Nardon, L., Zhang, H., Szkudlarek, B., Gulanowski, D. Identity work in refugee workforce integration – the role of newcomer support organizations, Human Relations

How does professional employment support provided by newcomer support organizations (NSOs) influence highly-skilled refugees’ professional identities and workforce integration? To answer this question, we draw on interviews with 25 managers and staff of NSOs in Canada and 11 recently arrived, highly-skilled refugees. We contribute to the literature on refugee workforce integration by shedding light on the dynamic process of employment support in which NSOs engage in sensegiving practices and influence refugees’ understanding of career options, assessment of opportunities, and their professional identity responses. We found that NSOs attempted to manage refugees’ expectations of career opportunities while fostering hope for the future and that refugees reacted to NSOs’ sensegiving practices by resisting expectation management messages, recrafting a new identity, or bracketing the present as transitory. We highlight the role of external agents in sensemaking and identity work by exploring work role transitions caused by forced migration. Furthermore, we uncover the dynamics of power and contextual constraints that influence sensegiving interactions. From a practical point of view, we argue that in the absence of quality employment opportunities, the reliance on refugees’ resilience and their motivation for long-term professional integration may further marginalize them.