Global shifts including digitalisation, the transition towards a greener economy and major demographic changes have increased the global skills gap. According to the Skills for jobs database by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at least 80 million workers in Europe are mismatched in terms of qualifications. This means workers lack the proper qualification for the job they have been hired to do, either because they are under-qualified or overqualified.

According to the 2019 annual economic survey by Eurochambres, a representative of the business communities in Europe, the lack of skilled workers is one of the biggest challenges faced by European companies. This is because the skills gap has an economic impact both on workers and businesses.

For instance, workers who perform tasks they are not qualified for can earn up to 24% less than those properly qualified. In Germany, this results in salaries reduced by EUR 8,000 per year. For companies, it can be difficult to hire the right people in the timescale, resulting in unfilled positions and consequently, delays in the production process. In addition, if companies are forced to hire under-qualified people, they are then required to spend money and time to train them, which also slows the adoption of new technologies.

Germany, however, has taken an innovative approach to plugging the skills gap to help drive forward their economy and provide jobs for the large volume of displaced people that have arrived in the country.

More than one million asylum-seekers arrived in Germany between 2015 and 2016. Many of them held valuable professional experience and were keen to integrate into their host country to help re-establish themselves and also to contribute to the economy.

SAP, a multinational firm that develops software for businesses, Volkswagen, the largest carmaker in Europe, Deutsche Bahn Germany’s state-owned railway operator and Deutsche Post DHL have all understood the potential of the skills these refugees hold for the economy and have actively employed refugees to fill the skills gaps they found. Each are seeing positive results from doing so.

“Refugees are bringing special skills with them. We have to figure them out and use them,” said Annette Mock from DPD DHL Group, which provides training and internships to 450 refugees across Germany. “They are really committed people and they are bringing enthusiasm, understanding and also skills and resilience.”

Across each of these companies, refugee employees are provided with training designed to help them integrate into the company and deploy their skills effectively. For instance, this could include intensive German lessons, hands-on practical experience and mentoring programmes or formal teaching sessions.

For example, having fled her homeland in the grasps of war, Sana Dawood, a software developer from Syria replied to a social media post by SAP looking for refugee interns. She was accepted and joined 80 refugee and asylum seekers – many of whom were without certificates to prove their qualifications – on a six-month paid internship. “Everything was new – new company, new culture, new colleagues, new language, new technologies,” she said. “My previous experience helped, but there was a lot to learn about the most modern technologies.” She has since graduated from the internship into a full-time contract. “Working here has really helped me to think positively,” she said. “Before the war, we had good lives so it’s strange to be labelled as a refugee and rely on others. I hope to stand on my own two feet as soon as possible.”

Over at Deutsche Bahn, Mahmoud Nouri Al Abdulah landed a traineeship with the German rail operator after referral from a social worker. Having trained as a rail engineer with Syrian Railways in Aleppo, Mahmoud’s skills directly fitted the role, even though he needed training on new technological developments. He now works full time for the company, earning a good wage, enough to support the family that accompanied him to his new country. The programme Mahmoud attended was launched in conjunction with Germany’s Federal Labour Office and further projects are planned in Munich, Hamburg, Erfurt and Bremen offering 120 vocational training places for refugees by the end of 2019.

“The refugees we bring into our company do a really, really good job,” said Martin Seiler, member of the management board at Deutsche Bahn AG. The company now has more than 400 refugees in their training programme that operates in 10 locations across Germany. “It’s really a win-win situation because we get employees onboard with broader diversity, with another background and with a high potential for motivation and engagement for the company.”

Porsche and Deutsche Telekom run similar programmes and according to Germany’s Institute for Employment Research, 36% of refugees – around 380,000 to 400,000 people – in the country aged between 15 and 60 are now in work and the think tank forecasts that figure will rise by January 2020.

However, initiatives such as these, designed to bring refugees into the workforce in order to plug skills gaps should not focus solely on the new refugee employees – they must be a firm-wide effort ensuring existing employees receive the same level of training. It may even be helpful to run cultural awareness workshops to ensure that all workers develop a sense of team and cohesiveness.

Germany in particular has seen unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers arriving at its shores. Indeed, by the end of 2018, around 10.9 million people of exclusively foreign nationality were registered in Germany’s Central Register of Foreigners (AZR). However, whilst some see mass migration as a problem to be solved, for innovative companies, this influx of people represents a wealth of talent and skills that can, and should, be harnessed to advantage their businesses and the wider economy. Equally, welcoming refugees into the workplace helps ease an often highly traumatic experience. Gaining positive employment can help repair a person’s sense of self-worth, ability to support family and help improve their quality of life.


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