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.
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.