Three types of testimonies are presented: stories of refugees, integration paths seen from the professionals' point of view and initiatives told by the people who implement them. They show that a successful professional integration requires the joint involvement of several actors. They can be accessed either directly or by keywords.
The importance of following company rules
The Association New Danes has developed a general Card of Competences in collaboration with companies within low skilled industries in Denmark. These industries are characterized by having a large share of employees with a non-Western background, as well as being industries where many refugees and migrants with a non-Western background find their first job in Denmark.
In the Municipality of Odense, the local job center, responsible for helping different groups of unemployed citizens finding their next job, established a collaboration with between IKEA Odense and the association Neighbourhood Mothers. The main purpose of the collaboration was to establish internships in different departments of IKEA Odense for a group of refugees and immigrant women with limited Danish skills and limited to no work experience from the Danish labour marked.
During a collaboration, the general card of competencies was revised by the project partners. The purpose of the revision was to ensure, that the Card of competences included the relevant transversal skills, enhancing the women’s chances of getting a job at IKEA Odense at the end of the internship.
The project partners decided to keep all of the existing transversal skills including:
- Motivation and engagement
- Language and communication (language and non-verbal communication skills)
- Personal competences (relations to co-workers and customers)
- Interpersonal skills (attentive and helpful)
- Independency (initiative and responsibility)
- Personal appearance
- Quality of work
- Understanding and execution of instructions
- Order and tidiness
In addition, the project partners decided to add the following transversal skill to the list of valuarable transversal skills to enter the Danish labour market:
- Understanding and following company rules
The reason for this addition was, that the project partner found, that the lack of this understanding was often the main reason for misunderstandings and discussions during the womens internships, irritating and frustrating managers and coworkers. The new skill Understanding and following company rules usually referred to the following subtopics:
- Understanding and acting according to the rules of sick leave (when and who to call in sick and just as important, when not to)
- Planning and managing private appointments with doctors, caseworkers, teachers etc. outside working hours
- Abiding to the rules for use of mobiles phones at the workplace.
All of the subtopics regards the individual woman’s ability to balance family and working life according to har employer’s expectations, and for many of the women, this became one of their main issues during their internship.
One of the reasons for this issue, was that the women’s strong family identity combined with their lack of experience with and understanding of Danish workplace culture made them prioritise doctors appointments, phone calls from spouses and children during working hours, staying at home with children that might not actually be sick etc. over their training at the workplace. This came across as a lack of engagement or motivation to work and left many of the managers with the experience that the women did not take the internship serious.
On the other hand the challenge for the women was that many of these rules are considered self explanatory by Danes, and thus are often unspoken and very hard to translate and follow if you do not get help decoding and translating them - or as is the case for most of these women - did not know these rules or understood why they were that important.
The women that managed to accommodate these expectations and to comply by these rules - with or without help from their supervisors or coworkers - as well as demonstrate the other valued transversal skills, were the women who had the biggest progression and success during their internships. These women were also the ones offered a part time position or a salary subsidized position at the end of the their internship.
How the company is involved in integration
Deutsche Telekom is a German telecommunications company that operates several subsidiaries worldwide, including the mobile communications brand T-Mobile. It participates in an initiative by the European Commission, Employers together for integration to support labour market integration of refugees and newcomers focusing on their skills, talents and competences.
The Company evaluates positively transferable skills of the newcomers and focus on the training and job opportunities to take advantage of their background, at the same time that provide German language lessons.
The Company offers concrete opportunities for refugees to help them to enter in the labour market through different actions, such as:
- Internships: providing paid internships (3-6 months) for refugees that are structured around concrete learning outcomes. The internships can take place even during the asylum application procedure. A special website was created to show the internship and job offers for newcomers and refugees.
- On-the-job training: On the job training is a method of teaching the skills, knowledge, and competencies needed for employees to perform a specific job within the workplace. In this case, the company provides specific places for refugees, combining them with language training and bridging programmes in cooperation with the German Federal Employment Agency and the Office of Migration and Refugees.
- Jobs: the development of the program Praktikum plus Direkteinstieg combining internship and direct entry positions in order to allow refugees to adapt to European working life, together with two other German companies and the German Federal Employment Agency.
- Career guidance:
- offering general information about the German labour market and possible careers paths to refugees on the online platform handbookgermany.de
- beginning the online job search platform www.careers4refugees.de in cooperation with Jobware and Jobstairs.
Deutsche Telekom also supports refugees and newcomers in developing their skills to enter and remain in the labour market by means of:
- Scholarships: providing scholarships for refugees at the Telekom-owned University of Telecommunications Leipzig, promoting information technology and telecommunication expertise.
- Application Trainings: providing learning materials for application trainings for refugees.
- Supporting trainers and supervisors in understanding refugees backgrounds and needs in the context of internships and apprenticeships.
- Post-placement support for refugees by volunteer employees (peer to peer), after they start working at Deutsche Telekom, to ensure sustainability of employment and continuing personal and professional advising. Also, Telekom employees act as mentors for refugees and regularly help them learn German. Participants receive course materials developed by Telekom – free of charge – so that they can share their new skills and knowledge with others. Related to this, Telekom also relies on cooperative alliances when it comes to helping employees who offer voluntary service and support to assist refugees. One new project involves the "train the trainer" concept developed by Telekom recruiting staff in cooperation with the Haufe Academy. These volunteers train fellow employees and others who want to help.
To end, the Company make efforts to create an environment that promotes inclusion, both in the workplace and beyond, through:
- Exchanges between employees with and without migrant backgrounds through round tables, networks and buddy programmes
- Promoting volunteering through acknowledgment via special leave to staff who support integration outside work.
- Subscribing to the Diversity Charter in Germany (launched by German multinationals).
- Active participation in the initiative Wir zusammen (“together”, a platform formed by big companies to integrate refugees) and thus promoting co-operation amongst companies in order to tackle the issue of refugee integration into the labour market.
How to face lack of language mastering and cultural differences through dialogue
DMA is an Italian medium company producing measuring instruments for railway infrastructure. They design, test, improve and perfect every solution in-house, thanks to a highly specialized team of system designers, engineers, and mathematicians. They are attentive to the development of human resources and open to new projects and collaborations.
They recruited a Pakistani refugee for cleaning services and the experience has been positively evaluated: after a six-month internship period, he has been inserted with a regular permanent contract.
The main difficulties encountered regarded language skills and different cultural codes. The worker had a very low Italian level; after obtaining his A2 certificate during the internship, he stopped attending formal language courses. So he continued to show language gaps. Moreover, being assigned to a woman as a supervisor, he had difficulty to accept her as his responsible.
The company used the following strategies to face the problems:
- English, which is widely spoken in the company, was used as a vehicular language. Despite the refugee has not either a good mastery of English, this made communication with his colleagues easier and more immediate.
- A wide use of pictures was made in instructions, so as to make understanding easier
- He was supported, for a certain period, by a male colleague who played the role of mediator, accompanying him in the process of acceptance of his female supervisor.
The company was also able to make arrangements in the management of timetables during the period of Ramadan or for the usual Friday prayer. Thanks to the mutual intention to collaborate and the ability to modulate the company's needs with those of the worker, it was possible to mediate on differences, facilitating the meeting, respect and enhancement of the cultures knowledge. Through mutual knowledge and dialogue, the relationship has changed over time, becoming a closer bond, based on mutual respect for roles and mutual trust.
How part-time traineeship can be a quick access to acquisition of language skills and employment
Migrants’ poor Italian knowledge in a company requires a strong commitment by the employer, such as use of a vehicular language, use of interpreters/mediators, translation of safety information, manuals, organization of peer-groups, learning investment, etc. Few employers are ready to such an investment. Yet the practice confirms that learning a foreign language is easier when the learner is placed in a working context where s/he can practice language skills and receive constant and stimulating feedback. For this reason language courses should be combined with part-time employment.
It is the case of the Italian company Pasta & Company Group, 60 employees, working in the food industry. They have a long and excellent story of hiring new immigrants and refugees with a low level of Italian. They started in 2003 with Romanian workers (when Romania was a non-EU country) achieving excellent results and thus replicating the good practice with African migrants/refugees in the following years. Since 2015 they have been recruiting with permanent employment contract more than six workers coming from Benin, Congo, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Togo. The working involvement of migrants starts with a six-month paid internship with a part-time schedule (in most cases remuneration for the first three months is covered by the inclusion training paths, while the last three months are paid by the company itself). The part-time work commitment allows them to attend a formal Italian course while they are not at work. After the internship, those being under 30 are hired with an apprenticeship contract, which has a strong compulsory training component; so they can benefit from the training hours provided by the contract, also for the improvement of Italian.
Immigrants are included in all production phases: washing of raw materials, cooking and felling, mixing and processing of pasta, up to the pasteurization and final packaging. Different tasks are assigned on the basis of their respective skills, level of literacy and ethics: those with higher literacy can be assigned to labelling; Muslims are not assigned to meat processing, to prevent problems. Until today it has not been possible to assign any of them to commercial tasks, because these positions require high mastery of Italian and excellent soft skills, which they lack.
In the company experience, immigrant/refugee workers are an example to other employees, for the willingness and self-denial they devote to work; so their integration has a positive impact on the business climate and productivity.
The main features of the success of Pasta & CO are:
- combining part-time work commitment with language learning,
- remuneration during the traineeship,
- assignment of tasks on the basis of workers’ ethical values and competences,
- task-rotation (workers can try different tasks and learn more competences),
- workers’ autonomy in organising work shifts.
How to teach technical skills and specific language on-the-job
Symposium Osteria Enoteca, a restaurant and wine tavern, is a micro company made up of young, motivated personnel who are attentive to diversity management policies.
They recently hired a Kurdish refugee as assistant cook. The insertion of a foreign worker was not properly sought, but it happened in a rather random way, through a personal contact with a local charity organization, which presented the candidate. He was placed because of his soft skills and previous cook experience. The guy started to work on traineeship (with the salary paid by a local Foundation) and was then employed with a permanent working contract.
The main problems faced by the company were related to language and culture differences: the guy did not know the Italian technical language (names of ingredients, tools, verbs related to the art of culinary) and did not know how to prepare the courses, not having any experience on Italian food, traditions, recipes and tastes. So it was necessary to teach him technical language and professional information on-the-job. Several simple techniques were used to help him improve his technical Italian: adhesive strips with the Italian name of tools were stick on the wall and kitchen equipment/furniture; photos made and saved on mobile phones with specific labels; all work processes were repeated aloud by native colleagues with emphasis on the names of objects and verbs used; the preparation of the recipes was accompanied by the story of local tastes and culinary traditions; continuous corrective feedback was given and in case of need English was used as a vehicular language. The Italian staff used listening and dialogue based on mutual respect. This generated a bond of trust and collaboration that made the difference. This way of relating produced significant added value by improving the business climate and encouraging the work team to work together to solve problems by taking on the task as a team.
Symposium does not explicitly adhere to CSR models, but it operates in a socially responsible manner in an unconscious way. It is inspired by principles of genuineness with respect to the quality of products in relation to both food and wine. It does not make distinctions of origin or gender: people who need and want to work, who are motivated and willing to learn, willing to commit themselves and serious are well received. The success story of this micro company teaches that soft skills and motivation may be more important than technical ones and language and communication problems may be solved with a good deal of creativity and patience.
Never underestimate consequences of different cultural codes
Anna, a job coach tells us a story which reveals how religious and ethical values of a worker with different cultural codes can impact on the work performance. A Muslim boy she had accompanied in a social integration path started an internship as a waiter in a restaurant, where he was well received and had good relations with colleagues. Aware of his religious beliefs he was assigned to serve the tables, so as to avoid him any possible contacts with pork meat. Despite the excellent reception received and the positive working climate, he felt uncomfortable. During an evaluation meeting with the coach, he explained the reason for his discomfort: he could not send home the money he earned in the restaurant because such money appeared to him dirty, not being “halal”. Pork dishes were prepared in the restaurant and although he was dispensed from preparing them, he felt that the money he earned was dirty because of the presence of pork (feeling of guilty). The coach listened carefully to the young man's discomfort and tried to tune in to his needs and feelings. Finally they found the best solution: the coach would have replaced monthly his “dirty” money with other "clean" banknotes. This simple exchange of banknotes set him free from his inner cultural conflict.
A refugee trainee was placed in a hotel of a large chain. He did his job very well, but he often went out an hour earlier. When he was asked why he replied that, once he had completed his assigned tasks, he did not want to remain at work in order not to be paid more. He didn't know that the salary is not hourly. His behaviour was perceived by his chief and colleagues as unfair, instead it reflected high ethical principles of fairness.
A newcomer low-skilled worker during his traineeship used to take his shoes off at the garage. What for him was a form of respect for the company was a big problem of safety at work. It was necessary to explain him the reasons why he had to wear his shoes: to protect himself from possible accidents.
A well prepared preboarding can result in more value for the company hiring refugees
SETA is a medium-sized public-private company working in green services. In 2019 it participated in an integration project, placing two young refugees on an internship of 3 months, which was followed by a fixed-term contract of 9 months (with the intention to stabilize the two workers). The company board weighed the decision to join the project very carefully, given the social context of reference which is characterized by a high rate of native youth unemployment. Once taken the decision, they have carefully prepared a preboarding programme.
The first step was a preventive risk analysis on the possible impact of two refugees in the company, focusing on communication and relation aspects. Considering the type of work required to ecological operators, the company evaluated in advance the possible problem of impact of Ramadan; this issue was discussed directly with the two African candidates during the job interview in a delicate way. Both of them ensured the ability to operate even in extreme conditions (during the period of Ramadan, easier shifts would be guaranteed for them). The placement was made on the basis of:
- an objective approach focusing only on the competences needed by the company (refugee workers are like all others apart from the need to give more attention to linguistic and communicative aspects)
- mutual trust between the company and the workers (integration pact).
The second step consisted in preparing employees and teams to work with new refugee colleagues. A two-hour training session was organized by a migration expert, to raise the whole company's awareness of the issue of refugees; the following themes were dealt with: real data on numbers relating to the entry flows of non-EU immigrants into Italy, the problems migrants have to face during their migration project, types of migrants (refugees, asylum seekers or protection) and the Italian reception system with the reference legislation. The training was provided to trade union representatives, company managers, direct heads of the two new trainees and other company profiles considered as key persons for a successful integration. The presentation of the two refugees’ integration project proved to be strategic, thus avoiding possible oppositional attitudes in the workplace, linked to the principle of "Italians first". The role of the tutors assigned to the two young trainees was decisive for their successful integration.
The three main positive aspects of SETA inclusion experience, as highlighted by the HR head, are:
- Improvement of work performance: the dedication and motivation to work inspired other colleagues, resulting in a decrease in hours of absenteeism.
- Improvement of corporate climate: colleagues are happy to work in the same team and shift of the young Africans workers, who are full of strength and physical energy and work hard.
- Strengthening of corporate cross-cultural competences: the refugees helped their Italian colleagues to overcome stereotypes and prejudices, as well as understand their real life (past and present) by making many of them aware that the information they learn from media may be incomplete or partial.
The main elements of this successful experience are:
- Strong commitment of the board of the company
- Objective competence-based approach
- Preventive risk analysis and management
- Information and training for company staff to prepare them for the entry of the two workers
- Welcoming programme
SETA is among the winners of the UNHCR Welcome project in 2018, obtaining the award of Company working for refugee integration.
L’Isola di Ariel
L’Isola di Ariel is an Italian social cooperative working with disadvantaged people like psychiatric patients and newly migrants, mainly asylum seekers (85% have not received a title of protection, yet and many of them have the appointment with the Refugee Commission in 2020). This being suspended in a sort of limbo generates lot of frustration. Professionals from L’Isola di Ariel manage the whole process from the first reception till the social and work inclusion. Their care methods are strongly influenced by antropological and anti-psychiatric approach. As an example they take the practice of setting the table with patience and care, as a symbol of the relationship with the other, from the long experience done in the social-health field (in an apartments of psychiatric groups the operators carefully prepares the table and waits patiently for the guests sit to share and learn to prepare the table for themselves and others). From the consideration that a laid table facilitates dialogue and relationship, this cooperative considers food as a powerful social mean to promote exchange, contamination among people with different cultures. Food may be also a catalyst for social and work inclusion. Newcomers need to be helped to build their self and this is easier if they are included as soon as possible in a social and working context. Qualifying migrants and asylum seekers in the field of cooking is a way to provide newcomers with self-empowerment and work empowerment. The sooner they are inserted in a working context, e.g. in traineeship or volunteering, the sooner they improve their language and soft skills. Three inns specialized in Mediterranean cuisine (”La Locanda Clandestina” – ”Clandestine Inn”) have been set up in Torino, where multi-cultural teams work and food is a contamination of Mediterranean and ethnic cuisine.
Another similar project carried out in Piemonte is “Food for Inclusion”, which is the result of a partnership between the University of Gastronomic Sciences and UNHCR. Courses are specifically dedicated to refugees and asylum seekers, based on cooking techniques, mixed-race kitchens, and gastronomic traditions from the world.
Corporate internship and mentorship programmes
Another example of successful labour inclusion of refugees in Denmark is the corporate internship programmes that have been initiated in international companies such as Novo Nordisk, IBM, Ørsted, and Roche.‘We want to contribute to the society, and in addition to this, we are always looking for talented people, no matter where we may find them’, states Anders Vikkelsø, Senior Vice President in the unit Grid Operations, Distribution & Customer Solutions hos Ørsted.
The internship programmes help the refugees to view their competencies in a Danish context, which make them regain the hope that they will succeed in building a career in Denmark. In addition to this, it helps them get a foot inside the industries that are usually difficult to enter.
Motivation and self-efficacy generate a virtuous circle to learn language
Marine, age 40, is a woman from Ivory Coast who arrived in Italy in 2014. She grown in a family of six children she spent her childhood with a cousin who did not let her go to school. When she arrived in Italy she was analphabetic and had a poor French oral knowledge. During the civil war in Ivory Coast she had left the country to go to Libya, where conditions of life were hard and dangerous. So she decided to escape together with a man from Ghana sharing the same bad conditions of life. When arriving in Italy she was followed by a cooperative working with refugees and she was immediately enrolled in an alphabetization programme where she learnt to write and read in Italian. It was really difficult for her and she was ashamed in comparison to her mates (all adult refugees but with higher education), but she was highly motivated to learn Italian : her engagement was full-time since after school she kept studying Italian. She tells that TV used with Italian subtitles was a great source of self-learning. She used to set small and simple weekly goals in learning Italian ; she lived every goal achieved as a great success that pushed her to set further higher goals. Her alphabetization coincided with Italian language. Now she reads and speaks currently and has just some problems in writing. She feels very grateful and says that “they let her become a person”. Now she works as a cook in internship in a centre receiving unaccompanied minors and is able to maintain herself (in Italy these internships are specifically defined for refugees and beneficiaries of international protections (they are called “borse lavoro”) and are paid by national or local public administration). She is very proud of herself even if the sorrows of her previous life in Africa are still open, but now she has new projects for the future: to study to become a certified cook and to learn French.
Participating to an internship program
Rania is a refugee from Syria. She is 36 years old. She came to Denmark in July 2014 with her husband and their children. Rania holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Damascus University.
Since the beginning of 2016, Rania has been on a journey, moving from unemployment to an internship in the corporate internship programme in Novo Nordisk, to landing her dream job as clinical trial administrator at Novo Nordisk in April 2017.
‘During my internship at Novo Nordisk, I have definitely become more clear about my own strengths and competences. But what truly made the internship a ground-breaking experience was that everyone I met made me feel welcome. They helped me built up my professional self-esteem and supported me in developing my skills. And they did it out of genuine care for me. I will never forget that’.
To Rania, the corporate internship programme has been an extremely successful intervention path for boosting her access to the labour market as it provided an opening for her.
Importance of a skills assessment
Mrs S., from the French speaking part of Cameroon, arrived in France in 2011 as part of family reunification program. She was 45 and she had worked several years in Africa as a market saleswoman. She had never been to school and was illiterate but was doing well in calculation.
Mrs S. signed the contract of reception and integration within 3 months of her arrival in France. The Immigration Bureau prescribed language courses with the main objective of developing the written skills, although oral expression and comprehension needed also to be improved. Her vocabulary needed to be enriched, as she was mostly using a vernacular language in her country.
Mrs S. therefore followed the mandatory French language course but also a further course, again financed by the Immigration Bureau. At the same time, she carried out a skills assessment prescribed by the Immigration Bureau as part of the reception and integration contract. This assessment enabled her to become aware of and to identify the skills she had acquired throughout her working life, even if it was in the informal sector and therefore not justifiable by official documents.
When her language training was finished, Mrs. S. didn't thought about working, as her husband was retired with enough resources.
However, after a while, difficulties at home led her to consider searching for a job. She had identified Greta as a "resource" place, thanks to the pedagogical support provided by the staff. So she contacted Greta again to be supported in her job search when her situation became critical. She had to register at the employment centre and then she joined a training course preparing for employment in September 2013. This training, financed by the Auvergne Region, entitled her to a salary, which allowed her to cover her basic expenses but also to overcome obstacles linked to mobility, given that she lived in a village 20 km from the training centre. Thanks to this training course, Ms. S. get to know the working environment in France and the requirements of employers. She could also understand better the administrative functioning. The work practices in companies allowed her to learn about jobs that she did not know. She was able to acquire professional gestures, to develop her experience in a position where her previous skills were reusable. But above all, she has been able to show that she had some transversal skills that are particularly valued by employers : adaptability, dynamism and personal investment in the workplace. These working periods have been essential in Mrs S.'s integration path for several reasons: 1) she had no experience in the job targeted of housekeeping staff (her previous experiences could not be transposed as such in the French labour context) ; 2) it would have been difficult for her to contact companies by herself, 3) it was difficult for her to talk about her know-how and to defend her application during job interviews. These practice periods allowed Ms. S to show what she was able to do and to prove it to the employer. They made it possible to remove the preconceptions on both sides.
The role of the trainer was important as a mediator between the employer and Mrs S., first of all to decode and clarify the expectations of both parties (presentation of the objectives of the internship to the employer but also the obligations of the trainee). The follow-up during the internship made it possible to clarify the questions of both parties. Once a relationship of trust had been established, the trainer conducted the negotiation of a 6-month employment contract subsidised by the State.
The flexibility of the training system made it possible to build a tailor-made integration programme where bottlenecks have been identified before being removed. The integration path could be extended until she got a job. The post-training follow-up conducted by a trainer made it possible to strengthen the links between Mrs S. and her employer and at the end of this first contract, she could signed a permanent one.
The success of this professional integration is mainly due to the concept of integration path. The mastery of the French language was the first obstacle to overcome, particularly in oral communication. The trainer's support made it possible to compensate for the lack of written skills. Pre-employment training has led to an understanding of labour legislation, of the codes existing in the working environment, to a knowledge of the employment possibilities within the area and to become acquainted to jobs and skills. It has also allowed to make practice periods in companies with a support that create confidence by dispelling fears. These practice periods have been decisive for Mrs S. who was able to demonstrate her skills.