To facilitate the hiring of refugees, businesses in Germany have developed B2B networks to assist each other. But missing qualifications or insufficient language skills remain major hurdles.
For Theo Baumstark, a manager at a German company specializing in thermal and health technology, the level of commitment and willpower of his Afghan protégé was “absolutely a positive surprise.”
Since November, Baumstark has been taking the time to teach the young migrant German. Next week, his student will begin an internship at his company - one of 330 firms that spearheaded the initiative, “Companies Integrating Refugees,” which was presented at the German Economy Ministry on Wednesday.
The network has received 2.8 million euros ($3 million) in federal funding and is headquartered at the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) in Berlin. It is expected to be a resource for companies in search of legal advice, examples of refugees who successfully integrated into a workforce or information about integration initiatives. It will also serve as a blackboard of sorts to organize regional events.
Economy Minister: ‘Integration at the workplace counts the most'
Germany's Economy Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, told reporters in Berlin that he was grateful for the initiative. He said that in addition to all the other efforts Germany is making to integrate refugees, including language courses and housing construction, at the end of the day, integration at the workplace may count the most. When someone has a job, Gabriel said, that person has the power to influence his or her destiny.
The Economy Ministry will soon propose a bill in the German parliament about improving the framework for training refugees. As it stands, new arrivals must reapply for training every year - and may not be older than 21. But this stands to change, and once it does, refugees as old as 25 will be able to apply for training programs, and they won't have to resubmit their applications every year. The new law also foresees automatically giving two-year work permits to those who complete their training.
Many small- and medium-sized companies in Germany are at pains to find trainees or qualified professionals. This problem is especially pronounced in rural areas, where job and traineeship vacancies often go unfilled.
Nevertheless, there are doubts that the more than 1 million refugees who came to Germany last year, and who are permitted to work after three months of being here regardless of the status of their asylum claim, will actually be able to fill that gap.
Problem: Lack of qualifications
Many refugees lack the qualifications sought by some German employers and “almost 100 percent of them don't speak any German,” said Eric Schweitzer, the president of the DIHK. For this reason, no one can expect integration to happen “from one day to the next,” he added. According to his estimates, integration is a process that can take at least five to 10 years.
Bettina Schmaude is a manager at an automotive repair shop in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg. Her shop has been training an Iraqi refugee for two and a half years.
Schmauder also expects the challenge of integrating refugees into the German workforce to be difficult. “Many refugees haven't had much training,” she says.
Schmauder says she has no illusions that the latest wave of refugees will help Germany fully overcome its shortage of skilled workers. “No, of course it won't, because we are having to start from scratch with so many people,” she says.
But if more and more companies keep doing their part, then the integration of many - if not all - refugees could be a success. Only then, says Baumstark, the thermal and health specialist, “can we save the millions of refugees.”