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19 January 2017

German optical company helps refugees succeed at work

In 2015 alone, more than 1.1 million refugees streamed into Germany seeking a new life. Thousands more have arrived since then. For many, finding work is a key step in the successful integration into a new society.

To help with this transition, the city of Berlin held Germany’s first refugee-only job fair in December of 2016. Berliner Glas, a company that designs and manufactures optical components, assemblies, and systems, was one of the 211 companies that met with more than 4,000 refugee job seekers during the one-day event. The attendees came from a wide variety of vocational backgrounds -- from science and technology to sales and construction. They also presented challenges not usually found among native-born German job applicants.

Berliner Glas booth at job fair for refugees in Berlin
"The integration of refugees into everyday work does not succeed just by pressing a button, said Dr. Regina Draheim-Krieg, head of Human Resources at Berliner Glas.” Many conditions have to be fulfilled and willingness from both the company and the refugee to try something new is essential.”

Dr. Draheim-Krieg points out that “a high degree of appreciation, flexibility, and openness” is required by both the company hiring and the refugees themselves. Language plays a key role, and learning German is basic for integrating refugee employees, said Draheim-Krieg.

Some companies in Germany offer German language courses for refugees, while others, such as Berliner Glas, offer flexible hours so new employees can participate in language classes outside of work. Berliner Glas also pays part of the course fees for refugees.

Job qualification also plays a key role. Working with Germany’s Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), Berliner Glas has set up training for those new to the industry and experienced workers who may need additional training.

Since the 2016 job fair, Berliner Glas has taken on two refugee workers and recently hired a new intern.

Employees in clean room at Berliner Glas
There have been other refugee-only job fairs in cities across Germany and Berlin will be hosting their second on 25 January. Due to their positive experience with refugee workers, Berliner Glas will be attending again.

According to Ekkehard Streletzki, initiator of the Berlin job fair and owner of Estrel Berlin where the event is held, the response from job seekers and employers has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Through the job fairs, Berlin’s business community is creating a platform for incorporating work and vocational training, said Streletzki. “We see it as our social responsibility to ensure a successful future economy and peaceful coexistence.”

Kevin Liddane, Director of Business Development for North America at Berliner Glas, is proud of his colleagues for participating in this program, especially in light of recent violent events in Berlin. “This program says a lot about the people at Berliner Glas, the citizens of Berlin, and Germans in general who have been sheltering refugees,” said Liddane. “I believe we could all learn a valuable lesson from them.”

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