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Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, nearly 12 million people have been displaced, with six million of them fleeing the country entirely.

International conflict has been a cause of migration and population shifts for centuries, and although the hopes and dreams for many of these people is to eventually return to their own homes and pick up the broken pieces of their lives, for many of them, leaving Ukraine will be the start of a new life in a new country.

For businesses in the UK, the benefits of hiring refugees present an opportunity to address the growing skills gap in the market. Various studies report well over a million job vacancies at the moment in the UK, with a concerning imbalance between the lack of relevant skills available on the market, and the changing requirements of businesses. This skills gap can increase operating costs for companies, and lead to stress and burnout of existing employees who have to cover the shortfall. It can also lead to loss of business to competitors and stifles innovation. In short, the skills gap is a serious problem for UK businesses, costing the average SME £145,000 a year.

As a result, the refugee workforce presents significant opportunities to redress this balance. As well as helping to increase the overall pool of people seeking employment, they also bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise that they can no longer use in their home country.

Taking off the rose-coloured spectacles, hiring refugees can equally present a number of challenges associated with taking on often traumatised individuals. But with care, empathy, and foresight, preparations can be made to mitigate the challenges and create an empowering, welcoming working environment that will benefit the business, the refugee, and the workforce as a whole. In this article, we have highlighted some important areas to take into consideration for companies hiring refugees.

1. Revise your Corporate HR policies

Clarify the processes involved with hiring refugees, and update these in your HR policy documents so that you have a clear and precise roadmap. Many of the issues that will need to be implemented are covered below, but with regards to HR policies, they also need to be covered in areas such as diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

2. Keep up to date with changing visa requirements

Currently, there are two visa schemes for Ukrainians coming into the UK. The Family Visa scheme is for those who already have close or immediate family in the UK, and the Homes for Ukraine programme was introduced in the spring for those without family in the UK. The visa allows individuals to remain in the UK for three years and have the right to work. It is advisable to keep a close eye on visa announcements coming out of the Home Office, as they can change unexpectedly, which may affect your basic HR policies and procedures.

3. Revise your recruitment policies

Hiring refugees may require you to revise the recruitment criteria you hold for specific roles. The qualifications and experience presented by the refugees may not translate directly, and if you are not aware of the difference you may be missing out on some brilliant opportunities.

4. Build a network of external partners

As you begin to recruit refugees, their overall needs will differ greatly from employing UK nationals. By building up a network of external support resources – local council refugee associations, neighbourhood and housing organisations, translation services, counselling services, Ukrainian relief agencies – the more partners you have in your network, the more you can help and support those who come under your care and employ.

5. Get Occupational Health involved from the outset

The very nature of a refugee is an individual who is escaping a dangerous and traumatic situation. They may have lost family members. They may have had to leave loved ones behind. They may have fled the destruction of their home and lost all possessions, ending up with nothing more than the clothes they stood up in. One thing you can be sure of – every single refugee will have a story to tell, and that story may come out when you (and they) are least expecting it.

As part of your diversity and inclusion goals in the workplace, ensure that Occupational Health is on board and prepared from the very outset of refugees entering the workplace. Much of that trauma may manifest itself as anxiety, an inability to handle stress or a lack of confidence. The more you can prepare for these potential challenges in advance, the more you can help and support the refugee.

Update your Employee Assistance programme as well. There may be additional services that you can include to specifically help those who have gone through traumatic experiences.

6. Assign a ‘work buddy’

The stronger the support network surrounding the refugee as they establish their role in your workplace, the more secure and confident, and as a result, the more productive, they will be in their job. For many refugees, the challenges they face will be establishing themselves in a new role, in a new country, in a language that they may not be competent or confident in speaking. Having an empathetic, but empowering work buddy who will be there to guide and signpost, will help that individual learn and grow in confidence in a way that is non-confrontational.

7. Avoid 'positive discrimination'

Not an easy topic to highlight, but it is important that positive discrimination must be avoided if you want to encourage and build equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Ultimately, the long-term benefits of hiring refugees will far outweigh the challenges a company may face. And on a human level, it encompasses compassion and a personal approach that will be felt by the workforce as a whole.

Contact Paydata if you need help revising your HR and reward policies when hiring refugees.

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