Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Magazine

Integration – What is European Business doing?

  • Thyssenkrupp, one of the initiators of Wir-Zusammen, believes that work can be an engine for integration. (Photo: Renate Meijer)

Thirty-six German companies teamed up under the name Wir-Zusammen (We Are Together) in autumn 2015 to promote integration of refugees.

It happened just weeks after German chancellor Angela Merkel had declared "we can do this" at a press conference on 31 August, raising hopes for thousands of asylum seekers wanting to start a new life in Germany

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Companies and nations face a huge task to integrate the one million refugees who arrived in Europe in 2015. (Photo: Michael Tapp)

ThyssenKrupp, an engineering and steel conglomerate headquartered in the western German city of Essen, was one of the initiators of Wir-Zusammen.

The firm will be offering 230 internships and 150 apprenticeships to refugees over two years.

"When the crisis arose, we thought: What can we do to tackle the problem? How can we help the government and help the people? So we encouraged our employees to help the refugees," the company's Heike Neumeiste told EUobserver.

"For example here in Essen there is a refugee camp one kilometre from us, and we urged people to donate things and allowed employees to help them during working hours with for example learning German.

"We also thought: What could be a long term help to integrate people? And that is of course work. If people work here, they have a better chance of integration."

The internships last from three weeks to three months and are meant to give an insight of the company.

Eighty refugees have already had an internship, which is a pretty good number, according to Heike Neumeister.

She says the process has not been easy.

"At first, people need have to have certain status, they must have been acknowledged to stay in Germany," says Neumeister.

"We can't just go to a refugee camp and say please come with us and have an internship. That does not work, they have to follow a certain process."

The apprenticeships are more demanding than the internships, for the company as well as for the refugee.

They involve three years on-the-job training that qualifies for full-time employment. The firm plans to start offering them in autumn this year.

Refugees must come with open minds

"The biggest issue is usually the language. You have to speak a very good German to work on the production side within ThyssenKrupp. You must be able to understand instructions due to safety issues," Heike Neumeister explained.

On the refugee's side the most important thing is to come with an open mind, she said.

"Of course we are a bit different so they have to be open minded and motivated. We are very punctual and follow certain rules that are new to some of them and they have to be able to accept that we work this way," she said.

ThyssenKrupp and many other German companies are facing a potential shortage of skilled labour.

"All the systems we develop now to qualify people, to integrate people, to get cultural training and all that stuff that is something we will benefit from in up to five years," Neumeister said.

The sudden task of integrating refugees into the company's workforce challenged the company's HR organisation.

"What the HR organisation is learning now is to speed up processes, because the refugee situation became very critical very fast – so we had to deal with it very fast. It's an issue of flexibility," said Neumeister, who is the firm's spokeswoman on HR issues.

It is also a key to success that the company's existing workforce are on board and informed of the plans.

"We have to communicate a lot and make these issues very transparent. We are offering these internships and apprenticeships additionally as we did not want anyone to feel that something was taken away from them," Neumeister said.

"But actually only very few people respond negatively. And it helps that a lot of employees have direct contact to refugees, because then the image completely changes so they are fine with it."

Patience is the biggest challenge

Siemens, a technology and engineering conglomerate that employs 114,000 in Germany alone, was also among the initiators of Wir-Zusammen.

So far 40 refugees have made it into the company's six-week internship programme, which can potentially lead on to a six-month course in language and mathematics.

"Without German language nothing works here," the firm's HR specialist Alexandra Frommer told EUobserver.

She said it was quite a challenge to get the internship programme started.

Completely new contracts had to be developed, rules and regulations incorporated and new networks built between the public authorities, job and asylum centres.

But now it goes much more smoothly and the internship programme will get rolled out in four different parts of Germany.

"Patience is the biggest challenge for us as well as for the refugees," she said.

"It can take four to five years to learn the language and require the skills needed for a job here in Germany.

"Many don't expect this and do not understand why rules and regulations must be followed. We can't just enrol a refugee into a university here, they must first fulfil the criteria."

Refugees contribute economically

There is so far little pan-European organisation of business initiatives to integrate refugees. But initiatives are popping up across Europe.

Denmark has for example 58 companies signed up to an initiative named 'Sammen om Integration' (together for integration).

In Sweden, LinkedIn launched a pilot programme called Welcome Talent that attempts to match qualified refugees with local job and internship opportunities.

In Germany, McDonald's is funding 20,000 three-month language courses for refugees.

Philippe Legrain, a former economics adviser to the European Commission, said there were quite a few businesses being proactive and recruiting refugees, but overall they needed to do more.

He has led one of the first comprehensive, international studies on how refugees can contribute to advanced economies for the Tent Alliance, a foundation aimed at helping displaced people, set up by billionaire yoghurt producer Hamdi Ulukaya and supported by among others Airbnb, the IKEA Foundation, LinkedIn, MasterCard, UPS and Western Union.

"In order for business to do more, governments need to put in place the right policies," Legrain told EUobserver.

"It should be possible for asylum seekers to come to work while their application is being processes and to speed up the processes. They need to make sure their qualifications are recognised quickly or that courses are provided that you can require equivalent," he said.

"Government and businesses need to work together."

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2016 Business in Europe Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Business in Europe magazine.

Magazine

The Business of Nature

The European Commission plans to unveil a new bioeconomy strategy on Thursday. EUobserver's third edition of Business magazine looked at the many aspects of the bioeconomy – the parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources.

Magazine

A sustainable death wish

No one can escape death. But choices over how one's body is disposed of could either lessen or increase your carbon footprint.

Magazine

Bioeconomy is a win-win strategy for Finland

"The big problem in the world today is a lack of resources and a lack of bio-diversity," says Finnish environment minister Kimmo Tiilikainen. His country plans to produce what the world needs the most.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Magazine

The Business of Nature

The European Commission plans to unveil a new bioeconomy strategy on Thursday. EUobserver's third edition of Business magazine looked at the many aspects of the bioeconomy – the parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us