Working with Community Corporate to reskill refugees through Cisco Networking Academy

June 20 marks World Refugee Day, designated by the United Nations to honor refugees around the globe. The latest statistics show that more than 110 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide in 2023—the highest-ever single-year increase of displacement of people in history and twice the number of displacements from just ten years ago.

Countries hosting refugees face challenges integrating new arrivals into their societies. Digital inclusion may be a key for achieving this. Evidence from the EU suggests that training refugees in digital skills is vital to aid in their integration. And Cisco is working with the OECD to help develop an interactive knowledge hub to help understand technology’s role in fostering inclusion and improving well-being.

Around the world Cisco has numerous programs to support refugees. Many of these initiatives are designed to provide immediate assistance to displaced persons in need. Cisco Networking Academy’s focus on transforming the lives of learners, educators, and communities through the power of technology, education, and career opportunities to power an inclusive future for all addresses the longer-term needs of underserved communities.

In the refugee space, programs such as Cisco For Ukraine in Poland are working towards empowering refugees with tech skills that will help refugees find employment and meaningful connections in their new countries.

Calling Australia home

Group of staff members at Community Corporate
Staff at Community Corporate, Australia

Australia is home to the third highest percentage of immigrants (which includes refugees) and native-born offspring of immigrants in the OECD. Migrants in Australia have helped offset an ageing population and improved workforce participation and productivity. And while migrants tend to be more highly educated than Australians, there is a low rate of recognition of previous qualifications, meaning they tend to be overeducated for the jobs they occupy.

Community Corporate is a Cisco Networking Academy working to address this issue with the refugee community in Australia.

“This was a two-year pilot that the federal government subsidized us for,” says Founder and CEO of Community Corporate Carmen Garcia. “Our hypothesis was that refugees with overseas qualifications and some experience would be much more accelerated to meet industry demand for jobs with the right vendor partner upskilling program in place.”

Skills to jobs

Community Corporate is putting refugees from Afghanistan, Jordan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen, who have been in Australia from as little as four months to 15 years, through the Cisco Networking Academy program, and placing them with employers.

“Our model as a social enterprise is payment by outcomes,” says Carmen. “Employers don’t pay us unless they retain the talent. We are committed to working with both employer and the refugee candidate for those 12 months, that’s why there’s high conversion.”

“No one chooses to be a refugee. I think people forget that”

Carmen Garcia, Founder and CEO, Community Corporate Australia
Carmen Garcia, Founder and CEO, Community Corporate Australia

“No one chooses to be a refugee. I think people forget that,” says Carmen. “Here are some amazing individuals who are being proactive. They did 150 hours of Cisco Networking Academy coursework. They weren’t paid. They chose to do that. This just shows how resilient, how determined new Australians are to make the most of their lives here.”

Carmen says the pass-rate for the participants is very high, and that for “the vast majority of the participants, it’s about confidence. And that’s about believing in their talent.”

It has helped that instructor Ying Ying Yang—herself an immigrant to Australia—volunteered her time to assist with the training. Ying Ying faced many challenges similar to the refugee cohort when studying the Cisco Networking Academy in Australia, so was able to relate.

Cisco Networking Academy Instructor, Ying Ying Yang

“The learners may have some background knowledge but because of the new environment, they are a bit shy to ask the questions to know where to start,” she says.

“When it comes to the new environment, I just use my own experience and to encourage them, to give them some idea, because I’m an immigrant to Australia too. When I started, I didn’t even come from an IT background, and everything seemed hard, but it just takes a bit of time,” says Ying Ying.

Sometimes language can be a problem, but Ying Ying and Community Corporate offered some assistance here too. “Cisco provides a fabulous English course, English for IT,” says Ying Ying. “We decided to give the students access to the course. It has a focus on IT terminology. I think that course is really good, and I review it to learn the words in the IT work environment to communicate with others. It is a good course!”

Overcoming bias

Community Corporate’s partnerships with employers help too. “It’s the matchmaker concept of really understanding what employers are looking for, and then helping to upskill the refugees with the technical and soft skills to be ready to match them for a sustainable, meaningful outcome,” says Carmen.

Overcoming the unconscious bias that remains in the recruitment process is one challenge. Recruiters don’t like to see gaps in resumes, but fleeing for your life is likely to create such a gap, notes Carmen.

“At the end of the day, business is business,” she says. “Reminding employers that Australia is one of the few OECD countries where a migrant population is actually more skilled than the native population makes people stop and think and wonder, hang on, why aren’t we tapping into this?”

Community Corporate Trainer, Sava Said

Results and rewards

Carmen herself is the daughter of an immigrant who was a lawyer in the Philippines but had to do cleaning jobs to make ends meet when she arrived in Australia. As a teenager Carmen started volunteering to help advocate for fellow Filipinos and subsequently went on to found Community Corporate.

In 2024 Carmen was recognized as Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her significant service to the multicultural community through diversity and inclusion advocacy and programs.

“I just felt that it was about dignity and purpose,” says Carmen. “Some of our other earlier refugees who have been working for over 12 months have said they bought houses because they’ve got permanent full-time jobs. So, you know, one job does make a difference for a refugee.”

“It’s not social inclusion, it’s inclusion. It’s economic inclusion. Belonging.”


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