Awais’ story: from refugee to Grant Thornton employee
We work with Breaking Barriers to support refugees into meaningful employment. Awais Ahmad tells us how he landed a role at Grant Thornton through the scheme.
Before my placement, I hadn’t spoken with British people at length. Nor had I worked in a large company. I didn’t understand the little things about British working culture, like business language or having coffee with colleagues.
When my case worker at Breaking Barriers recommended that I apply for a refugee placement at Grant Thornton, it was risky, but too good an opportunity to miss. I gave up a permanent job, which wasn't using my full potential. Instead I wanted a role where I could apply my ACCA qualification and build upon six months' experience as an accountant.
After I started my placement, people would invite me to socials, but I felt too shy to join in. It was normal for everyone else, yet so unusual to me.
I was afraid to speak up or take on more responsibility. This made my first two weeks difficult. It was a real culture shock.
'I realised I was representing refugees. It motivated me to show we’re capable of doing the work when people give us a chance. This took me out of my comfort zone.'
Sometimes I questioned whether I would last the whole six months. But my colleagues at Grant Thornton told me to keep going.
When I asked for support, Grant Thornton and Breaking Barriers were so helpful and patient. People explained things in ways I could understand. Even when I doubted myself, everyone reminded me I had this big opportunity.
I realised I was representing refugees. It motivated me to show we’re capable of doing the work when people give us a chance. This took me out of my comfort zone.
Gradually, I built enough confidence to speak up more, take extra responsibility and greater risks.
Even though public speaking made me nervous, I joined a panel discussion about refugees finding work in the accountancy sector. What appealed to me was inspiring refugees who didn’t study in the UK and were struggling to find jobs.
Work placements like this are rare. So, I worked hard and put myself under pressure to perform. Thankfully, my efforts and contribution were noticed, which led to an offer of a role with the firm's Global Mobility Solutions team. And my life changed forever.
Our work with Breaking Barriers is helping refugees into meaningful employment
I feel I belong now. I’m more settled and can begin dreaming about the future in a way I couldn’t before. When you work hard, seize opportunities, and are prepared to accept support, you too can find somewhere to belong.
I'm proud that, in such a competitive environment where businesses can pick and choose talent, Grant Thornton embraces talent from diverse backgrounds. I want to encourage other businesses to look beyond the usual approach to recruitment.
Our relationship with Breaking Barriers helps raise awareness around refugees and different cultures in the firm and helps others like me to succeed.
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