The Field Guide ARTICLE MARCH 2023
Business Connect Program | Connecting Careers & Community

Within Toowoomba’s growing migrant and refugee population is a dynamic pool of skills eager to be discovered and utilised. But whether it’s language barriers, cultural differences, adapting to new environments or difficulty transferring the skills and qualifications they acquired in their home country, migrants may face a number of
challenges when seeking employment in Australia.

business connect program connecting careers

However, initiatives like the Toowoomba Chamber’s Business Connect program can help break through these obstacles to create strong, collaborative and fruitful links between local businesses and the migrant community. Nicole Yap speaks to the program manager, an employer and a migrant employee to learn more about the
program and its life-changing impact.
The Business Connect program networks local businesses with migrants and refugees in Toowoomba looking for employment. Initiated in 2019 with former funding partner CatholicCare Social Services, and now funded by the Queensland Government and the Scanlon Foundation, Business Connect aims to foster collaboration between Chamber member businesses and skilled and unskilled migrants, and take a partnership approach that focuses on meaningful long-term engagement and success.

Business Connect Program

According to program manager GeorgieCarswell, “Business Connect aims to break down barriers to migrant and refugee employment, promoting a culturally diverse business community”, and does so through networking events, providing mentoring and interpreting services for interviews, and offering workplace support to settle migrant employees into a job.
Through the program, the Chamber has helped migrants find employment across a broad range of sectors, from banking, accounting, processing and manufacturing plants, to heavy machinery and equipment, transport and logistics, removalists and cleaning services.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in some sectors in terms of breaking down barriers and recognition of transferable skills, however we are making a difference.”
Despite these challenges, Georgie said migrant job seekers are humble and hard-working, and are keen to learn and to offer their skills.
“Most of the businesses I have worked with have been blown away by the attitude and work ethic of the migrants they have employed,” she said.
“The migrants we work with want to find work, [so much so] that many skilled-workers are willing to take a couple of steps backward in their careers to get a start.

It is a wonderful thing to see when we can match them with an employer in their area of interest, they are so grateful for the opportunity. Once they have meaningful, stable employment they are able to call Toowoomba ‘home’.”
Of these employers is Heritage Bank, a long-time sponsor of the Toowoomba Chamber and a partner of the Business Connect program. National manager (community branches) Sharma Haller has seen migrants’ passion, drive and upskilling efforts in the banking sector, “to make banking accessible and approachable for those in their communities”.

“Heritage recognised an opportunity to better support Toowoomba’s migrant and refugee community through more inclusive banking services, financial literacy sessions and by partnering with local community and government organisations to educate and provide opportunities for job seekers,” Sharma said.
“It’s so rewarding to be part of the journey to guide and mentor people to step out of their comfort zone.” Sharma has been a part of Nour Bitar’s journey, who now
works as a senior member experience officer at Heritage Bank. Originally from Syria, Nour arrived in Australia with her husband six years ago, and several months later,
began studying a Diploma of Business at TAFE to add to her Syrian bachelor’s degree in banking and finance. A year and a half after having her first child in 2018, Nour
found her job at Heritage through a migrant banking program presentation. She has since worked again with Business Connect to share her experience and raise
awareness of the opportunities and benefits of migrant employment.

“I have been able to let other community members know about Heritage and opportunities for professional employment – my job helped me to inspire others to apply for jobs in a different environment,” Nour said. She is an encouraging voice for migrants in the region, noting the importance of employment programs – like those offered by the Toowoomba Chamber and Heritage Bank – in giving the community the boost that they need to grow and succeed professionally in a new country.
“For the skilled migrant, I can say you will find an opportunity at the right time – keep working on your language and skills. For the unskilled migrant, I will say, think about finding the job you like to do in your life and find the course [that] suits you, attend Chamber business programs, find volunteering jobs and you will get the opportunity to start your work journey,” Nour said.

“Employers are now believing in migrant skills more than [ever] before.”

From a business perspective, it’s encouraging to see so many organisations wanting to be a part of the initiative, and recognising it not just as an opportunity to grow their own businesses but also to play an active role in changing people’s lives.

Find out more about the Toowoomba Chambers Business Connect

See the original article in the March edition of The Field Guide.