Ways of working and ways of speaking: a linguistic ethnography of migrant IT professionals in Australian workplaces
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 13:40 by Vittoria Grossi
This thesis is a sociolinguistic study of the employment experiences of a group of non-English-speaking-background (NESB) migrant professionals in the information technology (IT) sector both as job seekers and employees in Australia. The study has two principal aims: (a) to discover the linguistic barriers which these individuals face in accessing employment and (b) to explore the linguistic challenges they face in actual workplace interactions. Australia has long relied on immigrants to fill both skilled and unskilled labor shortages. Despite this fact and broad political support for immigration, previous research has shown that the trajectory from migration to the workplace is a problematic one and many professional migrants experience downward occupational mobility. It is widely assumed that language difficulties are one of the reasons behind migrants’ difficulties in finding appropriate work and that intercultural workplace communication is problematic. This study is designed to explore both these assumptions. IT professionals were selected for this study because they continue to be supported by the Australian Government Skilled Migration Program but constitute an under-researched professional group in Australia. In keeping with the dual research aims, two related but distinct data sets were collected: one set consists of individual interviews with skilled migrants about their experiences of seeking work in the IT sector and the other consists of ethnographic data collected in four sites through observations, semi-structured interviews and recordings of spontaneous interactions and meetings. Findings relative to pre-employment experiences include employers’ tendency to refer to 7 native speaker models when assessing IT professionals’ English language proficiency as determined by accented English. Further barriers to employment include markers of foreignness such as names and lack of local experience. Whist the study found that significant barriers to workplace entry exist, the analysis of actual workplace interactions revealed that the participants were able to communicate successfully in different contexts that required managing a range of linguistic repertoires. These repertoires are acquired and developed within teams over time and include frequent instances of informal talk and a mixture of work and non-work talk, both of which are salient features of communication between colleagues in collaborative teams. These collaborative linguistic strategies work to reduce power and manage rapport among colleagues and include alignment strategies, shared topics, turn-taking and the co-construction of narratives. The thesis concludes with recommendations for teachers of professional communication, recruiters and policymakers.