There were tears in her eyes as Nancy Pattinson described the participants in a program she runs through the Migrant Resource Centre North, Jobs for Migrants in Aged Care and Disability.
On a Thursday morning at Masonic Care, Newstead, participants in the program were talking about their experiences around a table in the sunny kitchenette. They come from all over the world: Bhutan, Myanmar, Sudan, Eritrea. Every Thursday for 13 weeks, they have met in this building on Flowers Court, to learn the skills they need to enter the workforce.
When they graduate they will be equipped to be hired as support workers at StGiles disability support services or in service roles at Masonic Care aged care homes including cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. The program is hugely popular – “more people miss out than get in,” Ms Pattinson said.
For these migrants, the program is a step to achieving a quintessential Australian dream.
“They all have goals,” Ms Pattinson said. “We do a pathway plan in the first couple of weeks. They have a 12-month goal, and a five-year goal.
“Without doubt, the five-year goal is that they want to be working. They want to have more training and have a full qualification, and either be buying or saving for a home.
“For some of them, where they’ve come from, that’s a massive dream.”
Cangmai Tahaih, 21, was born in the Chin state of Myanmar (formerly Burma). As members of the Chin minority, they were treated “like animals,” Ms Tahaih said. Their house was regularly burned by the dictatorial Burmese army and every time they would rebuild, the army would come again.
Ms Tahaih’s mother was conscripted into forced labour.
“The army forced her to carry really heavy bags of rice and if she didn’t do it they would hit her with big sticks,” she said.
“I had a big brother, but because sometimes we didn’t eat, he died.”
The family risked their lives in the middle of the night to flee to India, successfully making their way to the countryside and then to New Delhi. From there they applied for refugee status, and came to Launceston.
Thirteen years later, on Monday October 16 this year, Ms Tahaih began her first day of placement at Newstead Masonic Care’s aged care facility.
“I was a bit nervous, but I was excited,” she said.
“I was overthinking, about what would happen, but people were so nice.
“I really enjoy working there, learning new things and how the kitchen works. I finished at 2 o’clock and I wished I could work more.”
Her plan is to start working in aged care in a service role, and then continue her training while she is already employed in the sector.
Her end game is to become a nurse.
So far, she has spent two months volunteering at Glenara Lakes aged care facility, and is well on her way to her first paid role.
Ms Pattinson said that this is a common goal of the program participants, who are happy to start with making the beds, and to build their skills as they work their way up.
“At least it gets them in there,” she said.
“Then they can do further certificates if they decide they want to go into caring. And most of them do. They want to be carers.
“What employers want is what every one of these students have to offer, and that’s the willingness to work, to learn, a good work ethic, and respect.”
The Jobs for Migrants in Aged Care and Disability program was created in November 2016 when StGiles disability support service was in need of more workers, as its funding and staffing needs changed with the roll-out of the NDIS.
Mark Deverell, director of client services at StGiles, contacted Migrant Resource Centre North to see if they had any clients who might be interested in training.
Suffice to say, they did. Ms Pattinson has already received 40 expressions of interest for the next intake, which isn’t until January. Some of her current participants applied and were rejected three times prior to getting in.
But it’s been as beneficial for StGiles as for the migrants.
Mr Deverell said the service would not have been able to continue under the NDIS, were it not for the migrant support workers they have employed through this program meeting their increased staffing demands.
“They’ve worked out really well – very loyal, very committed,” he said.
“Our biggest challenge is getting everyone else to accept that we’re diversifying our workforce, because people have not been used to it in the past. So we’ve had to get people used to it as we’re going along.”
Masonic Care Tasmania was then added as the second industry partner of the program, which is funded by the state government.
Executive director of marketing and communications Carmen Windsor said that it helped them hire staff whose personalities and skillsets had been vetted.
“This program has exceeded our expectations,” she said.
“There have been positive and meaningful relationships formed between participants and those who live and work with us. We have already had two extremely successful intakes, and our third group will graduate in December.”
One of those graduates will be Chin migrant Cangmai Tahaih, who intends to seek employment with Masonic Care after her placement.
In the town where she was born, there is no such thing as an aged care centre.
Elderly people are cared for by friends and family, or not at all.
Here, her favourite thing about the job is the opportunity to talk to people.
She is still perfecting her English, and the elderly seem to be always happy to chat.
“When I came here I found it very interesting to learn about the aged care area and the disability area,” she said.
“I think it’s really something special.
“In our culture we really praise the elderly, they are the most important ones, and I think that’s why I want to do it – to look after the elderly.
“I think it’s a very beautiful thing.”
Jobs for Migrants in Aged Care and Disability has been funded until mid-2019, when they will apply again through the Department of State Growth.
By that time, 50 graduates will be either working at, or ready to be employed by, StGiles, Masonic Care, and other service providers across the North.