I work in the Good Practice and Partnerships Team at Refugee Action. As part of one of our programme’s — Explore Adapt Renew, we are creating trainee programme officer roles in the core delivery team. These roles are ring fenced for those with lived experience of forced migration. This is a tiny piece of work happening alongside internal work at Refugee Action and development in the migration and the wider voluntary sector. This blog explains why we are doing this, how we went about the first recruitment cycle and what we have learnt so far. We’d like to learn what others are doing in this space so that we can share learning and develop our practice.
Why have we created these roles?
Refugee Action is on a journey to remove barriers to power for people with lived experience of forced migration which includes the development and recruitment of people with lived experience into leadership positions. Our recruitment policy has included measures to support recruitment of refugees into the organisation for a long time but the existing methods have not had enough of an impact — especially in the Good Practice and Partnerships Team. We think that our team should be diverse, inclusive and be representative of the refugees, asylum seekers and migrants that the sector is working to support. Over the last few years we have found it really difficult to appoint people with lived experience to existing roles within the team, let alone to leadership positions. So questions we have been asking ourselves are — how do we support the development of people with lived experience into the team? Do the roles need to change to enable diversification? Do our recruitment practices erect barriers for people with lived experience and how can we change them to remove these?
How we developed the role
The roles were built into the programme at an entry level as we knew that we needed effective line management for the trainees to build experience, confidence and skills for working in the programme and the team. We wanted to develop a role which would build skills in programme management as these are fundamental in managing our partnership projects.
We spoke to lots of people to develop the role and the process: people with lived experience of forced migration who work in the sector, people working to support refugees into employment and the internal Human Resources team. From feedback we received we made the following changes:
- Removed the requirement for having work experience in the UK
- Altered the person specification to allow for development (e.g. changing excellent to good for certain criteria)
- Clearly stated the line management support that would be provided for the trainees
- Tried to eliminate jargon where possible
- Agreed to hold two information sessions to advertise and explain the opportunity
- Agreed to send out the questions and interview exercise prior to interview
- Agreed to offer to provide feedback to anyone who applied and was unsuccessful (in line with the new HR policy)
- We also included the possibility of working from home
Here is the role we created.
Over 25 candidates attended the information sessions and we received 39 applications for the role which enabled us to shortlist 6 excellent candidates of whom we appointed 2. Six unsuccessful applicants got in touch for feedback. I arranged 30 minutes to speak to each of them and tried to give specific advice to support them with their next steps.
What we learned from running the recruitment process
Info sessions: We received feedback that the info session was vital to understand more about the team, role and training opportunities and brought the role to life. One candidate said that prior to the session she thought that she would apply but after the session she knew that she wanted the position and was really excited to apply.
Flexible working: The possibility of working from home was really attractive to some of the candidates who had to juggle childcare requirements and were in locations far from Refugee Action offices.
Removing the requirement to have UK work experience: We received a high number of applications from people who had a wealth of transferable experience working internationally.
Providing interview exercises and questions in advance: This enabled the interviewees to prepare for the interview. The quality of the interview content and the increase in confidence amongst the candidates was great to see.
The importance of getting support to apply: Many of the shortlisted candidates either had support from a friend or agency to read through, comment and support with their application.
People are looking for development opportunities: Having specific training opportunities and recruiting for potential were really attractive for refugees who had recently gained status.
Clarity around competitiveness of opportunity is important: As it was a trainee development role those who did not secure the role were incredibly disappointed as they didn’t realise how competitive the process would be.
Who have we appointed?
Both of the trainees submitted excellent applications which specifically responded to each point in the person specification in the job role.
Their interviews were great: for each question they demonstrated that they had experience or ability in the area and gave detailed examples to back up their answer.
They went the extra mile: they had researched the role, the programme and the organisation and were clearly able to articulate exactly why the role was a match for them and the opportunities that it could unlock.
Final thoughts and thanks
This process has taken a lot longer to work through than normal recruitment process but so far has been worth it in terms of the quality of applicants and interviewees and the level of engagement in the process.
This has been a highly collaborative process involving: Lora Evans (programme manager), Mohamed Omar (Head of Department), internal staff including HR, Patrick Masebo (Manchester Refugee Support Network – EBE Coordinator), the EBE Employment Initiative (who supported with role development and supported applicants) and Refugees and Mentors and others. Thanks to all of the people who have helped us on the journey so far, we’re keen to continue learning and connecting and supporting development in the migration sector to support change at a deeper level.