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How to Make Integration Work

Steinbeis University Berlin helps refugees get a foot in the door on the German employment market

There has been very slow progress in integrating refugees into the employment market, even for those who come to Germany with a university degree. Refugee jobseekers face a number of difficulties, including gaining recognition for their studies, red tape, and a lack of language skills. But at the same time, there is strong demand in the economy for qualified workers, especially in the field of IT and the supply markets. To make it easy for both stakeholders – refugees and companies – to reach out to one another, two initiatives have been launched through the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE), which is part of Steinbeis University Berlin. SIBE itself has introduced a program targeted at refugees sponsored by companies, while one of its alumni, Oliver Queck, has founded a company that will also help refugees by lining up contacts with business.

The degree program launched by SIBE is called Perspectives and it is aimed at refugees who have come to Germany with a previous university qualification. The students take online courses called SIBE Management while working full-time for a company. The program was set up as part of a collaboration between SIBE and the LVI (the Association of Industry in Baden-Wurttemberg), as well as the local authority in the city of Boblingen. Refugees are also approached through voluntary organizations and job agencies.

The model was introduced at a recent press conference given by representatives of all three project partners. “This initiative is a major opportunity, not just for the local district but also for refugees, who are being offered new prospects through these practice-based studies,” explained Roland Bernhard, the district chief executive of Boblingen. “Over the course of 24 months, things run in parallel that would otherwise take years: a degree ending in a German qualification, educational achievement, practical and vocational experience, plus a sufficient grasp of German to go about everyday work in the medium and long term.” Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. Werner G. Faix, managing director of SIBE in Herrenberg, added: “Through us, students can take up the reins where they had to break off in their country of origin, so they can build on a first degree from their home country, complete our project skills degree in collaboration with a partner company, and gather a master’s qualification in management.” Wolfgang Wolf, LVI managing director explains: “The project is of extremely high socio-economic importance and it adds value. After completing their degree, it’s a big opportunity for students to gain a foothold in the employment market and become integrated on a variety of fronts.”

Apart from doing management courses, the students undergo intensive German language training and are taught soft skills. University staff are also available to coach the students, provide them with pointers, organize study groups, and, if required, offer individual support. All seminars are offered in English and conducted online. Refugees with a previous academic qualification in any field are eligible to apply, as long as they have a strong command of English. The companies take on the students as interns, who receive a monthly salary of at least € 1300 per month. The companies also meet the tuition fees of €€940 per month.  The business founder and SIBE alumnus Oliver Queck also helps refugees forge contacts with industry, although in his case it does not matter how much previous education they have – they can be completely untrained or be an academic with a Ph.D. The 35-year-old launched his social start-up last year under the name JobKraftwerk. Queck graduated from SIBE in 2010 and it was during his studies that he worked as a business consultant before switching to a large company where, among other things, he acted as a business mentor and supervised a student at SIBE. He also upheld his other ties with the business school, for which he still works as a project supervisor. He had been toying with his dream of becoming self-employed for a long time so when he struck upon the idea of starting up JobKraftwerk, which essentially also helps address a key social challenge, he was full of enthusiasm and started up the social venture with two colleagues. Queck is convinced that every refugee has hidden strengths that are needed in the German and European employment market. By drawing on business startup knowledge acquired during his studies, Queck developed a business model before joining forces with his colleagues to quickly set his ideas in motion as part of a pilot project in the district of Reutlingen. The aim was to test his model under actual business conditions. To establish communication channels, Job- Kraftwerk collaborates closely with local communities. Refugees can set up a standard resume online using a smartphone, outlining their strengths in their mother tongue. Volunteers then go through the profiles to ensure resumes meet the right standards. Companies then use the JobKraftwerk website to find candidates with the right profile before inviting refugees directly to an interview. The company also provides help to companies, for example with work permits. The project is being funded by the local authorities, who save tremendous resources by using the service. There are also sponsors from industry. Unlike the SIBE model, refugees identified for a company do not have to take part in the degree program.

The SIBE degree places a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship, so it was good preparation for Queck to enter the world of business startups. His project also benefitted from personal exchange through the networks he forged at the university. It is interesting that SIBE and the startup founded by one of its alumni are not actually competing as “refugee intermediaries,” instead they are already discussing ways to collaborate on the same objectives.