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Off to a bad start

Volker Witting / dcAugust 17, 2016

They’re mostly young, male, and highly motivated. Despite this, it’s not easy for refugees to find jobs. That’s the result of a study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development.

Deutschland Symbolbild Flüchtlinge am Arbeitsmarkt
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Wagner

Kay Kornatzki remains optimistic: "Yes, we can do this," he said, quoting Chancellor Angela Merkel's now famous catchphrase with regard to the refugee crisis. He is the head of a construction training facility in Berlin. Since the spring, a group of refugees have been learning all the basics of construction work as part of an initiative by the Construction Industry Association. "The main sticking point for the refugees, though, is the language," said Kornatzki.

Out of hundreds of refugees, 13 were chosen to begin the training program with Kornatzki in March. Masonry, carpentry, and learning German are all part of the program. There's a huge need for skilled construction workers in Berlin. In the next few years, there are plans to build more than 100,000 new apartments in the German capital.

"We need everyone we can get," Kornatzki said. "But the lack of skilled workers in Germany can't be solved by refugees alone."

Bureaucratic hurdles

Kornatzki and his initiative have repeatedly faced bureaucratic hurdles when it comes to their work with refugees. From his original group of 13, there are now only seven left. "The others were taken away to do integration courses," he said. These courses offered by the state are mandatory for refugees. They learn basic German and are given an orientation to life in Germany. For Kornatzki, it's been a disaster, because the state has been able to pluck the mainly teenage refugees out of his project.

Vorbereitungskurse für Flüchtlinge Studium
Preparatory courses help get refugees ready for the labor marketImage: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Fischer

Reiner Klingholz, the main author of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development's study on efforts to get refugees into work says all 10 of the initiatives he examined reported similar bureaucratic hassles. He and his co-workers wanted to take a closer look at how job integration is working in Germany, and how successful initiatives have been in their efforts to find employment for refugees.

Local initiatives proving very successful

Around 1.5 million refugees have arrived in Germany in the last 10 months. Around 75 percent of them are under the age of 30, and most of them are male. But Klingholz says the transition from refugee to gainfully employed resident is anything but easy. Only around 2 percent of the migrants speak German, and only a few have any professional qualifications or even a proper education. "Most of them also want to earn money as quickly as possible," said Klingholz, adding that it's hard to make them understand that without proper training that meets German standards, they're unlikely to find a good job.

Deutschland Facharbeiter Flüchtling Jihad Maai
Germany has so far only provided a miniscule number of jobs for refugeesImage: DW/C. Röder

Experience shows that in their first year in Germany, only 8 percent of asylum seekers manage to find work. Even the chancellor has complained that big companies are much too hesitant to take on refugees. Around 100 German companies have joined efforts in an initiative known as "Wir zusammen" (Us Together), but so far they have only managed to find jobs for 450 refugees. Merkel is now openly addressing the problem. At a refugee conference in mid September, she is expected to appeal to the executives of top German firms to make more training opportunities and jobs available to refugees.

The study by the Berlin institute shows that, more than simply referring refugees to job opportunities, what really helps is initiatives where citizens take time for refugees - as well as better cooperation between the various initiatives. One surprising result of the study: Around 60 percent of all the jobs for refugees arose out of personal networks of friends and acquaintances. Only around 20 percent were the result of state work placement efforts. And both researcher Klingholz and trainer Kornatzki agree that the most important instrument of all in the job search and successful integration remains the ability to speak German. Unlike Kornatzki though, Klingholz is less optimistic about employment schemes for refugees. "We still have to find the right way forward," he said.