Improving fluency in French while learning about the business culture
The French Foundation FACE – Acting against exclusion - has developed Entre voix as a complementary action to those, formal and non formal, existing for the learning of French such as the courses delivered by associations and training organisations. Entre voix has been co-financed by the General Directorate for Foreign Nationals in France.
Entre voix consists of hours of conversations between a French worker employed in a company that is part of the FACE network and a refugee or a newcomer. They practice professional French in pairs. But it also aims at exchanging about the knowledge of the business world and more widely the access to employment. These hours of conversation are also an opportunity for both parties to learn about each other's culture and to develop professional and human relations that are essential for the integration into the host society.
The frequency of appointments varies according to the pair: weekly, bi-monthly or monthly. Pairs are encouraged to meet at the workplace of the employee, in order to allow the refugee to become familiar with the working environment.
During this period, members from FACE, ensure that conversations run smoothly and provide support to facilitate exchanges in case of misunderstandings or difficulties in scheduling appointments. Telephone calls with employees and refugees are regularly organised to ask them about the progress.
In order to carry out these conversations, educational materials were produced by the Greta du Velay, a training centre. They are given to the pair to facilitate the exchange, they include:
- 5 thematic leaflets to facilitate 5 hours of conversation. These sheets contain suggestions of topics for discussion, with proposals of activities and some vocabulary to guide participants.
- 2 practical sheets, one for the employee, the other for the refugee, to explain the framework of these hours of conversation, and answer any questions and possible concerns.
- 2 follow-up sheets, one for each, so that they can give their opinions and suggestions at the end of each hour and on the whole programme.
- 2 illustrated folders to give the above detailed materials to participants.
As part of the project, the conversation hours process and tools have been presented to companies and beneficiaries during a one-hour presentation. Then a follow-up by pair has been organised, for a total duration of 3 hours over the exchange itinerary.
This action has been experimented in 2018 in four areas (Paris, Calais, Saint Etienne, Montpellier) with 62 pairs trained and more than 310 hours of conversation.
Newcomers find that the conversations were very useful on a professional level to discover the business world in France, to develop their vocabulary, to refine their professional project, to work on their skills and to find a job. 96% "strongly agree" that the topics covered were interesting and adapted to their needs. Many believe that this has given them the opportunity to develop their professional network and their knowledge of the different professions that exist in France. The main difficulty they encounter is the lack of fluency in French to express themselves, as well as to read and write in French.
Some testimonials of both parties:
A newcomer participant with FACE Côte d'Opale: "My mentor was super nice to me. We talked about a lot of things, we improved my CV and we wrote my cover letter. Even with language problems, we are still able to do a lot of things. I am happy to have learned and understood how the labour market worked in France."
A migrant from FACE Hérault: "Thanks to these hours, I was able to plan ahead, understand what is expected by the company and above all understand that I am capable of it.”
Human Resources Manager, Casino: "An enriching experience for him and for me. It is necessary to deepen the topics discussed. The device could be extended."
Tax lawyer, Casino: "Good exchanges, no difficulties encountered with my partner."
Technical Executive, IBM: "Interesting and often funny exchanges with a young person full of enthusiasm and optimism. A beautiful encounter that allows me to better understand the life and difficulties encountered by migrants and also the richness they can bring".
Technical Executive, IBM: "I get a better understanding of migrants' backgrounds and the difficulties of their daily lives".
Manager Technical Sales Solutions, IBM: "The first concern with my partner was to successfully enter the company. We therefore focused on finding training adapted to the position we were looking for and on the success of the job interviews.”
Project Manager, IT Department, IBM: "I didn't have any difficulties with my partner, who was very affordable and in demand. The added value of our exchanges was the oral and cultural exchange.”
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.
The importance of mentorship
Khawla, age 36, is a Syrian woman who arrived in Denmark in 2014. Just like many other new Danes, she found it difficult to transfer her own previous experiences from the Syrian educational system and job market to a Danish context. In Syria, Khawla completed a law degree corresponding to a bachelor’s degree in Danish standards. However, when arriving in Denmark, Khawla quickly started up vocational training to become a social health worker. Khawla became enrolled in a mentorship program where she was matched with a mentor, Tove. According to Khawla, this mentor became imperative for her future path, as she helped Khawla with navigating in the system. Khawla realised that she had a great interest in mathematics, and that she dreamed of educating herself and finding employment within a field dealing more with this. Her mentor helped her research different industries in Denmark, and they found that an engineering education would be suitable for Khawla whilst being an industry with an extreme shortage of labour force. Khawla is now doing a preparatory course, and she expects to be admitted to an engineering school soon. In this way, her mentorship program has indeed boosted her access to employment.