Sixteen people from refugee backgrounds and migrant communities recently completed English Language Partners’ (ELP) English for Job Seekers course in Palmerston North.

The course is one of many work-related courses ELP offers to help newer Kiwis find work and then support them once they are in employment.

An earlier, in-class course had been cancelled when New Zealand went into lockdown in March 2020, but manager Jess Yap says English for Job Seekers was so popular that the centre delivered the next face-to-face course as soon as the Covid-19 traffic light system was relaxed.

Jess says the course opens avenues and opportunities for people looking to work in New Zealand. “It fits neatly with ELP’s objective of helping learners embark on their career pathway.”

English for Job Seekers is usually for people at an intermediate level with their English. However, since Covid-19, ELP has seen increasing nationwide interest from former refugees and migrants at all English levels who are keen to learn about finding work in Aotearoa.

It’s hard to get a job if you’ve never worked here and have no referees or relevant qualifications, and Jess says it can be helpful to talk to people about transferable skills. “We want them to understand they do have skills. For example, if someone’s been at home with five children, they’ll have organising and planning skills. Some, like a Nepali man who was a subsistence farmer, have horticultural skills and there are a lot of planning skills involved in gardening.”

English for Job Seekers also covers off employment issues, and rights and responsibilities. “We also discuss what goes into a CV, interview questions and the help that we can give them in the future, when they are ready to apply.

“Most people on this latest course had just started thinking about employment, rather than being active job seekers,” says Jess. However, two who completed the course immediately went on to get jobs, one as a cleaner and the other as a school community liaison officer. Almost all the other learners have kept on attending English classes, aiming to reach the intermediate level so often required by employers.

Pohan came to New Zealand in early December 2021 when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. He had worked as an interpreter for the United States Army and for a transportation company.

“English for Job Seekers helped me to understand how to build up networking skills in New Zealand. I found the talk from Volunteer Central guest speaker inspiring; they taught me how to build up work experience in New Zealand by volunteering.

“I am now a volunteer for Red Cross, helping new arrivals from refugeebackground communities to settle in our beautiful city in Palmerston North. I also volunteer for English Language Partners as a Cultural Language Assistant in their ESOL Literacy and Road Code classes. Recently, I am a volunteer grammar tutor for Manawatu Multi-Cultural Council.

“I had learned how to tailor writing my CV and covering letter targeting jobs advertised on the internet, for example SEEK platform and Trade Me website.

“Through word of mouth, I am working as a tutor for the Ministry of Education, supporting Afghani students and teachers of three primary schools in translating Dari/Farsi to English and vice-versa. I teach the students to play soccer and sport games.

“In future, I would like to run as a Mayor of Palmerston North. I like to give back to the people in this community that has welcomed me and made me feel at home.”

English Language Partners’ employment support

English Language Partners has 22 centres nationwide and teaches over 6,000 learners in Aotearoa each year.

Centres provide English support for former refugees and migrants to help people gain employment and to support them in the workplace once they have a job.

In 2021, despite Covid restrictions, 1,339 people enrolled in these programmes.

Chief Executive Rachel O’Connor says for someone who’s new to New Zealand, finding a job can be a life changing experience for the learner and their family.

“It’s a great way for people to integrate and contribute back to the community they’ve joined. It’s also really important for Aotearoa that new Kiwis have an opportunity to integrate into the workforce, because we get the benefit of their skills. It also means we get to connect, share culture and build relationships, and we’re all better off for that.”

During Covid-19, ELP saw people still interested in doing study to help them find work, in fact their learner numbers actually increased. “People had time, so they had the opportunity to upskill,” Rachel says. “Whether that was doing our ESOL Road Code or English for Job Seekers course or looking at how they could improve their English while they’re in the workplace. People took the opportunities, and we were delighted to be able to support them on their pathway.”

With low unemployment rates, employers are screaming out for employees at the moment, and Rachel says there’s a lot of people going into work who may not have had the opportunity to do some of the study they’d normally have done before going into employment.

“We want to support people to develop their work-readiness skills so they can contribute in a meaningful way in the workforce,” she says.

“If we can also help people while they’re in jobs to continue to upskill, that means they’ll have the opportunity to continue to progress, which is incredibly important.”