Many migrants arrive in New Zealand full of optimism about finding fulfilling work using their skill sets. Unfortunately, this doesn't always pan out when they come up against the challenges of language barriers, visa difficulties and cultural misunderstandings.
Malkiat Singh, originally from India, helps new migrants form career plans and find jobs. He founded his migrant mentoring company, Carmento, in 2009 after chatting with the migrants he met on his daily walk to work in Auckland city.
His suggestions on career choices and job opportunities expanded into a social media group and eventually into Carmento, named after two of the company's core values — care and mentoring. The company was created as a side passion with a social purpose, helping migrants in an ad hoc manner without charging a fee for their job search and placements. The business activities are primarily funded from immigration advice and visa services fees.
In 2014, Singh completed an Immigration Law qualification and became licensed.
"Suddenly a lot of migrants found me on the IAA (Immigration Advisers Authority) website and approached me for immigration assistance. I took a leap of faith and left my high-paying and otherwise satisfying job as an IT project manager and started working full time for Carmento."
Earlier this year, Singh saw a need for a two-way platform between employers and migrant jobseekers, so a free service was launched — migrantjobs.co.nz. New employers are approached each month and provided with information, legal advice and guidance on hiring migrants. Migrantjobs also conducts free meet-up events to help migrants with more personal set-ups.
Migrant visas fall into two categories — temporary and residence. One of the most common and popular is the Skilled Migrant Residence, says Singh. "This allows migrants to gain residence if they have a minimum of 160 points for education, age, previous skilled work experience and having secured a skilled job in New Zealand."
Singh first met former business management student Aman Johal at the Ara Institute.
"Later, I met Aman every week while grocery shopping at Pak'nSave where he worked as a grocery filler and I'd help him plan his next steps for finding a job matching his skill set. He now works in his dream job at Enatel and became a resident while still on his job-search visa. Harry Chumber was also a management student, but we helped him make a career plan as a plasterer. He followed our advice, completed his apprenticeship and eventually became a resident. He's now an employer himself and owns a plastering company and a small cafe."
A more structured, one-on-one mentoring programme, Carmento Job Placement Programme, has recently been launched. It aims to give migrants the confidence to avoid being exploited by unscrupulous employers and help them build a portfolio of New Zealand work experience by working on community and charity projects. Their journey is documented in a video diary, which Singh hopes will inspire more migrants to follow the same steps.
Carmento is open to all nationalities and currently has clients from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, The Philippines and Malaysia. "Our team can all speak at least three languages each. Being able to speak to a client in their native language enables them to open up and share their fears and insecurities, and then we're more able to assist them by making a plan focused on their individual needs."
However, if a migrant doesn't have a good grasp of English it can be a big barrier to finding a job, says Singh. "From an employer's viewpoint, a migrant needs to have good enough English to be able to perform the tasks of the job efficiently, without causing misunderstandings or business-critical errors. We often refer these clients to English language training providers and we have a list of private English tutors who can provide one-on-one training."
Carmento's diverse team demographic means they can form plans for clients based on their relevant skills background. "For engineering, IT and management roles, I act as chief mentor," says Singh.
"We have team members experienced in teaching and nursing and, as needed, I connect with industry professionals with relevant expertise in the client's chosen career."
Singh says there are real and perceived difficulties that can make employers reluctant to employ migrants.
"The biggest deterrent for employers is dealing with Immigration New Zealand. Often they're put off by having to follow specific processes and do additional paperwork. Employers can also doubt whether a migrant's overseas qualifications and work experience are genuine. They're more likely to employ a migrant who already has New Zealand experience as they see them as a safer bet."
Singh says the Kiwi way of doing things can come as a culture shock to new migrants. "They may come from countries where manipulation or lying in CVs is normal. We educate migrants about being upfront and honest when applying for jobs and advise them that in New Zealand, open communication is imperative for good, healthy relationships between employers and employees."
Singh is now planning to launch a special cultural briefing for employers hiring migrants. The briefing will cover cultural norms such as the concept of saving face, and understanding the impact of power difference and authority.
"The migrant saying, 'yes, I understand' may not actually mean they have understood. They may just be acting polite or actually meaning, 'yes, I hear what you are saying'." Also covered will be religious and cultural values, and the vulnerability of migrants in submitting to inhumane working conditions in order to obtain a visa. "We want to show how simple actions of understanding can help build trust, respect and high-performing teams. We've seen that if cultural norms are understood, working with migrants becomes so much easier."
Singh believes migrants add richness to an organisation by 'bringing the world to New Zealand'.
"New Zealand attracts many highly-talented and hardworking migrants, who add colour and spice. They bring a diverse range of experiences, cultural understanding, language skills and technical skills to help grow New Zealand's economy, and are indispensable in helping us reach new export markets."