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First of the trailblazing CareerSeekers

8 September 2016

When accountant Fezzeh Ghanaatgar moved without friends or family from Iran to seek asylum in Australia, she immediately started looking for work.


“Although I was a trained accountant and can speak English, no matter how many jobs I applied for, nobody wanted to interview me or talk to me,” she says.


“I didn’t have experience in this country or references. I was told I didn’t even have enough experience to be a cashier in a supermarket.”

Fezzeh was not alone in finding it hard to crack the Australian job market. While Australia's unemployment rate currently hovers around 6%, the figure rises to 33% for those like her who are on humanitarian visas.


All this changed for Fezzeh when she was accepted into the CareerSeekers program and, due to her accounting experience, was offered a paid internship at Westpac.


CareerSeekers is a newly established social venture which helps facilitate 12-week paid internships for refugees and asylum seekers who are students or mid-career professionals. The aim is to match interns with roles that utilise the qualifications and expertise they bring with them from their country of origin, while providing local experience, networks and references.


Westpac is a trailblazing supporter of this new program.


Westpac's Acting Regional Manager for Greater Western Sydney, David Martin, thought hard about how to make Fezzeh's time at Westpac rewarding.


"I wanted to give her the best opportunity to experience everything she can," he says.


During the program, David placed Fezzeh in three different Westpac sites, so she could try various roles, and see how her skills transfer across the business.


"She's learned the skills of a teller and how to use most of the electronic equipment. She's been in roles in branches with high traffic flow, and seen how the same job changes with the branch.


"She has such a beautiful attitude," David says. "She hasn't let anything keep her down."


For her part, Fezzeh has grasped onto the opportunity with both hands.


"This opportunity has meant the world to me. I can never go back to Iran - Australia is now my home, and this internship has opened doors for me in this country that I couldn't have opened myself," says Fezzeh.


Fezzeh was one of three CareerSeeker interns placed across Westpac (alongside Elena Dorfard and Yirgalem Meles) and among 33 CareerSeeker interns within the total inaugural cohort for the program.


CareerSeekers CEO and Founder, Michael Combs, modelled the program on successful sister organisation, CareerTrackers, which creates internship opportunities for Indigenous Australian university students. Westpac was also a trailblazing supporter of the CareerTracker program, and has committed to recruiting 400 Indigenous Australian university student interns over ten years to 2025.


Due to the success of CareerTrackers, Westpac did not hesitate in supporting CareerSeekers. In 2015, Westpac Foundation awarded a grant of $100,000 and provided a range of non-financial support via their More than Money program to help establish CareerSeekers, almost mirroring the early stage support given to CareerTrackers.


CEO Michael Combs said CareerSeekers had been able to work through many challenges faster and with expert advice as a result of Westpac's early support.


“The business mentoring we received from Westpac is a clear differentiator from other Foundations. It's global best practice,” says Michael.


"Having Westpac support is priceless. You give so much to early stage organisations like ours; I don't think you realise just how much.


“If the success of CareerTrackers is anything to go by, we expect CareerSeekers to grow quickly and really shift the conversation about cultural diversity in Australia's corporates," says CareerSeekers CEO, Michael Combs. 


"We want to change the face of corporate Australia in relation to diversity and change the game for refugees and asylum seekers," says Michael.


Westpac is currently looking into extending the three CareerSeekers interns roles at Westpac as well as actively looking to place more CareerSeekers interns across the business.


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