do not match their skills or aspirations.

“This is a significant loss, not only for the individuals but for our economy and communities. We must do better in recognising and harnessing their capabilities.” 

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.