Stories of Inspiration: CommUnity Construction

Every single entrepreneur selected to participate in a ygap program has an inspiring story to share. In this series, we’ll be hearing more from some of our program alumni about why they chose to start their business, some of the lessons they’re learned along the start-up journey, and how things have changed since being involved with ygap. This story is from the ygap First Gens program, supports migrants, refugees and diverse founders born overseas to thrive in the Australian business community. In this edition, we meet Hedayat Osyan, Founder of CommUnity Construction, which supports refugees in Australia to find sustainable and meaningful employment.

Refugees and asylum seekers face enormous challenges while starting their new lives in Australia. Additionally, refugees and asylum seekers are exploited at workplaces in Australia simply because they cannot speak English and lack strong support systems to help them either find a better job or campaign for better working conditions. In fact, 64% of refugees and asylum seekers remain unemployed in the first ten years of living in Australia. According to recent research, only 17% of 30,000 humanitarian refugees from Syria and Iraq who came in 2017/18 found employment in the first two years, despite having skills and qualifications.

CommUnity Construction  was established in 2017 to provide education and employment pathways for refugees and asylum seekers in the Australia construction industry. The construction industry is ideal for those new to Australia, as it requires fewer qualifications and training is less time-consuming while still paying a livable wage. So far, CommUnity Construction  has trained and employed many refugees and asylum seekers in Sydney. At CommUnity Construction, they believe that their business will be able to help thousands of refugees and asylum seekers find jobs and become independent in the coming years.

As an ex-refugee from Afghanistan, founder of CommUnity Construction, Hedayat Osyan, knows that it’s extremely difficult to find a job in Australia. While working in the construction industry, Hedayat learned first hand that refugees and asylum seekers are exploited every day through underpayment, pay withholding, threats, and working overtime without appropriate compensation.

Exploitation has a negative impact on lives, as refugees quickly become disappointed and hopeless when they experience exploitation in Australia. Most refugees don’t have a strong command of English and what social connections they have are forced to act as a safety net and support system. Through his interactions with other refugees and asylum seekers and his own lived experiences, he knew he wanted to help. Hedayat holds a Certificate IV in new small business from NSW TAFE, and has honed his business skills with his experience running CommUnity Construction (formerly “Nick Tiling Services”) since 2017.

Hedayat: ‘Refugees and asylum seekers face many challenges in Australia but the main challenge in my opinion, is unemployment. When I finished university and started working, I found that lots of refugees were unemployed and some of them, when they got a job, they were exploited at their workplace due to their lack of English/ skills/networks and support from the government. So they expressed to me personally that they were interested in working and contributing to society but they need a safe environment, a safe platform to contribute to society and to also support their family.

So that’s why I started up and established my construction company, formerly Nick Tiling Services to now “CommUnity Construction” where I help to train and upskill refugees and support them in finding jobs in the construction industry. So far in less than four years,  we have employed over 70 refugees and asylum seekers and we can see the impact of having a stable job on their everyday lives.’

Employment is a vital pathway to achieving independence, but for our most vulnerable, barriers can get in the way. CommUnity Construction addresses these barriers by providing meaningful work experience, skills, confidence, and access to sustainable employment through a unique social enterprise approach. They identified that refugees and asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable members of  society and face enormous challenges when it comes to sustainable employment.

The Settlement Council of Australia reports that only 36 percent of humanitarian entrants find jobs in the first 10 years. This means that 64 percent of people seeking asylum and refugees remain unemployed for more than 15 years or permanently. As a former refugee, the founder, Hedayat Osyan, understands that without a sustainable job, it is impossible to establish a new life and a future for these families. CommUnity Construction  provides a safe platform for refugees to find employment and become independent in order to contribute to society effectively.

Hedayat: When I was at the detention centre in Australia, I promised that I was going to  work hard to contribute to Australian society. However, when I was released from the detention centre, I faced many challenges. I was exploited by my workplace because I couldn’t speak English at that time. Then when I finished my university, I landed a job. I consider myself lucky because I was under 18 years old and I had the opportunity to go to proper English classes and high school and then university.

However, there are many refugees and asylum seekers who don’t  have this opportunity and have ended up unemployed for a long time in Australia and have become heavily dependent on social welfare. I thought I should change this stereotype and negative stigma about refugees where some people say ‘refugees are a burden to society, and they’re always heavily dependent on social welfare.’ I thought if we just work together, we can make a positive contribution to society. Therefore, I established this company, helping refugee and asylum seekers to become independent and contribute to society.

When I finished university and started working, I found that lots of refugees were unemployed and some of them, when they got a job, they were exploited at their workplace due to their lack of English/ skills/networks and support from the government. So they expressed to me personally that they were interested in working and contributing to society but they need a safe environment, a safe platform to contribute to society and to also support their family.’

Hedayat was a participant in the November 2018 cohort of the ygap First Gens Program. 

Utilising the $1,000 ygap small grant, CommUnity Construction printed t-shirts for its employees as a uniform and a way to build community and identity. A portion of the funds were also used to buy a new grinder, enabling the CommUnity Construction team to complete a technical project in Parramatta. CommUnity Construction used the funds based on their agreement with the ygap team.

At the conclusion of the First Gens Program, CommUnity Construction  was selected as a Growth Entrepreneur and was awarded $12,500 in seed-funding. Using this grant, CommUnity Construction  intends to purchase a van to transport employees and equipment from worksite to worksite. CommUnity Construction relies on hired transport to move tools from one site to another, which is costly and inefficient. Investing in a van will enormously reduce operating costs.

Hedayat:  I studied politics and international relations in university so I had no idea and very minimal skills and no qualifications to run a social enterprise or a construction company. However,  when I was accepted into the ygap program, ygap helped me from the beginning to the end, step-by-step.  We had different training sessions and tailored support which is important to me.  I’m very grateful for ygap where they helped me step-by-step to grow and become a very established company.  For example, when I started my company and we had only operated for one year, I thought I’m probably going to just lead a very small company with five people a year. However, since I started working with ygap, they have helped my company to grow and connected me with different mentors, different professionals, such as  accountants, lawyers, marketers, etc. 

Also,  when it came to the funding, it was huge for me. When I received the funding from ygap, this allowed me to purchase a  van for my company. Before that, sometimes I travelled twice to take my employees from their homes to my workplace because I had only a small car. However, since I bought the van, it has been a great asset for my company.’

When asked about the value that participating in a ygap program had brought for Hedayat and his company, he had this to say:

Hedayat: I always thought that I knew the problem and the solution to address it. However, when I started with ygap, they tried to push me harder beyond my comfort zone to think about that problem deeply and then they helped me to develop the steps for devising a solution, in a different way from my original idea. It was a very interesting way to develop a solution that is  more sustainable. Also in terms of the training, it was very helpful for someone like me, who has no knowledge to be able to run a social enterprise. It  would have been impossible, without the support of ygap and their program.’


To learn more about CommUnity Construction, head to their website at https://communityconstruction.com.au/