For Heike Streubel it is “an absolute stroke of luck”. For years she could hardly save herself from work: negotiating with the providers of language learning apps, setting up seminars on understanding between cultures, accompanying refugees to the office – all of this was part of her tasks.

Streubel is the integration officer for the Gegenbauer group of companies. It employs around 18,000 people across Germany as cleaners, caretakers, technicians or gardeners. They come from over 100 different nations. There is a lot to integrate.

And now finally Heike Streubel gets an assistant. “And what a,” she enthuses. Darya Gorova fled Ukraine to Berlin with her eight-year-old son.

German friends took her in. The 38-year-old speaks fluent German and spent eight months in Berlin as a teenager. In Kyiv, she most recently worked as a journalist for a travel portal.

Now she will support Heike Streubel in her work with refugees. “If someone had told me in February that I live with my son in Berlin, that he goes to school there and that I work as a translator and assistant for a German company – I wouldn’t have believed it,” says Gorova. She is “motivated and full of energy” to make the most of her opportunity here.

Not only Darya Gorova seems to be particularly motivated. Refugees in the workforce are an incentive for motivation. At least that’s what a recent survey of employers suggests. In it, 68 percent of the larger and medium-sized companies that have hired refugees since 2015 stated that this had led to a higher level of commitment from their entire workforce.

In addition, around 40 percent of those surveyed attest that refugees are “higher motivated” than their non-refugee employees. A similar number considered the new arrivals to be equally motivated and only a minority considered the non-refugees to be ahead in terms of motivation.

These are the results of a study by DIW Econ. On behalf of the Tent Partnership for Refugees network, the economists surveyed 100 companies in Germany that have hired refugees since 2015 and today together employ over 4,000 people, mainly from Afghanistan and Syria.

The experiences are mostly positive. Nine out of ten companies plan to hire more refugees in the coming year, most of whom currently come from Ukraine.

On the plus side, the superiors not only note the motivation but also the creativity of their employees with a refugee background. More than 60 percent of the bosses surveyed stated that the refugees could have brought in new perspectives and suggested alternative solutions to problems, thereby increasing the creativity of the entire workforce.

Companies that are open to refugees also see a clear advantage on the job market. 80 percent stated that this would make them more attractive to new employees.

This argument weighs heavily in times of growing labor shortages. Skilled workers are no longer the only ones desperately needed – from nurses to programmers to electricians. Tens of thousands of unskilled positions also remain vacant in Germany. For example, employees in gastronomy, logistics or building cleaning are needed.

For refugees who first have to learn the German language, these can often be attractive entry-level jobs. Experts such as the head of the Federal Employment Agency (BA), Detlef Scheele, estimate that Germany needs around 400,000 immigrants per year to cover the acute need for workers.

Refugees alone have not filled this gap in recent years, but they have contributed to relieving the burden on the labor market. According to an extrapolation by the BA, around 536,000 people with nationality from eight non-European asylum countries of origin were employed in Germany in February 2022. The countries were: Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.

The statistics are from before Russia attacked Ukraine. It is estimated that around 200,000 Ukrainians have fled to Germany since the outbreak of war. Unlike the arrivals from Afghanistan and Syria from 2015 onwards, the majority are now women, many of them with children, who are seeking protection in Germany.

Many Ukrainian women have a comparatively high level of education and many of them were already employed in their homeland. The emancipated women are likely to be easier to integrate into the German labor market than many of the Syrians and Afghans. According to a survey by the Institute for Labor Market and Occupational Research (IAB), not even one in three of them is employed in Germany.

What is new is that refugees from the Ukraine immediately receive a work permit in Germany. “Politicians have learned from the previous refugee crisis,” says Alexander Kritikos, co-author of the study by DIW Econ, economist and research director at DIW.

Now it is also important to recognize their qualifications more quickly and to step on the gas in the German courses. “Digital support, for example through language learning apps, like those that some companies already offer their employees today, could help,” says Kritikos.

So far, depending on the federal state, the refugees have had access to different types of German courses. However, there is still no uniform digital support.

Addressing potential employers, Kritikos warns: “It’s not enough just to hire refugees. Especially in the low-wage sector, employers must also actively help to reduce staff reservations about refugees.”

The study gives some examples of successful integration assistance: Deutsche Post DHL has set up a so-called buddy program in which experienced employees provide individual support to individual colleagues. Joint language meetings could also help to involve the workforce and break down prejudices between the different groups, says Kritikos.

Trent Germany boss Andreas Wolter, who commissioned the study, also recommends that companies offer flexible training modules for refugees. “An apprenticeship is the gold standard for integration,” says Wolter.

Six to 12 month programs for software developers or logisticians, for example, can be tailored to the needs of companies and refugees. It has also proven useful to offer a two-week internship before the actual employment or training contract.

Many companies around the world make such a taster offer. “Whenever people get to know each other, the prejudices quickly disappear,” says Wolter.

Gegenbauer also trains its employees. By signing the employment contract, a language learning app from Lingua TV will be activated for you. You can either learn German or English with it. In addition, the company offers flexible further training – even without a school-leaving certificate recognized in Germany.

For example, anyone who has been there for four years can turn to the IHK training course to become a skilled worker in the cleaning trade, explains Streubel, the integration officer. Subsequent training to become a master craftsman is also possible.

Heike Streubel hopes that “all these opportunities” will also get around among the refugees. Gegenbauer currently has over 500 vacancies throughout Germany. Streubel would like to fill some of them with Ukrainians. And if they don’t speak German yet: From the end of May she will have a translator to help her.

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