Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

The Role of Contextual Factors in Employer Recruitment Decision Making: Evidence from Regional Australia

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

The Role of Contextual Factors in Employer Recruitment Decision Making: Evidence from Regional Australia

Article excerpt


As is the case in several OECD countries, Australia has a formalised immigration program to attract highly skilled professionals (Chaloff & Lemaitre, 2009). These skilled migrant policies are aimed at institutional development and combating skill shortages (Cameron, 2011). The top five countries of origin for General Skilled Migration visas granted include: India (21 per cent), China (20 per cent), United Kingdom (14 per cent), Sri Lanka (five per cent), and Malaysia (five per cent) (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). Despite the rigorous assessment of immigrants' qualifications and experiences, permanent skilled immigrants from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESBs) are less successful in finding employment that matches their skills than their English-speaking counterparts who arrive in Australia under the skilled migration program (Hawthorne, 2011; Kostenko, Harris, & Zhao, 2012).

Green, McIntosh, and Vignoles (2002) define skill underutilisation as a case of 'over education' of skilled immigrants where immigrants have excess qualifications relative to the requirements of a specific job. Typically, this is the result of immigrants being forced to accept work in less skilled occupations when compared with their occupation before migration (Productivity Commission Research Report, 2006). This pattern of accepting lower skill jobs through economic necessity is particularly prevalent among Non-English speaking Background (NESB) immigrants and can lead to continuing under-employment and blocked career paths (Bertone, 2008).

The research to date on skilled migration and employment outcomes has mainly identified how immigrant human capital and, to a lesser extent, other barriers such as discrimination and prejudices impact on unemployment and under-employment of immigrant professionals (Ho & Alcorso, 2004). In this article, we will provide an overview of these traditional or past approaches to the problem. Following from this, we present a conceptual model which incorporates community contextual factors (level of exposure to diversity at organisational level, social networks, bonding and trust) which appear to also influence employers' recruitment decisions towards skilled immigrants. We use the exploratory data collection undertaken in our study as a platform for developing this framework and for future theorising and research. Overall, our paper seeks to answer the question: What factors operating in a regional context potentially shape attitudes towards the employment/under-employment of immigrant professionals from (NESBs)?

Traditional approaches to the understanding of immigrant employment outcomes

Researchers have consistently postulated that immigrants' inferior employment outcomes are influenced by individual immigrant based human capital attributes. Edwards (2004: 80) describes human capital as the "stock of productive knowledge, skills and competencies such as numeracy, writing and reading". This human capital is acquired through formal education (especially post-school education), labour force experience and communication skills (Productivity Commission Research Report, 2006).

Human capital theory assumes that differences in human capital result in differing labour market outcomes. (Cobb-Clark, 2003; Ho & Alcorso, 2004). For instance, many researchers including, Chiswick and Miller (2002), and Dustmann and Fabbri (2003), have called attention to the English language skill deficits of immigrants and the tendency for these to result in lower employability and earnings. According to much of this research, immigrants from English Speaking Backgrounds (ESB) tend to have higher incomes than immigrants from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB), in part because of the inferior level of English language proficiency levels of the latter (Birrell, Hawthorne & Richardson, 2006).

While economic theory tends to view English language and other human capital attributes as objective 'supply side' factors, critical social researchers, such as Alcorso (2003) and Ho & Alcorso (2004) have argued how susceptible these factors are to social biases, interpretation and perceptions by labour market players, viz managers, clients and co-workers. …

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