How to better integrate refugees into the labour market

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Christophe Catoir, President, Adecco

  • Record numbers of refugees around the world are fleeing their homes in search of safety and a better life.
  • Integrating refugees into the world of work not only supports these communities but helps companies fill gaps in their talent pipeline.
  • Many companies are actively working to provide relief through purpose-driven collaboration.

The world of work is a platform that connects individuals, companies and governments. This means that it’s vulnerable to crises such as inflation, geo-political instability, climate change and pandemics, but also that it can actively contribute to relief through purpose-driven collaboration.

The war in Ukraine and its subsequent refugee crisis is a perfect example. Our track record in aiding refugee integration lies very close to Adecco’s purpose of making the future work for everyone, but also close to my own heart. It is one of the reasons I love doing what I do.

The Ukraine crisis

Within days of the invasion, Adecco launched Jobs for Ukraine. This not-for-profit platform was created as a solidarity initiative to help people and companies contact one another quickly, creating opportunities for people that had to flee their country. Beyond that, the platform offers training modules, reskilling and counselling. Our experts advise candidates on their CVs and guide workers who may benefit from additional help in their new job. So far, we have helped around 8,000 refugees who have registered on the platform to connect with companies and find jobs – and that number keeps growing.

The “why” of our efforts to integrate refugees into the world of work boils down to our heartfelt commitment to making the future work for everyone. But the “how” is equally crucial.

When done well, refugee integration doesn’t just help whole families and communities begin new lives; it can be a solution to some of the most pressing challenges facing the world of work. For today’s leaders, building dynamic and agile talent strategies and struggling to fill gaps in their talent pipeline, tapping into the refugee talent pool is a win-win solution.

Empathy as an integration driver

In times of economic uncertainty, employment gives people and communities security, stability and purpose more than ever. Recent years have made it clear that uncertainty seems a permanent fixture of our modern world. Any company looking to make a sustainable social impact must commit to inclusive employment strategies in the long term. And while such initiatives have a strong economic purpose, they should also come from a place of genuine empathy.

Last year, our Global Workforce of the Future Report revealed the importance of corporate empathy for workers worldwide, but it becomes even more important when reaching out to the most vulnerable groups worldwide.

In fact, integrating refugees successfully cannot be done without the basic diversity framework of belonging that embraces inclusion and equity. Refugees can contribute skills and experience, yes, but they are also individuals who may need support.

In the Ukrainian crisis, the vast majority of refugees entering our programmes were women with children. Next to often very challenging personal experiences and trauma, they face challenges like language barriers and culture shocks, and must navigate how to access everyday necessities like housing and schooling. Integrating them into the workforce means being flexible, understanding and reaching out with upskilling courses to eliminate – or at least reduce – as many of these obstacles as possible.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting refugees?

Since 24 February 2022, over 6 million refugees from Ukraine have crossed borders into neighbouring countries. The war is widely recognised as the worst conflict in Europe since WWII and adds to the estimated 31 million people worldwide who have been displaced across borders as a result of persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations (UNHCR, 2021). Of this, approximately 10 million are of working age, highlighting the centrality of employment and employability to successful integration.

The crisis in Ukraine is unique in terms of the speed and scale at which it has unfolded. However, it is also unprecedented in the legal and institutional response to the crisis. This has brought into sharp focus what is possible for refugee employment and employability with the right enabling environment.

The Refugee Employment and Employability Initiative builds on the momentum associated with supporting refugees from Ukraine to create a basis for system-wide global support from employers for refugees that extends across conflict contexts.

The Initiative has three objectives:

  • to increase employment opportunities for refugees;
  • to expand the range of initiatives that support their employability;
  • to build capability for rapid action and resilience for future refugee crises.

In its first phase, the Initiative is working with the Forum’s Community of Chief Human Resource Officers to understand what member organizations are doing with respect to the employment and employability of refugees. These findings will be used to shape the initiative and identify opportunities for further collaboration in the second phase of the initiative.

Putting people at the core to make your business grow

It is people who will solve the world’s problems. They are our most crucial asset and should be placed at the centre of all decisions made by business leaders. For me, this is what it means to be purpose-driven.

The world of work is all too aware of the urgent need to upskill and reskill its people to keep pace with looming transitions. Our goal is to enable companies to support refugees through dedicated mentorship and coaching programmes and provide them with clear career options. This will allow companies to successfully integrate new skills and perspectives into their talent pools, while gaining loyal and committed workers.

Many companies are doing a fantastic job already, and I think it is important we celebrate their work. When I met the Chief Human Resources Officer of Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX) at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting this year, we spoke about refugee integration and I was immediately fascinated by their approach. FLEX employs around 200,000 people – 20,000 of whom are refugees.

Many other companies are doing good work. EY’s German Diversity Charter refugee support team, for example, found that lacking the right language skills is one of the main barriers to employment for refugees, so the company helped develop a language-learning app. It also supports a social start-up providing higher education to refugees.

FLEX and EY are just two examples, but there are many more. It is encouraging to see these 50 organizations leading the way in refugee integration.

Collaboration to make the future work for everyone, including refugees

There is a political element to this conversation – and rightly so. While companies can commit wholeheartedly to the integration mission, they cannot do it alone. Refugees, in all their diversity of nationalities, ages, skills and education, have many different and often unique needs. Companies must collaborate not only with each other, but with actors across the NGO, charity and public sector. They must form a network that can support refugees whatever their individual circumstances.

Refugees have a right to work in their host country, and the faster they can obtain this official status, the faster they can integrate their adopted community. Speed is a lesson learned from the Ukraine crisis: the EU activated the temporary protection directive for displaced Ukrainians in a matter of days after the invasion, and this was crucial in helping them to integrate.

Through more than a decade of experience in countries such as Iraq and Syria, Adecco has worked with many recognised bodies such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the European Network Against Racism’s Equal@Work Platform to do our part in creating the infrastructure in which refugee workers can begin a healthy, productive future. In 2020, The Adecco Group joined the Tent Partnership for Refugees, a coalition of more than 170 major companies committed to including refugees.

The successful integration of refugees is a victory across the world of work – for people, companies and entire economies. But for it to be so, it must be done together – thoughtfully, thoroughly and with the right intentions.

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