A blessing at our doorstep

Perspective

A perspective on how the refugee situation can become a valuable asset to European societies and companies.

Approximately two million asylum seekers have crossed the EU borders during the past two years. The majority of these are not expected to return any time soon. 22,000 entered Denmark in 2015, but only 31 of the asylum seekers got a job during that year, due to the fact that refugees generally face inexpedient regulation and practices that make it difficult to be employed. It is estimated that an unemployed refugee costs the Danish government more than DKK 200,000 a year. You do the math.

Two facts can be deducted from these numbers. First, the refugees have come to stay. Second, a large number of European countries have a political puzzle at hand in order to accommodate the people who have showed up at our doorstep. But could the current situation be more than a huge logistic, political and economic challenge? Could it in fact also turn out to be a massive opportunity for Europe? The answer, one might say, depends on the perspective.

The influx of refugees holds the potential to make up for the dwindling workforce in Europe. The majority of the men and women who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe stem from the middle class, constituting the economic spine of their home countries. Along with their children, who make up 20% of the refugees in Europe, these people represent a pool of current and potential talent that — if provided with the right opportunities and skills — can be a positive injection into the European economy. This, however, is a big if.

In the north-western part of Copenhagen lies a house that soars with enthusiasm, comradeship and an overarching belief in a better tomorrow. The Trampoline House, founded in 2010, is an independent community centre that provides refugees and asylum seekers in Denmark with a place of support, community and purpose. We have been so lucky as to have Ismael Yagoub, who is somewhat of a Trampoline House veteran, as an intern in QVARTZ. He joined us earlier this year to help build a competence platform where companies’ need for labour can be matched with the capabilities of individual refugees. Watch the video on the project.

Nancy

This is Nancy Mohsen and Ismail Yagoub. They joined our civilisation on internships. Nancy is from Lebanon. She came to Denmark in 2014, and holds a BSc in Business Administration. Today, Nancy works in our finance team, helping out with various administrative tasks. She also assists consulting teams.

Ismail

Ismail is from Sudan. He fled the country in 2010 to seek protection from the government who had imprisoned him twice and accused him of being a rebel. He has lived the statistics, having been moved between six different refugee centres across the country since he first entered Denmark. Ismail holds a professional degree in IT Technology and is currently studying for a BA at Copenhagen Business Academy. He works in our marketing and communications department, and also helps provide statistics for client projects.

“The influx of refugees holds the potential to make up for the dwindling workforce in Europe. The majority of the men and women who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe stem from the middle class, constituting the economic spine of their home countries”.

Realisation of potential

While private companies are arguably the most effective vehicle to activate, integrate and create a future for the refugees in Europe, the political and societal attitudes of European countries are not tuned into creating a sustainable mutual relation between the newcomers and their hosts.

“Some of the refugees who have fled from Syria, Iraq and the Kurdish areas are people with higher education who could potentially be employed directly. However, the system isn’t designed to integrate these people into the job market”. This is the picture painted by Jørgen Mads Clausen, Chairman of the board at Danfoss, to the think tank Mandag Morgen in January of this year. Frustrated by the status quo, Danfoss gathered a team who now works solely on matchmaking between the – up until this point – unutilised potential and competences among asylum seekers and the demand for labour among companies in their home region of Southern Jutland where, paradoxically, companies find it hard to attract labour to vacant positions. The ambition of the project is to enable the newcomers to enter the Danish job market.

Unfortunately, bureaucracy poses somewhat of a hurdle to this goal. Consequently, some might argue that the political system in its current form is failing to transform the present challenges into opportunities. Out of the refugees that the Danish municipalities received in 2015, excluding

children, the elderly and people enrolled in education, and only looking at adult refugees who could work if given the opportunity, only 3%, corresponding to 200 people, were considered fit to work by the Danish authorities.

The reasons behind this catastrophic number are many and varied, but a policy requiring refugees to be able to speak Danish is one – and perhaps the least rational. It’s a Catch 22 fact that we, on the one hand, demand refugees to speak Danish in order to enter the labour market, while on the other hand, we have documentation showing that asylum seekers who don’t enter the labour market within the first year have highly reduced chances of later employment. The motivation to act fast ought to be well in place.

Fortunately, several other companies have cut through the bureaucracy and done their own matchmaking. Examples are retailers such as the Swedish furniture giant IKEA and the Danish grocery chains Coop and Dansk Supermarked, but also the Danish facility service giant ISS have taken impressive initiatives on their own.

“Some of the refugees who have fled from Syria, Iraq and the Kurdish areas are people with higher education who could potentially be employed directly”.

29 suggestions

It is hard to imagine a worse hairball of unfortunate people, huge unrealised potential and Kafkaesque bureaucratic obstacles. At QVARTZ, we fundamentally believe that getting refugees into jobs is great business – for society as a whole, for the companies and for improving the quality of life for the refugees. Consequently, we have engaged in dialogues with a large number of stakeholders, including private companies, governmental institutions, NGOs, asylum centres and municipalities. The dialogues have formed the basis for 29 suggestions on how to connect asylum seekers and refugees to the Danish labour market more efficiently.

The 29 suggestions include recommendations for a changed allocation practice among the municipalities in regard to the assessment of refugees. As mentioned earlier, only 3% are found fit to work under the current legislature. However, there are progressive municipalities where this figure is as high as 50%. In addition to this, QVARTZ has outlined the blueprints for a national competence platform and how to use it, enabling a match between the demand for labour in companies and the specific capabilities of individual refugees.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. We have urged politicians to examine the legislation regarding
refugees and asylum seekers, and many have responded with interest and enthusiasm. We can match the competences of newcomers with the needs of our companies. We can re-examine our own view of the people on our doorstep, and the potential they hold. The focus should not be limited to a stock market of how many people each country receives, but how we make sure to give these people a worthy welcome, integrating them into our societies. We can choose to write the next chapter in the history book together, as one people.

CSR white paper

Employment of refugees contributes to growth and prosperity in Danish companies, and helps reduce public expenses. Based on our dialogues with a large number of public and private stakeholders, QVARTZ presents 29 suggestions as to how Denmark can connect asylum seekers and refugees to the labour market much more efficiently.

Read the white paper (in Danish) here