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Aug162012at5:01AM UpdatedAug162012at6:56AM Please login to save articles SaveArticle Print LicenseArticle

Foreign, qualied but jobless

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TrainerAnitaLambNichollssaysmanyemployerswontreturnhercalls.GlennHunt

Five years ago, Tatiana Sanchez was a cleaner in Brisbane. On her


last cleaning shift downtown at Mineral House, an ofce tower
that houses a number of state government departments, the 24-
year-old Colombian left a note on the desk of a mining engineer
who frequently worked late and to whom she had started
byMichaelBleby
chatting.

Hello, I am the cleaner lady, sorry to bother you but I need help," she wrote. I am a
civil engineer, I am looking for a job as an engineer. Here is my resume, if you can help
me send me an email."

He sent her resume to a colleague at Queensland Rail. That colleague advised her to
get her qualications assessed by industry body Engineers Australia . She did. Three
months later, in early 2008, QR sponsored Sanchez for a working visa and offered her
a job. Now 30 and a naturalised Australian, Sanchez is an acting team leader of a
division that looks after infrastructure maintenance of trains for the southeastern
Queensland region.

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Sanchezs tale of chutzpah and success stands out. But she was also lucky. For every
Sanchez, there are many other overseas-qualied engineers who cannot nd work, in
stark contrast to the headlines that scream about the countrys skills shortage. ExpressionsofInterest

Greater use of these skilled workers could reduce costs for employers and lessen the
need to go overseas, as happened with the much-criticised decision to allow Hancock
Prospecting to import 1700 skilled and semi-skilled workers to develop its Roy Hill
iron ore project in Western Austrtalia. In the year to June 30, the 68,310 scarce-skill
457 visas granted represented a 42.1 per cent increase on the number granted the ForSale

previous year. 35aCitrusAvenueHORNSBYNSW


Development/Land 1,729m

The problem is acute even in Brisbane, on the doorstep of the resources boom. Arshia
Amirghasemi is a 30-year-old Iranian who arrived with his wife in Brisbane in July
2009.
ExpressionsofInterest
He graduated in 2005 as an electrical engineer and had several years experience
specialising in instrument controls for the downstream petrochemical industry.
Straight after arriving, he enrolled in a Masters in project management at Queensland
University. Since graduating in December, he has applied for about 100 jobs. Despite
graduating top of his class, he has not had any success.
ForSale

His situation is not unique, he says. 42StuartDriveIDALIAQLD


Retail 3,483m
I have lots of friends who because they couldnt nd jobs, started studying," he says.
They are now all doing their PhDs. They might have had 10 years work experience in
Iran or Dubai but they are still not very successful here. They couldnt secure a
position in any organisation for themselves." Related articles

Amirghasemi is not alone. In fact, he is one of a crowd of more than 100 who turns up MUA bids to represent Toll workers
to a monthly support group for unemployed foreign engineers in Brisbane, where
Aurizon wins Fair Work backing on
they share stories and hear advice from recruiters and people in the industry about new staff contracts
how to nd work.
Costa Group to pursue $800m IPO in
The groups Iraq-born founder, Haider Yousif , says the meetings, which require 2015
attendees to register in advance, are always booked out.
Rio Tintos Phil Edmands says activist
delays can thwart projects
Its difcult to nd a job in Australia as an engineer," says Yousif, who arrived 20 years
ago and now works for US-based rm KBR. Everywhere these guys go, they are told, DP World resumes wage talks with
Ah, youre lacking Australian experience. We understand some companies ask for MUA
Australian standards, which is possible to be overcome by study or by attending a
course, but the work itself?"

Admittedly, the market for engineers has come off the boil from several years ago,
when even a state-owned department such as QR was willing to sponsor a foreigner
like Sanchez for a visa. Now some mining projects in Queensland are closing. Yet
engineers from overseas are still being sponsored almost one-quarter of last years
scarce-skill visas went to UK citizens leaving open the possibility that race prevents
some engineers already here from nding work.

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Anita Lamb-Nicholls runs a course at the Brisbane North Institute of TAFE teaching
workplace English and culture to prepare foreign engineers for work. She spends a lot
of time ringing prospective employers for her students but gets little response.

Some of them have up to 20 years experience," she says. I spend my whole life
ringing companies and talking to answering machines. They wont return my phone
calls, wont return the engineers phone calls. If I can get someone to listen, I can often
sell [the candidate] but often companies wont take the time to even consider it or take
the phone call."

I may not be a racial thing after all, the second-largest group of 457 visa recipients was
Indian. Yousif also says the poor response is not necessarily racist. It may, when you
see a strange name, raise concerns about difculties in the English language or
communications, which is important to the workplace but that is easy to overcome by
a phone call or an interview in which you nd out about the person."

But some are not even willing to do that, a Brisbane-based recruiter who specialises in
civil engineers, Heather Macindoe , says.

If I changed the name to Michael Smith, theyd get interviews at least," she says.

Macindoe gives the example of a meeting she had with an employer in July. She took
along a clutch of CVs. One of her candidates resumes had already been forwarded to
the employer who told Macindoe when she sat down with him that hed already
dismissed that one with an Indian name as a possibility.

I dont think it would be a good cultural t with that fellow," she recalls him saying.

Thats very interesting," she responded. I can tell you that fellow has got very good
experience. Even more importantly, that fellow was a woman."

There may be a reluctance on the part of some employers based on past experiences,
says Engineers Australias career development centre manager Jennifer ODonovan .

I think it comes down to some employers having possibly been burned by overseas
qualied engineers in the past," she says. Whether their qualications havent been
vetted properly, or theyve taken some liberty with the type of experience theyve
had."

ODonovan also says that even locally trained graduates struggle to get a response. I
speak to graduates from UNSW for example," she says. They say if they send out 20-
50 applications, theyre lucky if they only hear back from two or three. I would call it
bad manners. It seems to be the norm."

But the behaviour here doesnt just stop with graduates. It is blocking experienced
engineers.

Reza Mohammadian is 42. He arrived in Australia in August last year after spending
10 years working on oil and gas projects in Iran. He has permanent residency and his

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qualications give him standing as a professional chemical engineer in Australia. He


says he has applied for 150 jobs since coming here, to no avail.

When I applied for such positions, I got feedback saying: You dont have any local
experience," Brisbane-based Mohammadian says. I was a senior project engineer. I
tried to apply for a junior engineer position and they said I was too qualied. It was a
paradox."

Those trying to resolve the situation, such as BNITs Lamb-Nicholls, feel a sense of
despair.

Theres certainly an element of frustration for us," she says. These are people who
will work incredibly hard, move to the most remote part of Australia if need be and
companies still arent picking them up."

The engineers feel it, too. I dont know what is expected from us here," Amirghasemi
says.

BRW

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