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.