Employability and labour market integration program for refugees
Eight IKEA Group markets (Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK) have started programs that help refugees gain work experience, develop new skills and integrate into their new communities.
The Employability Program for Refugees is a training initiative in IKEA stores which aims to improve refugees’ capacity for inclusion in the labour market and their integration into the society. IKEA works in conjunction with the refugee aid NGOs and national departments of employment, migration and social security.
Specifically, the programme comprises a five-week training placement in the store, which provides refugees with the resources and tools to improve their employability in the retail sector, and to encourage their present and future integration into the labour market. In addition, it gives IKEA’ workers an opportunity to work and develop in a diverse, plural and socially-conscious working environment.
For most refugees, the workplace situation is new and unfamiliar – they first need to learn about the new processes and work culture. To speed up this process and make it as efficient as possible, a good “onboarding” system is important. It is also recommended that refugees are very closely supervised, especially in the initial period. At IKEA, these two elements are part of the introductory process for any new employee.
Within the framework of the Labor market integration program for refugees every new employee is also given an introductory timetable structuring the initiation phase and setting dates for regular feedback and follow-up meetings. In addition, every new employee is given a kind of mentor/buddy to act as their point of contact during the introductory period, someone who looks after and supports their new colleague.
These measures are particularly important for refugees, because they need very close supervision, especially at first. The better the introductory phase is organized, the better and faster they reach the required standard in their work.
The biggest hurdle is initially language. Many refugees cannot speak the national languages and the compulsory language courses funded by the state or municipality usually only teach basic knowledge. For refugees it is useful to work closely with local employees to improve their language skills and understand all the processes of the daily working routine.
The central element of the mentoring is the matching process, that is, bringing together mentors and mentees. Finding well suited mentoring pairs is essential for the successful development of the mentoring relationship and therefore demands particular attention and sensitivity.
To obtain a good match, special attention is paid to occupational (e.g. sector, type of training) and regional factors (e.g. target markets of the company, region of origin of the mentee) as well as language skills. The objective of the mentor activity is to ensure a mutually enriching exchange.
One of the most rewarding aspects of mentorship is the development of a cross-cultural friendship. Culture is a dynamic and often amorphous entity. It is a set of values, beliefs, assumptions, language, aesthetics, ideas, and expectations that are shared between people from a similar geographical and historical space. It is formed by the collective experience of many and it informs the experience of each participant. While each of us is in part a product of our cultural heritage no one is a cultural paradigm perfectly embodying every aspect of a given culture. Each of us stands both in and in contrast to our own culture.
For IKEA, one of the fundamental pillars of the mentoring is raising awareness among the workers of the situation of refugees and anchoring the programme in their commitment to equality. According to the feedback received from those who have taken part, the stores and the individuals who have participated to the mentoring feel that they have acted as ‘agents for change’ in their communities, easing the process of including these people in the labour market and in society in general.
The support provided by IKEA mentors has made the programme an authentic and innovative supported-employment experience. Programmes such as the one developed with IKEA are very important, since they can be considered as an intermediate stage, linking training to entry into employment, which is necessary for the integration of the refugees into society.