Integrating refugees into the workforce has been a major challenge for the German government. But for one Syrian refugee, a trainee position at a renovation company could be the key to building a new life in Germany.
For 28-year old Bashar Dahhan, a typical day as a trainee could be managing his company's social media account or learning about the basics of accounting. Dahhan, who fled to Germany in May 2015 from Aleppo with his wife and his brother, works as a trainee at ISOTEC, a company that renovates buildings and restores them if they have been damaged by water or mold.
Dahhan is one of 1.2 million refugees who arrived in Germany between the years of 2015 and 2016. Though Germany is one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, integrating over a million newcomers into the job market is seen as a key challenge for the administration of Chancellor Angela Merkel, after she briefly opened the borders late in 2015. According to a survey done by the Institute for Job Market and Career Research, only six percent of all refugees who entered in 2016 have found a job. Of the refugees who came in 2015, the employment rate is just a little higher, at 10 percent. Although there are no reliable figures on how many refugees are working as trainees, a trainee position is often the first step to getting a permanent job in Germany.
Dahhan initially struggled to find a trainee position, applying to countless companies for seven to eight months. But a few weeks after the government granted him and his wife full asylum in October 2016, ISOTEC offered him a six-month trainee position. "I'm happy to be here and the company has given me a lot of support," Dahhan told InfoMigrants. He could only start the training, however, in March 2017, because the Federal Agency for Employment and the Immigration Office took several months to approve ISOTEC's decision to hire him.
Enabling integration through work
The ISOTEC management made the decision to hire refugees a year and a half ago. "We wanted not only to help the refugees integrate but also to expand our workforce," explained Vanessa Rippegarten, who works in human resources at ISOTEC. The Cologne branch of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK), which helps the refugees find the training positions, connected ISOTEC with Bashar Dahhan.
Dahhan's six months at a trainee at the company aren't up yet, but he has already been offered a three-year apprenticeship at the company. In September, he will begin work as an apprentice industrial clerk. He will continue to work in different departments of the company while earning a business degree from the IHK. The apprenticeship will likely lead to a permanent job at the firm.
For most companies in Germany, formal training is of high priority when hiring a new employee, much more so than in many other countries, including Dahhan's home country of Syria. After high school, students who don't qualify for the university or choose not to go usually enter an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship could last up to four years, and requires the apprentices to spend three to four days working for a designated company and one or two days in classes at so-called "Berufsschulen" (work schools). Apprenticeships tend to be paid positions, though salaries tend to be barely high enough to cover basic costs of living.
Difficulties on the way
Although Dahhan has found some luck at the company, his journey to Germany and his new life there haven't always been easy.
"It was a 12-day journey from Syria to Germany. I crossed the sea with my wife and brother. We had no idea if we would stay alive on this small boat. We had to search for another beginning and another life - we had no other choice," Dahhan recalled about fleeing the Syrian civil war.
"There were many difficulties when we arrived here, such as finding a place to live and learning the language. We received a small amount of money from the state but it's not enough for such a modern country like Germany," he said. He also had issues with getting his marketing degree from Syria recognized in Germany as the educational systems differ between the two countries. In Syria, Dahhan had worked in telecommunications companies and in the hotel industry.
He credited his wife with being the biggest factor behind his success so far: "My wife has been constantly supportive. She believes that I will have a big future ahead of me here in Germany."
Despite the challenges Dahhar has faced, he's satisfied where he is now. His work has helped him feel more at home in Germany. "It's been amazing to be a team player in a German company," he smiled. When asked about whether he wants to return back to Syria, he said that it's unthinkable because he is now rooted in Germany: he has the beginning of a career, a place to live and most of all, his wife gave birth to a son here.
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