An image of refugees
Recognising the immense potential benefits that refugees can offer to the economy, London's businesses are moving to boost refugee employment. Amanuel Sileshi/AFP

London businesses are missing out on the immense talents and skills that refugees bring to the table, according to a groundbreaking study conducted by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) in collaboration with the Refugee Investment Network. The research reveals that a mere 3 per cent of London firms currently employ refugees. However, the numbers paint a more encouraging picture for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and Large Businesses, with 14 per cent and 27 per cent respectively, embracing refugee workers.

The report delves deep into the prevailing attitudes and challenges faced by London businesses when it comes to refugee employment. Despite refugees having the legal right to work in the UK, they often struggle to realise their full potential due to a lack of local professional networks, language proficiency, credentials and integration support.

One of the major obstacles highlighted in the study is the difficulty businesses face in finding competent refugee personnel, as cited by 21 per cent of the surveyed companies. Surprisingly, a lack of understanding regarding hiring refugees is the second most prevalent barrier cited by 20 per cent of businesses, highlighting a need for better awareness and education on this subject.

The study does, however, provide some cause for optimism. While 41 per cent of firms thought hiring refugees was unlikely and 26 per cent were undecided, a significant 31 per cent said they planned to hire refugees in the future. Major businesses showed even greater openness, with a staggering 77 per cent indicating their inclination to embrace refugee employees, compared to just 32 per cent of micro businesses.

The research further unveils intriguing patterns across different sectors. The public sector, arts, entertainment, recreation, information and communication industries emerge as leaders in refugee employment, boasting a rate of 6 per cent. Conversely, the professional, scientific and technological sectors reported the lowest rate of refugee employment, a mere 1 per cent.

London businesses that have taken the leap to employ refugees cite several compelling reasons. The primary motivation, according to 65 per cent of these companies, is to provide support to those in need. Furthermore, 47 per cent recognise refugees as hardworking employees, while 40 per cent believe that immigrants contribute unique capabilities and foster diversity in the workforce, ultimately benefiting their industries.

Richard Burge, CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, emphasises the crucial role refugees play in London's prosperity. He asserts that their integration into the workforce can alleviate the skills shortage that currently hampers business and economic progress. Burge underscores the numerous benefits that employment offers both refugees and their communities, positioning London as an internationally renowned city that champions equal opportunities for all.

The study reveals that London businesses are ready to tackle the challenge of employing refugees, but they require the necessary resources and support. This includes assistance in the recruitment process, social and cultural integration, as well as mental health care. Burge emphasises that beyond addressing the skills gap, refugee employment can set a powerful example of inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, thereby enhancing London's economy and reputation.

Tim Docking, CEO of Refugee Investment Network, sheds light on the global struggle faced by many nations in dealing with the vast influx of displaced individuals, who often remain marginalised from the formal job market for prolonged periods.

Docking points out that this issue is compounded by the widespread misconception that refugees burden society. He believes that the UK has a golden opportunity, through Refugee Lens Investing (RLI), to challenge this misleading narrative and empower refugee self-reliance. The study's findings indicate a growing private sector interest and unmet demand for refugee data, highlighting the need for further research and action.

The study makes it evident that the rate of refugee employment within the London business community remains dismally low. Effective measures must be taken to promote greater employment opportunities. Businesses will require additional assistance, including guidance on legal obligations when hiring refugees and modifications to hiring and employee support procedures to accommodate their unique circumstances.

Furthermore, the research emphasises the importance of strengthening relationships with refugee communities and fostering active collaboration between training and assistance programs and workforce demands. These efforts can bridge the gap between potential employers and skilled refugee individuals, creating a win-win situation for both parties.

London's acceptance of refugee work has the potential to unleash a plethora of talent. Businesses can benefit from the different skills that refugees bring by overcoming obstacles and offering the required assistance, but they can also help to create a city that is more inclusive and prosperous for all of its citizens.