As Firas Khamiss scaled the podium to accept his Master’s Degree of Ophthalmologic Surgery, no amount of foresight could have predicted the years of turmoil to come.
Less than a year later, as civil war enveloped the Syrian streets, the young doctor was forced to abandon his newly-established private clinic, his career, and his home, and seek refugee status in Iraq.
It would be six years before Dr Khamiss finally laid eyes on the golden sands of Australia’s eastern coast.
"Before I arrived here, I had never spoken English in my life," Dr Khamiss said. But soon after settling on Brisbane’s north side, the 37-year-old surgeon was attending his first English class at TAFE Queensland.
While settling in Australia, eligible migrants and refugees have access to free English language classes through the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP).
The AMEP and its subprograms are funded by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs and delivered by TAFE Queensland across 34 Queensland locations.
In recent months, Dr Khamiss enrolled into Work Ready, an AMEP subprogram focused on developing skills for the Australian workforce.
"In Work Ready, students spend eight weeks in class developing employability skills, such as writing resumes, searching for work, and finding avenues in which they can develop skills for the workforce," said AMEP Team Manager Arzu Kurklu.
"After this, they participate in a work placement over two weeks. It’s a chance to gain genuine experience in the Australian workplace."
Due to COVID-19, Dr Khamiss was unable to participate in his work placement — but despite yet another setback, his training at TAFE Queensland would soon pave the way to an unexpected opportunity.
"After I finished Work Ready, I sent my new resume to many employers looking for a job. Immediately — quicker than I thought — I got an interview," the surgeon said with a smile.
"When I arrived for the interview, I was shocked. It was literally identical to the hypothetical interview we had practiced in Work Ready."
Just days later, Dr Khamiss received an offer for the role of ophthalmic technician at a local eye clinic, which he graciously accepted.
"This program gives our students a chance," said Arzu Kurklu. "Once they have that foot in the door, we hear such great feedback from employers — how committed the students are, how responsible they are. It helps them build their confidence and believe that they can do this."
The AMEP is funded by the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs. In Queensland, the AMEP is delivered through TAFE Queensland.