Charis Martin-Ross on Allianz’s Refugee Employment Program

Pictured above – Charis Martin-Ross with cadet Sayed Hofiani who was recently promoted to the role of Sales Performance Analyst.

When we heard about Allianz’s innovative new scheme to deliver new career opportunities and support for refugees and migrants who have settled in Australia, we simply had to hear more!

We were delighted to speak to Charis Martin-Ross, Diversity and Sustainability Manager at Allianz about their Sustainable Employment Program and the work they have done to build a diverse and inclusive workforce, aligning community programs with the company’s business values and strategy.

Firstly, congratulations on being part of such a wonderful initiative Charis. Can you explain how Allianz came to be involved? 

Our Chair, John Curtis, and Managing Director, Niran Peiris, shaped the concept after a call-to-action from the NSW Government last year. But even before then, Allianz has had a diversity strategy in place since 2013 – we see a very clear link between diverse skills and thinking, and business performance. So this program is really just one way in which we are building cultural diversity into our talent pipeline. At the same time, we are proud to support diverse communities in Australia and to give an opportunity to some of those who have come to this country as a result of dislocation from their homeland.

How does the Sustainable Employment Program work?

We have partnered with Settlement Services International (SSI) which is a Not for Profit providing a range of services in the areas of refugee and asylum seeker support. They are committed to supporting communities to fulfil their potential as members of the Australian community, so there is a really nice fit with our company’s values.

As a starting point, SSI send us resumes based on our core ‘job ready’ criteria and then we match candidates’ background, skills and experience with opportunities in the business.
Our current cycle is to hire five cadets each six months. Once they join, each cadet completes one or two placements and towards the end of their first 12 months we work closely with them and the business to identify a suitable permanent role.
We’ve designed an onboarding and integration program to support their career development, which includes:
– developing their English communication skills;
– specific Divisional inductions and technical training; and
– basic insurance training and general business acumen.allianz

A host team, comprising of a team leader, team buddy, placement supervisor and sponsor is appointed to provide clarity of roles and responsibilities and offer ongoing support and coaching. The host team also receives training and coaching in areas such as cultural awareness and how to adapt their management style to better support diverse employees.

What was the reaction from employees when you announced the initiative?

The response has been resoundingly positive. Our approach is to first seek expressions of interest from senior leaders, then to shape the opportunity with team leaders but we have found we get support at each level of the business. We started with very targeted communications but now the program is more established, we’re starting to get senior leaders proactively asking to be involved.

Has the initiative had an impact on engagement levels?

We don’t have the numbers yet to run a comparative analysis, although that’s something I plan on doing down the track. What we do know now is that it is pretty standard for employees to use the word ‘pride’ when talking about the program, and we know that organisational pride is a significant predictor of employee engagement.

What types of roles have the cadets been hired into?

The range of roles is diverse as we’ve deliberately aimed to match cadet skill sets with the needs of the business. To date, we’ve covered everything from business analysis, accounting and finance, through to learning and development, customer service and insurance claims.

How involved has the HR team been in making the program work?

Very involved, but at the same time, it wouldn’t be a success without equal engagement and support from the business. There are a huge number of people involved in making the program a success and we learnt along the way we needed really clear roles across the business, for example, buddies, sponsors, development leads, recruitment leads, placement supervisors and team coordinators. It has required a significant investment of time to get up and running but, in a way, I think that’s part of its business value – it is a true collaboration across Allianz that everyone is committed to making work.

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What will success look like for Allianz once a full year has passed? 

Our short term goals are for a smooth transition from the program into a business-as-usual role at the 12-month mark. The program was designed to be generic rather than a refugee-only program, so over the longer term I see us expanding into areas where there are different community needs that Allianz can support.

What advice would you give HR & Diversity Leaders who are considering this type of initiative within their own organisations?

I would emphasise two key areas: the importance of strategy and open dialogue.
Because the program requires a significant investment – training, cadet salaries, host team commitment – the business has to ‘get it’. For Allianz, our Future Workforce Strategy makes the link to business performance really clear.

When you commit to an area like this that is market-leading in Australia, you can’t possibly know everything up front. Regular and transparent communication, learning from our mistakes and a partnership between HR and the business has really been the main reasons this program has been successful.

What has running this program meant to you personally?

It’s really hard to explain in a few words but it means so much to me. As much as we talk about the business benefits of diversity, at the end of the day, this program is about helping people reach their potential. Imagine the trauma of being dislocated from your home, friends and country and having to start again? Being able to play a small role in helping our cadets rebuild lives for themselves and their families is an honour really – I can’t think of anything more important.

We couldn’t agree more Charis.  We’ll be following the progress of this worthwhile initiative with great interest!

If you would like to get involved or require more information on the program, please contact Charis Martin-Ross