Refugee Week 2021 - Awais’ story - Breaking Barriers

Refugee Week 2021 – Awais’ story

It’s been nearly two years since I joined Grant Thornton and now, I am a firm believer that you can achieve dreams with hard work and determination.



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This Refugee Week, we’re sharing the story of Awais, a Tax Assistant at Grant Thornton and a Breaking Barriers client. Awais shares his journey into employment and showcases the difference a business can make when they take action to support refugees into meaningful work.

It all started with getting support from the Refugee Council based in London where I was involved in a CV and presentation skills workshop. My trainer and one of my fellows told me about how Breaking Barriers and Matthew Powell, their CEO and founder, is trying to build partnerships with the private sector to enable those with a refugee background to get much valuable experience and insight to the UK work culture.

I was so excited to hear about it and I looked for BB online and the first thing I did was to book an appointment. The process was really helpful and easy, I was asked about my location so I was given an appointment at the Breaking Barriers office nearest to me.

Initially, I was asked about ID documents, GDPR consent, my education background and my CV for registration. Breaking Barriers allocated me a dedicated employment advisor, everyone was very friendly and I had such a positive impression and a feeling that I am definitely at the right place where I can get the help I need for the next step in my career.

My employment advisor helped me to further refine my CV and told me about roles I could apply for. I had support writing job applications which helped me to secure interviews with great organisations.

Although my luck wasn’t with me to begin with, I remained positive because I know I only need to be lucky just once, and then I received a call from BB and I was told there is a role at Grant Thornton London office if you are interested we can put forward your CV and without wasting a nick of a second I said yes! I was super excited just to get the interview. It took a further three months until I finally received a placement offer.

After I started my placement the real challenge began, every experience was a new experience I was a bit nervous and felt like an alien. For example, my colleagues 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. 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 that 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. I must say the work placement is a life-changing opportunity I have seen tremendous growth in all areas of life myself most important one is confidence to take on complex tasks, taking more risk and asking for help.

It’s been nearly two years since I joined Grant Thornton and now, I am a firm believer that you can achieve dreams with hard work and determination. I feel it is just a start for many great things ahead. I would like to share one of the recent opportunities that came to me to give back to society, I was recently approached by a charity and they wanted me to be a board trustee and treasurer. I feel like the direction is right and I want to work hard and get as much valuable experience as possible so I can use it to benefit not only myself but the wider community.

I want to thank Breaking Barriers and Grant Thornton for making great things happen.


If your business that wants to unlock the potential of refugees like Awais, then register to attend Breaking Barriers Refugee Week webinar to find out more –