ADI, SER Diversity in Bedrijf and the Refugee Talent Hub organized the meeting “Status holders and work” on June 30, 2022 in a packed Amsterdam Zuiderkerk. The meeting launched the Charter document of the same name, a practical guide written and released by SER Diversity in Business and the Refugee Talent Hub. This publication for employers offers insight into key concerns when it comes to working with people from refugee backgrounds.
The topic of “Status holders and work” has had the attention of government, social partners and civil society organizations for years. Its urgency has only increased with the arrival of new refugees, such as the recent war in Ukraine. Both the Refugee Talent Hub and SER Diversity in Business find that Dutch employers are still missing opportunities when it comes to the inflow and advancement of status holders within their companies. “Within the group of professionals with refugee backgrounds there is a lot of labor potential, so there are many opportunities for employers there, especially as they face labor shortages,” SER Diversity in Business said in the publication.
Please be patient
The program associated with the launch was moderated by Emmelie Zipson. She welcomed the audience and talked about her affinity for the subject. “My ancestors came from countries like Russia, Poland and Austria. Because of their Jewish roots, they were forced to flee and had to leave everything behind to start all over again in a foreign land. Even though I didn’t flee myself, I know their stories. I see that fleeing is of all times.”
As an expert by experience, İlham Atuş was then invited to the stage, a newcomer who is currently an intern at Triodos Bank. Atuş had to flee Turkey after the 2016 coup and has been residing in the Netherlands since 2019. He spoke inspiredly about the hurdles he had to overcome in finding work in the Dutch job market, such as learning a new language and the pressure he felt from the municipality to find a job. Atuş shared lessons learned and made recommendations to the employers in attendance. Atuş: “Think about the long-term value creation of the company. Status holders contribute to this. Therefore, be patient and invest in retaining these professionals.
Resilience and ambition
One of the employers advocating for status holders is grid operator TenneT. Manon van Beek, CEO and also board chair of the Refugee Talent Hub, has had frequent contact with individuals from refugee backgrounds in recent years from her position. “These people have incredible resilience and ambition and are good employees for any company,” she states. Thus, her call is to jettison unnecessary traditions (such as strict language and diploma requirements in selection procedures).
Two panel discussions delved deeper into the subject matter. In the first conversation, top executives from Sweco and 180 Amsterdam took the floor. CEOs Eugene Grüter and Sander Volten shared their experiences and gave employers tips on hiring professionals with refugee backgrounds, such as offering mentoring and additional job training. The topic of the second panel discussion was the promotion of employment for persons with refugee backgrounds. hiring professionals with refugee backgrounds, such as offering mentoring and additional job training. Experts Jaco Dagevos (professor of Integration and Migration Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Mohammed al Temimi (policy advisor City of Rotterdam) shone their light on the new Integration Act. Compared to the previous law, it puts less emphasis on language education and more on labor force participation. On paper, the law looks good, but stands or falls, according to Dagevos, with its implementation.
Pictured: Emmelie Zipson, Jaco Dagevos and Mohammed al Temimi
Dagevos: “The group of status holders is diverse, so their labor participation also requires a tailored approach. Research shows time and again that a generic approach does not work. In addition, policy should focus more on the demand side. In recent years, policy has predominantly focused on supply-side characteristics such as language, social networks and workforce skills, and less attention has been paid to employers and to achieving a match between status holder and employer. On the contrary, effective policy requires a combination of supply- and demand-oriented approaches. Integration is a two-sided process and policy should pay attention to both sides.”
Al Temimi, who was involved in the implementation of the new Civic Integration Act, also emphasizes that labor participation is the key here. Employers do need to give their new employees a chance to land well. “Specific example: if an employer offers a job to a status holder, he should look at how to cut that job into pieces. Give someone a little more time to learn the right words and work culture. Integration is a two-way process; ultimately we all have to do it together. Employers must also be willing to go that little bit extra.”
Writer and Trouw columnist Babah Tarawally recounted his own experiences in the Netherlands, to which he fled in the 1990s because of the violence of war in his home country of Sierra Leone. It took a long time for people to see him not as a “refugee,” but as a human being and professional. For example, he once interviewed Johnny de Mol for a major magazine, which he was very proud of. Until the interview appeared under the headline, “Refugee interviews Johnny de Mol. Employers need to move away from these labels, Tarawally argues, and see newcomers as people with tremendous experience, people skills and knowledge.
The last speaker, author and journalist Joris Luyendijk, endorsed the indispensable contribution that status holders can make to the labor market: “They bring with them traits and qualities that you don’t or hardly find in native Dutch people. First of all, eagerness and perseverance…. Such a person will fight for your company or organization, as he or she has already had to fight to build a whole new existence. In addition, worldliness: native Dutchmen of today were raised by parents who did not experience war and lack that life experience. It is really good to have some hardened people in your organization. A refugee past also means resourcefulness, flexibility and knowledge of people and you gain that on the way to the Netherlands, in the AZC where you spend years on each other’s lips and then when settling in.”
Guidance and inclusion
Following the program, there were plenty of contacts made between employers and job-seeking status holders. To the end, the positive energy lingered in the South Church and all attendees went home with a copy of the Charter document. The meeting appeared to have generated enthusiasm. “It was a wonderful meeting with a great turnout and a substantively strong program,” said Michal van Dantzig (a.o. board member of MKB-Amsterdam). “The publication is full of tips, useful when you want to work with highly educated status holders. This is a very interesting group of potential employees. Their talents are often not seen and that is a great pity in these times of scarcity in the labor market. Highly educated status holders are very suitable to be retrained into promising professions. I think they are an important good target group for SME entrepreneurs.”
The organizers were therefore satisfied. Wilma Roozenboom, director Refugee Talent Hub: “We look back on a great meeting that highlighted the topic of refugees and work from many different perspectives. The high number of visitors shows that the topic is alive and well. We are happy with that. And precisely because the topic is alive and well, it is important that there is now a new publication on refugees and work, full of practical examples and tips. Because as more and more employers welcome newcomers into the workplace, let’s do it right – with attention to mentoring and true inclusion.”
Pictured: Babah Tarawally and Joris Luyendijk.