According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there were 79.5 million forcibly displaced people globally by the end of 2019, amounting to 1% of the world’s total population. UNHCR’s Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2019 report notes that the number of forcibly displaced has more than doubled over the past decade, from 38.5 million in 2011. A number of major humanitarian crises have contributed to the rise, including war, persecution, and human rights violations, with the ongoing Syrian conflict, the Venezuelan exodus and the flight of refugees from Myanmar to Bangladesh just some of the key drivers.
A dual crisis
UNHCR’s Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2021 report makes for troubling reading. It does not shy away from the massive task at hand, noting that “only 4.5% of the global resettlement needs were met in 2019, meaning only a small fraction of those at risk found a safe and lasting solution to their plight”. In addition to this crisis, another one, this time economic in nature, looms large. According to a report by management consulting firm Korn Ferry, a global talent shortage is upon us. The so-called “talent crunch”, which will affect both emerging and advanced economies, will see the international labour shortfall surpass 85 million people by 2030, with the financial impact amounting to almost $8.5 trillion in unrealised revenue annually.
Talent Beyond Boundaries
How then to tackle these two crises? One solution could lie in the work of Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB), a Washington DC-headquartered group, founded in 2016, that works with governments, policymakers and employers to place refugees and other displaced people with companies in need of their skills.
The firm’s three-year pilot scheme successfully demonstrated the viability of its employer-led solution. TBB currently has over 20,000 skilled refugees registered on its ‘Talent Catalogue’ database, representing more than 150 occupations. In May 2020, the company surveyed 259 candidates, based in Jordan and Lebanon, who were registrants on the Talent Catalogue. Almost half reported that they were less likely to consider an irregular migration journey because of their engagement with TBB (and the consequent possibility of securing a job), while 82% reported increased motivation to maintain their skills and pursue professional self-development.
A survey conducted as part of the pilot scheme also revealed strong employer demand for international refugee talent, with 63% of employers citing the ‘need to fill skills shortages that cannot be filled locally’ as a motivating factor to hire refugees.
A labour mobility solution
TBB is working with governments around the world as it seeks to scale its mission to unlock labour mobility pathways for displaced people. It is not shy in its ambitions. In a December 2019 report, titled The Promise of Labour Mobility, it notes that “if embraced by governments and the international community, this solution can scale and provide new futures to more than a million refugees over the next decade.”
TBB is the lead partner in Canada’s Economic Mobility Pathways Project, which will find employment for 500 skilled refugee applicants and their families, while it is also leveraging the supply and demand opportunity evident in the UK government’s pledge to add 50,000 nurses to the NHS workforce in England by 2024–25. The organisation is working with the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care and NHS Employers on a pilot programme that will see one or more NHS Trusts employ 25 refugee or displaced nurses from Lebanon or Jordan.
TBB is something of a standard-bearer when it comes to its labour mobility solution to displacement. In the words of Michael Clemens, Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development, it is creating a “new kind of migration” that treats displaced people “as a resource rather than a burden”.
Other organisations are following suit, including the likes of Worker for Refugees, a German scheme that acts like a LinkedIn for refugees, and 400 Contacts, a Swedish organisation that helps place skilled refugee engineers. As charities and governments seek solutions to the global displacement crisis, innovative schemes such as these may provide some of the answers.