GHD’s humanitarian internship program is a win-win


“Everything changed when I met CareerSeekers. Now that I’m doing this job, I feel that I’m putting myself on the right path.”

– Mahmoud Doraghi, GHD

GHD’s humanitarian internship program is a win-win

The CareerSeekers team approached GHD’s Sydney offices about taking on an intern in mid-2017. Since then, nine participants have joined the firm and are contributing to one of Australia’s biggest engineering projects – Snowy Hydro 2.0

Every morning for the past three years, Mahmoud Doraghi would wake up early and head to the construction site where he worked as a labourer.

He had trained as a chemical engineer in Iran, but since arriving in Australia in 2013 had struggled to find comparable work.

He came to this country by boat and was detained on Christmas Island, and then Curtin in Western Australia. Once he was cleared to work, he toiled on construction sites but yearned to use the skills he had worked for and to get back to his career as a chemical engineer.

Now he is doing just that – living in Cooma, NSW and working on the Snowy 2.0 scheme, part of a long tradition of migrant workers who have built this modern engineering feat.

The right path

Doraghi is proud of his involvement in the Snowy 2.0 project, which he gained via an internship through CareerSeekers with GHD.

Everything changed when I met CareerSeekers. Now that I’m doing this job, I feel that I’m putting myself on the right path. This project, the Snowy 2.0, is a really famous project in Australia,

” Doraghi says.

“It’s a really good experience for me, and I’m really proud I’m doing this with amazing people from all different parts of the world.”

Before his internship, Doraghi undertook CareerSeekers’ structured employment preparation training, which helped him adjust to Australian workplace culture. In addition to in-depth courses and workshops, CareerSeekers gave him some practical dos and don’ts on fitting into an Australian workplace.

“The first thing they told me: Don’t say, ‘Yeah I know’. It’s a habit lots of Middle Eastern people have and I used to say it, even when I didn’t know something,” he says, laughing.

Skill set matchmaking

Doraghi’s story highlights one of the core tenets of CareerSeekers – giving humanitarian arrivals the opportunity to launch local professional careers that match their skill sets, but which they might not have the local networks to find themselves.

“Mahmoud’s unique skill set in chemical engineering meant it took a while for us to find the right opportunity for him,” says CareerSeekers Program Director Lynn Anderson.
“We didn’t want to just put him into any role for the sake of it; we wanted to reconnect him to a career where he would leverage his previous experience from Iran. The opportunity with GHD and on the Snowy 2.0 project was the perfect fit and will provide a strong foundation to build from. Mahmoud has a terrific career ahead of him.”

CareerSeekers boasts a  96 per cent interview success rate for the participants they put forward for employment. This is due in part to the organisation’s efforts to fully understand the nuances of each organisation and to match candidates with the right role at the right time.

“We know that getting it right up front is key to long-term success,” Anderson says.

GHD, one of the world’s leading professional services companies with more than 9000 employees, has always maintained a vision for social inclusion, making it a good partner to support CareerSeekers’ mission.

“I’ve looked out through my career journey for equity opportunities,” says Jill Hannaford, GHD’s Technical Services Leader. “In addition, GHD has a highly focused diversity and inclusion program, something that we take seriously and have won lots of awards for.”

A little thing

CareerSeekers first approached the leadership team of GHD’s Sydney office in July 2017, with a plan to ask them to commit to two or three internships across their operations. By the end of a 30-minute meeting, the company committed to bringing on interns in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

From there, CareerSeekers went about making sure potential interns were a good fit for the company’s culture and work portfolio.

“In the case of GHD, we spent a considerable amount of time with their HR teams and hiring managers to understand the technical skills they were after and the soft skills that were required to become part of the team,” Anderson says. “With this information in hand we were then able to align participants to each of the service lines that were interested in taking on an intern.”

And those service lines were not too hard to identify – several were seeking skills and education that are not so common in Australian graduates.

“I actually think it is a major opportunity for an organisation like ours,” explains Tasos Katopodis, Transformation Leader at GHD. “Particularly in the engineering area, Australia is very underdone for skills and often in the STEM area, that’s a very highly regarded career in places like the Middle East and Asia. There is a social justice aspect of this but there is also a strong business aspect to it.”

In its initial intake of CareerSeekers interns, GHD took on nine participants across teams in the soils laboratory, finance, project management, IT and civil engineering projects – four in Victoria, four in New South Wales and one in South Australia.

The big impact

Doraghi hopes his internship will convert into full-time employment, and his chances are good; his internship has already been extended, and GHD has extended employment beyond the initial 12-week internship for more than 80 per cent of participants to come through its doors.

Many interns, including Doraghi, are grateful for the start in the Australian professional job market, not just for the satisfaction of doing the work itself, but for the chance to build their CVs and make valuable connections.

Migrant mindset

In 2016 Australia resettled 27,626 people – a rate of 1.139 per 1000 residents. In per capita terms, this places Australia second to Canada, which resettled 46,702 people, or 1.286 per 1000, according to a rigorous RMIT ABC Fact Check. These per capita numbers must be tempered with a deeper look, of course – “assessing the comparative ‘generosity’ of countries goes beyond the numbers”, that same Fact Check points out, encouraging readers to look to both resettlement and recogntion rates – Australia lags on the latter – as well as the provision of services, rights, protection and, in the Australian case, the split between onshore and offshore processing.

Now cut back to the late 1940s. Employment opportunities on the first iteration of Snowy Hydro were initially open only to British migrants, with the Australian government paying for the passage of workers and providing them with jobs on arrival.

When there weren’t enough workers from Britain taking up the offer, the program was extended to immigrants from across Europe.

Prior to this, Australia’s ‘White Australia’ migration policy had discriminated against anyone who was not Anglo-Celtic and the resulting monoculturalism was reflected in everything from Australia’s standard meat-and-three-veg cuisine to its dominant Christian heritage.

The decision to restrict immigration – combined with the population decimation that occurred over two world wars – also led to concerns about population growth. The catch cry of ‘populate or perish’ was used to drum up support for a more populous Australia, one that could only support economic growth via population growth.

A big public works scheme like the Snowy Hydro was needed to support a big bump in population. In 1949, Australia’s population was only 8 million people, and migrants were needed to fill the demand for engineers, technicians and tradespeople. Eastern Europeans, Turks, Italians and Greeks flooded into Australia to work on the scheme, making up 65 percent of workers on the project.

The migration policy was practical and compassionate, and gave many families the chance of a new start in a new country – the continent was still reeling from the ravages of World War Two, with millions of people displaced, jobless and traumatised.

Not long before, these men had been pitted against each other in World War Two – now they would be colleagues.

German migrant Hein Bergerhausen told researchers: “For the first few days I was worried (about hostility towards Germans) … but you could see almost straight away there was nothing to worry about. Everyone just seemed to be glad to be here … It was a happy time … The war was behind us. We were all starting again.”

Girda Wisnowski, who migrated to Australia with her husband from Poland, told SBS World News: “I had a Russian neighbour, Serbian neighbor, Spanish neighbour and suddenly in Australia we were all friends. In Europe, we were all enemies.”

A legacy?

Those born overseas now comprise 28 per cent of the total population in Australia, with a skilled migration program building on the success of the Snowy Hydro scheme.

Although successive federal governments have railed against humanitarian migration, making entry an increasingly difficult hurdle, skilled humanitarian arrivals such as Doraghi are becoming an important part of the Australian workforce – lending their skills and experience, as well as increasing the diversity of project teams.

People my age don’t just want a 9 to 5 job you’ll do for 30 years. They want to be engaged and proud of the company they work for. They want their company to encourage them to support the issues they believe in, to be passionate and true to their values.”

Joel Steller, Community and Stakeholder Engagement Consultant, GHD, and Founder, Welcome Studios

We want a diverse workforce. Corporate Australia has a responsibility to do more to support people who are refugees and asylum seekers.

Jill Hannaford, Technical Services Leader, GHD

“I actually think it is a major opportunity for an organisation like ours. Particularly in the engineering area, Australia is very underdone for skills and […] that’s a very highly regarded career in places like the Middle East and Asia.

Tasos Katopodis, Transformation Leader, GHD