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Siemens eyes refugee talent

September 29, 2015

Boon or bust? Across Europe, the debate over how the influx of refugees will affect Europe's economy continues to rage. But in Germany, one of the country's largest employers has clearly taken sides.

People pass Siemens flags outside company headquarters
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Kneffel

German engineering giant Siemens on Tuesday announced an ambitious, multi-pronged program for integrating some of the tens of thousands of refugees arriving in Germany.

The first stage, to be launched in October, will see the company significantly expanding its 8-week internship program already running in the city of Erlangen. New locations would include Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, the company said, and could offer up to 100 extra refugees the chance to get a head start on the German job market. This would be a ten-fold increase over the current number of internships offered in Erlangen.

Siemens stressed that refugees accepted to the program would receive the "usual intern pay and [would] be assigned a local contact person to help and advise them."

In addition to extending its internship program, the firm announced it would also create four special classes at the company's locations in Berlin, Erlangen/Nuremberg, Krefeld/Düsseldorf, and Karlsruhe, "designed to lay the foundation for a successful career start." The six-month training program would include a mix of German language courses, an introduction to German culture and customs, as well as vocational preparation, a spokesperson told DW.

Skilled Labor Shortage: Refugees Wanted

"Through our European training program that we started in 2012, we've gained valuable experience in the training of young people from other countries. We can now make use of this experience to prepare refugees with suitable prior qualifications for their careers," said Managing Board member Janina Kugel, who also doubles as Siemens' Human Resources chief.

The Munich-based firm is one of Germany's biggest private-sector training organizations, with some 10,000 trainees and university students enrolled in its two-track education programs.

"Our only requirement is that all applicants, including refugees, can pass our regular application process," said Kugel.

Cut the red tape

Refugees still in the process of applying for asylum would also be allowed to apply, she noted, but added:

"We need assurance [from the German authorities] that those enrolled in our training program will be allowed to stay [for the duration of the program]. But more pressingly, we need assurance that those who've completed their training, and whom we wish to take on, will be allowed to stay in the country."

On top of its integration-through-training outreach, Siemens said it would also support more hands-on activism by its employees, granting "paid leave of up to five working days a year for occupational groups like company doctors" and other workers, whose skills could help Germany better cope with the high influx of refugees.

The engineering powerhouse also announced plans to tap additional unused facilities for housing refugees across the country. The company has already made available two vacant office building to the Munich city authorities.

Siemens estimates its new program will cost the company 1 million euros ($1.12 million). In addition, it said would provide 1 billion euros, raised in part through charity in-house drives, to support third-party aid projects, "in particular those involving language teaching and integration support."

"Germany needs immigrants, if it wants to keep up its current economic performance," Kugel said.

pad/uhe (dpa, Siemens)