Companies Complain Help Wanted in Hiring Refugees

Chancellor Merkel wants businesses to be more committed to refugee integration. But businesses say Berlin needs to do more to facilitate new hires.
Somalian 19-year-old Abdisamed Abdullahi Mohamoud at work in Frankfurt last month. He's set to begin training to become an industrial mechanic this month at engineering conglomerate Samson, which has made 30 such positions open to refugees.

When German President Joachim Gauck visits industrial giant ThyssenKrupp on Friday, he will most likely share words of praise.

The steel conglomerate based in Duisburg and Essen is participating in a refugee integration effort by German businesses called “We Together,” or “Wir Zusammen.” The initiative launched last February now includes 116 companies and has created 3,300 intern positions, 700 apprenticeships and 450 steady jobs for refugees.

But Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democratic Union believe German businesses could do more — given that nearly 350,000 refugees are seeking jobs through the Federal Employment Agency. She has invited prominent business leaders and company heads to the chancellery on September 14 to discuss the situation.

Germany is in a better position today than any time in the past 70 years to successfully meet this huge challenge. Marcel Fratzscher,, President of the DIW Institute for Economic Research

The chancellor isn’t the only one disappointed that leading German firms on the DAX blue-chip stock index have so far employed only a couple dozen refugees.

Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research, or DIW, calls for greater effort in training and hiring. “German businesses must assume more responsibility and make considerably more training and internship positions available to refugees,” he said.

But personnel officers and employers surveyed by Handelsblatt say Berlin could also be doing considerably more.

At the top of their wish list are more language and integration courses. A knowledge of German is often absolutely necessary, even for a training position. For every month an asylum seeker has to wait for a course, integration in the job market is delayed, they say.

For the same reason, the state should also speed up asylum and vetting procedures, said Arndt G. Kirchhoff, head of Kirchhoff auto parts and president of METALL NRW, a metal and electrical industries association in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Job seekers and companies have to wait too long for asylum decisions or for foreigners to be approved for employment by registration offices. Often personnel officers or company heads lack a consistent point person to clear up questions about employing refugees.

Also on the list of demands is opening more temporary employment to asylum seekers and subsidies for companies that provide training and language development courses.

Mr. Fratzscher, the DIW president, is nevertheless optimistic that integration can succeed, a year after Ms. Merkel proclaimed “We can do it!”

“Germany is in a better position today than any time in the past 70 years to successfully meet this huge challenge,” he said.


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There are a million jobs available, Mr. Fratzscher added, including many for low-skilled workers.

His economic research institute recently analyzed the experiences of earlier generations of refugees in a study with Berlin Humboldt University.

Those refugees often had job experience in their home countries, he said, but didn’t particularly stand out for having official qualifications — like a certificate for completing vocational training.

That’s why it is easier for them to find a job in Germany through friends, acquaintances or relatives, than through a job agency or employment ads, Mr. Fratzscher said.

It seldom takes longer than six years to find a job the informal way. On the other hand, only 80 percent of surveyed refugees who took official paths had a job after 10 years.

So employment agencies are happy when companies at least initially offer what they call “Schnupperpraktika,” or “taster internships.”

In this way, migrants can show what they can do, said Raimund Becker, a member of the executive board of the Federal Employment Agency.

Mr. Becker assumes that larger companies are “using their training capacities for refugees” as soon as they can speak a little German.

And, in fact, that is what is already happening.

This year, 120 refugees are beginning vocational training with Deutsche Bahn, the national railway. And Social Partners of the Chemical Industry opened its Pre-Start apprenticeship program to migrants.

Deutsche Post is the big exception among DAX blue-chip firms in hiring refugees. It has permanently hired 50 refugees and mediated more than 150 placements for training positions. Energy giant RWE is also offering 120 internships this year.

The only problem: The Federal Employment Agency barely has 9,300 refugee applicants for such training positions. The refugees would rather get to work quickly and earn money than go through training.

It is up to government and business to better explain the value of dual training or work-study programs to the predominantly young asylum seekers. In their home countries, they were not familiar with such efforts to facilitate employment.

So when he visits ThyssenKrupp in Essen on Friday, German President Gauck can begin by emphasizing the importance of Germany’s job training programs.


Donata Riedel covers economic policy for Handelsblatt. Frank Specht focuses on the German labor market and trade unions. Marc Widmann, Jürgen Flauger, Dieter Fockenbrock and Christoph Schlautmann contributed. To contact the authors:  [email protected][email protected]