Australia's hidden ECEC workforce
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The billion dollar benefit: SSI research shows 620,000 hidden workers in Australia

by Freya Lucas

June 24, 2024

The key to easing Australia’s skills shortages, including in fields such as early childhood education and care (ECEC) , could be closer to home than anticipated, new research commissioned by Settlement Services International (SSI) has found. 


Billion Dollar Benefit: The economic impact of unlocking the skills potential of migrants in Australia shows that more than 620,000 migrant workers already in Australia do not have the opportunity to fully use their skills and qualifications from their country of origin. 


Despite typically having higher qualification levels than their Australian-born counterparts, almost half (44 per cent) of migrants and refugees in Australia are working in roles below their skill level, the study found, quantifying the economic benefit of unlocking this workforce, finding $70 billion could be added to the economy over the next 10 years if permanent migrants worked in jobs that matched their skills at the same rate as Australian-born workers.


Developed in partnership with Allianz Australia, LinkedIn, Business NSW and Business Western Sydney, and released last week, the research was conducted by Deloitte Access Economics, and found that around 51,000 full-time jobs would be added to the economy, wages would increase for migrant and non-migrant workers alike, and productivity would increase at the industry level, with construction, manufacturing, trade and financial service among the industries with the largest productivity increases.


“For years, we’ve known that the underutilisation of skills and qualifications was an issue for our migrant and refugee workforce, but for the first time, we can now quantify just what we as a country are missing out on,” SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said.


In response the organisation is calling for an overhaul of the way in which overseas qualifications are recognised, and for support to ensure all migrants have access to language training in employment contexts, for employers to combat racial discrimination, and more.


“This would deliver a significant economic benefit, but the real win is to individuals – dismantling barriers excluding migrants and refugees would ensure these workers have equal opportunity to realise their full potential,” Ms Roumeliotis said.


Other key findings included:


  • Migrant workers are currently earning $3.9 billion less than they would if they worked at their skill level at the same rate as Australian-born workers.
  • Industries that would see the greatest increase in employment from harnessing the skills of migrant workers are professional services, public administration, and education.
  • Every state and territory would benefit from better utilising the skills of migrants. The largest benefits would flow to New South Wales (increasing the state economy by $2.5bn and 12,357 jobs), Victoria ($2.2bn and 12,351 jobs), Queensland ($1.8bn and 9,706 jobs) and Western Australia ($1bn and 4,148 jobs).
  • The underutilisation of migrants is not due to the fields of study they are qualified in. Across every broad field of study, migrants are less likely to be working at the correct skill level, relative to their Australian-born counterparts – despite, on average, being more qualified.


“Skilled refugees and migrants have overcome significant barriers in coming to Australia, and we are very fortunate that they are here. Businesses that are crying out for workers must broaden their search to harness migrants’ potential,” Business NSW CEO Daniel Hunter said.


“There is a double whammy effect from employing skilled refugees and migrants. Not only does it help people reach their potential, but it also helps ease skills shortages and increases participation in the economy.”


“It is time for businesses, government, and community leaders to come together and ensure that every individual has the opportunity to thrive and contribute to NSW’s and Australia’s prosperity. The future of Australia depends on our ability to unlock and harness the potential of all our people.”


Access the report here.

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