Improving employment and education outcomes for Somali Australians

Year: 2019

Author: Szalkowicz, Giovanna, Harvey, Andrew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The previous two decades have seen a substantial increase in the Somali-Australian community, the majority of whom reside in Victoria. This community experiences significantly worse employment outcomes than the general population. At the 2016 Census, the unemployment rate for individuals of Somali ancestry was 29.6 per cent, while the corresponding rate in the non-Somali population was 6.8 per cent (Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2017). Higher education is central to improving employment rates, though even Somali-Australian university graduates have significantly worse employment rates than their non-Somali counterparts.

This paper will outline our research into the personal and structural factors influencing employment outcomes of Somali-Australians who are studying at, or have graduated from, university. In collaboration with a government-funded local organisation – Himilo Community Connect – the researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with around 20 Somali-Australians who had undertaken some university study, and explored perceived facilitators and barriers to employment, as well as self-identified strengths held by the group.

Results revealed a number of barriers around both conscious and unconscious bias, but also highlighted opportunities for universities to work with employers and communities to improve outcomes. Interviewees emphasised the importance of facilitating peer support and a welcoming campus climate, including the provision of cultural diversity training for university staff. Further, our analysis highlights the need for universities to partner with employers committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and to prioritise cultural diversity in the allocation of internships, work-integrated learning, and related university activities.

The paper will contribute new insights to inform policies and strategies to increase employment opportunities for Somali-Australians, and for new migrants more broadly.


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Australian Census of Population of Housing 2016, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.