What Can NGOs Do to Help Refugees Acquire Critical Job Skills?

Despite the hysterics of far-right nationalists, influxes of refugees have the potential to positively impact economies all over the world.  Take Germany, which faces a shortage of over one million skilled workers, with 60% of companies citing finding skilled workers as their biggest challenge.

Yet many refugees find themselves at a disadvantage when compared to native workers because they did not have the opportunity to develop crucial job skills in their birth countries.  As Achim Dercks, deputy managing director of the Association of German Chambers of Industry puts it, “Someone who comes from Eritrea and says he was an electrician might have repaired a radio or laid a cable there, but he might have never seen a fuse box, as we use it.”

NGOs and nonprofits can play a vital role in helping refugees enter the workforce by providing training on essential job skills and assistance with job placement.  Based on Sonata Learning’s experience developing training programs for NGOs/nonprofits, major manufacturing/industrial clients and the trades, we offer the following recommendations:

  • Screen for general aptitude, not just specific experience and skills.  When evaluating applicants, organizations will often focus on job-specific experience and technical knowledge.  This can present a barrier for refugees who might never have had a chance to work for a company organized according to modern best practices or to use high-tech equipment.

    Organizations can help open their doors by assessing basic aptitudes – such as work ethic, perceptual speed and accuracy, interpersonal skills and problem-solving – rather than specific technical skills.  Candidates who score highly in these areas could, with training, become exceptional performers in a short amount of time..

  • Curate and translate/annotate existing materials to make them easily accessible for refugees.  You can find instructional videos on nearly any subject online, meanwhile several programs offer free training resources specifically for refugees on subjects like digital literacy, business principles, job-specific technical skills and basic life skills that you can share with refugees.  Language might be an issue, but even if you cannot afford to fully translate materials, simply providing synopses or annotations (e.g., YouTube video comments) in refugees’ native languages, can make learning easier.

  • Provide training for employers and supervisors to sensitize them to cultural factors and issues impacting displaced persons.  It’s not solely the responsibility of refugees to facilitate assimilation into their host country’s workforce. Training the employers and supervisors you work with on the political, cultural and social contexts that inform the refugees’ worldviews and behaviors makes it easier for both parties to meet each other halfway and build healthy working relationships.

If your organization is dealing with these issues, or any other learning-related challenges, please contact Sonata Learning.

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Amber Leigh is a Learning Specialist at Sonata Learning.  She works with NGOs, corporations and government agencies to implement training and knowledge management initiatives impacting thousands of learners worldwide.