How to Successfully Employ Refugees

Some advice to help you get started and work towards a sustainable and fruitful working relationship.

by Maja Hebel, January 16, 2018
Successfully Employ Refugees

Maja Hebel is founder and CEO of floor5 consulting, a consultancy that promotes diversity and inclusion, while focusing on supporting employers who intend to recruit and successfully employ refugees.

Everyone seems to know it and everyone has said it - from social players to politicians to CEOs - we all seem to agree that those who seek asylum in our country need access to education and employment.

Legislation has recently passed new laws to reduce barriers to the labour market, at least for those who have a good chance of staying. At the same time, a recent study conducted by FAZ in July 2016 found that only 54 refugees are employed by all DAX (German stock index) companies and that 50 of them are at Deutsche Post. The numbers speak for themselves. Despite all the positive claims made by many corporates, despite economic growth and despite a lack of skilled labour in many industries, refugees are not being incorporated into the German workforce.

While many smaller companies do a lot more than DAX companies, the figure above indicates a number of challenges. Undoubtedly job placement is a difficult task and it takes time and effort to match the right people with the right companies. But most importantly, the prerequisites and legal circumstances are a big mystery (and therefore turnoff) for many employers who have never dealt with residency issues or work permits.

These unanswered questions pose a significant hurdle when it comes to recruiting those who seek asylum, especially for companies who don’t have a human resource person or department. Finally, very few potential employers have ever met or engaged with refugees and do not know what to expect from their new employees.

That said, it is possible. The following points are intended to help you get started and work towards a sustainable and fruitful working relationship:

  • Decide what skills are needed for the job to be filled; Bear in mind that many refugees do not have comparable school systems or respective certificates to document their education.
  • Find out the legal prerequisites for filling this position (e.g. do you need to get the qualification of your candidate recognised); the Agentur für Arbeit, the Job Centre, Chamber of Commerce/ IHK or a welfare organisation (Wohlfahrtsverbände) working with migrants and refugees are helpful contacts.
  • Be prepared to make more than a few calls (e.g. to Ausländerbehörde or Agentur für Arbeit) - the administrative process of recruiting and hiring can be time consuming and may require patience and persistence. But it is worth the effort!
  • Public support and funding like subsidies or supported employment schemes are available, there are number of programmes mostly administered by the Agentur für Arbeit or Job Centre, e.g. Einstiegsqualifizierung (EQ) or Assistierte Ausbildung (AsA)
  • Promote the orientation and integration into your organisation with a buddy system of volunteer colleagues.
  • Continued German courses are key for successful employment in all fields; adapting work time to promote these efforts or helping to find specific occupational German classes are often necessary to further improve German skills. Find more information here:
  • Get your team and management on board and make sure they are also willing to support and adapt; Offer workshops and coaching to teams and team leaders that focus on diversity and inclusion and their implication at the work place; information on flight and migration, the unique situation of refugees in Germany can also help promote understanding.
  • Like with every other new employee, be prepared that people might leave for all kinds of reasons, but be sensitive to potential challenges they might face at the workplace or outside work that might impact their work, e.g. frequent/continued sleep deprivation due to noisy roommates at the shelter can lead to bad performance or a decrease in motivation. As with any employees, work with people to understand what could be affecting their work performance.
  • Celebrate diversity! Focus on similarities rather than differences and speak with your new employees rather than about them; Working at eye level prevents stigmatization. Respect that some colleagues might want to speak about their old homes and the reasons they had to leave, others might not.

In our globalized world, a diverse workforce has massive potential. Promoting diversity and inclusion serves us all.

On that note, ethnic background is not the only criteria for diversity: we equally need to ensure that persons of different gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, those with or without disabilities have equal chances at the labour market.

54 is not enough. But now is our chance to change that.

Originally published October 11, 2016