Employment Plus Job Coach, Robert Thi Hlum with his new cleaning recruits

In the Covid-19 pandemic, some specific skill sets have been more valuable than ever, with a marked increase in demand for workers in the healthcare, dispatch and sanitation sectors.

The team at Employment Plus Ringwood has also found that this global crisis has enabled some of its international job-seekers an opportunity to get the employment opportunity they greatly need whilst also proving their value to their local community.

Employment Plus Job Coach, Robert Thi Hlum, started working with the job service provider in September last year. Robert, who is of Chin ethnicity, immigrated to Australia in 2008 fleeing persecution in Burma. On arriving in Australia he decided he would stay connected to his community and was, at one stage, Youth President of the Australian Chin Community Eastern Melbourne and a director of the Chin News Channel Media.

With English being one of five languages he speaks, Robert was able to help other migrants with all forms of life administration – from Medicare applications to obtaining a licence.

In fact, a significant number of job seekers in North Eastern suburbs of Melbourne also come from Burma – many leaving their farms with little-to-no English and limited transferrable work skills.

Employment Plus Ringwood Site Manager, Naomi Farrell, saw that Robert – who had started part time in September last year – had both the necessary community connections and language abilities to help bridge the gap in finding other Burmese migrants work. His own hard work saw him become permanent in March this year and in July he filled 15 positions with one sole employer!

Robert had seen that local cleaning company, Tradeflex, was looking for more workers to assist with new Covid-related cleaning tasks at local schools. He’d just taken a group of local Chin migrants through a health and safety course and knew with the right opportunity to work together – and his ongoing support – they could provide an ideal locally-based workforce solution.

Tradeflex has been serving Melbourne’s community for 33 years, has a number of private corporate clients across the CBD and surrounding suburbs and the contract to clean more than 121 state schools in the outer Eastern region of the wider city. More than half of its employees are immigrants and the group of Chin job seekers were perfectly placed to meet the enhanced cleaning program required in the face of the pandemic.

Robert cold-called Tradeflex and together they onboarded the group led by supervisor, Uk. The new jobs alongside friends provided members of the group with both financial security and a sense of inclusion – in arguably one of the most isolating periods in recent history.

“I’ve been there first-hand. I know how hard it is when your language is limited and what’s great about this project has been the ability for the group to work directly alongside each other and support each other,” says Robert.

“There’s camaraderie and a collective approach that means things aren’t lost in translation. The leaders within the group can support those still working on their English to fulfil all tasks to meet all expectations. They are incredibly grateful for the work and happy in their roles.”

Tradeflex National Operations Manager, Marilyn Giunta, says Tradeflex is proud to be able to play a role in helping new Australians establish their lives on local soil.

“We have to try to imagine what it would be like to be suddenly living in a foreign country, with very few possessions, no financial history or stability and no skill with the native language. It really is a tough start for some and it is incredibly satisfying to be able to help these people find stable employment.

“We always welcome opportunities to work with migrants and Robert’s assistance has enabled us to ensure all our new staff understand their roles; that they have the necessary clearances, skills and we can work across our cultural differences.

“We also spend a lot of time helping our employees transition into their roles and use a range of tools to communicate with our multicultural workforce – including having nominated community leaders, employing Google Translate across our internal comms platforms and using graphic and pictorial task guides.

“The Chin community group has been fantastic in helping us fill much-needed new cleaning roles. They’re a very hard working, passionate team with a high level of dependability. We’re very pleased.”