Nearly 1 million refugees have arrived in Germany over the past 12 months. In its response, Deutsche Telekom has focused on helping them find work and integrate into German society.
In 2015 and 16, refugees arrived in Germany in record numbers: nearly 500,000 asylum claims were filed in 2015 alone. In response to this influx, and the German government’s “Wir schaffen es” (We Can Do It) policy, many companies within Germany stepped up to offer support to the newcomers.
Among them the first to respond was Deutsche Telekom, Germany’s biggest mobile phone company with approximately million customers and a 40% market share.
“Beside connectivity, one of Deutsche Telekom’s main goals in our taskforce is the fast integration of refugees”
In response to the influx, in September 2015 Deutsche Telekom established an internal taskforce and launched a portfolio of initiatives, drawing on the capacity of the whole organisation. One obvious priority was helping to meet the essential connectivity needs of refugees – and those handling the response – by providing WiFi. To date, Deutsche Telekom has provided Wi-Fi and other services to 70 refugee locations nationwide.
With regard to longer term support, the company identified other priorities. Chief among them was the need to help refugees work, closely connected to the key national objective of helping them integrate into German society. Products specifically designed for refugees were considered but not developed as the current portfolio offers options that meet the requirements of refugees. Instead Deutsche Telekom focused on a range of tools and services to help refugees become productive and settled. “Beside connectivity, one of Deutsche Telekom’s main goals in our taskforce is the fast integration of refugees into the labour market,” says Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, Gabriele Kotulla.
To this end, Deutsche Telekom developed a number of projects designed to help get refugees into both the German workforce and the company itself. Working with partners Jobware and Jobstairs, the company developed an online portal careers4refugees.de that helps match companies with appropriate jobs open to refugees with those looking for work. Companies can post jobs for free and address refugees directly. The portal has been optimised for mobile devices to make it easy for applications (the vast majority of refugees access the internet through mobile devices). The portal also advertises university scholarships. It has so far won two awards and been praised by the Quality Employer Branding Network for providing “fast and non-bureaucratic assistance”.
Many refugees are of course unfamiliar with German recruitment processes. Using a Train the Trainers model developed with the Haufe Academy (a leading provider of vocational and adult training services), Deutsche Telekom staff are delivering core trainings to colleagues who have volunteered to help refugees find employment. This is in addition to the general and specialised training courses that Deutsche Telekom is offering to refugees.
For most refugees, few of whom speak German already, learning the language is essential to improving their long-term prospects. Recognising this, Deutsche Telekom has supported a number of employees taking part in a programme organised by adult education centres across the country called I Want To Learn German, mentoring and helping refugees to learn the language.
“The more support we provide for making personal contacts – among Germans and among refugees – the better the chance for integration into our society”
The company is also starting to hire refugees directly as employees, primarily through offering internships. One key advantage of refugees, says Kotulla, is that over 50% are under 25 years old so are the right age for to be trained up. In addition to internships, the company is also offering refugee scholarships at their University of Applied Sciences. But recruitment, she adds, is not always easy. ‘On the one hand we want to integrate refugees into our existing training programmes. On another, the legal situation is not always easy so it needs time. Some internships are already available during the asylum procedure so we work with government agencies – they help us with the pre-selection process.”
Aside from employment, Deutsche Telekom’s other initiatives are also broadly focussed on the challenge of helping refugees integrate into German society.
A central initiative is the refugees.telekom.de portal, a website designed to be an information and contacts online resource for refugees. The portal, which involves collaborations with several partners, among them news organisation Deutsche Welle and German television networks, launched in November 2015 and has now been visited over one million times. The site operates in 9 languages, but 40% use the Arabic language version. 90% of those using the website do so via a mobile.
As refugees become part of society the company expects that they will become a significant customer base
Deutsche Telekom has also provided personnel to the Government department in charge of managing the new arrivals – the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). Over 700 employees have been placed at BAMF offices nationwide, helping to process requests for asylum. The company has also made unused office space available for refugee support, including housing. Over 30 buildings owned by Deutsche Telekom have been made available to regional authorities and BAMF.
Overall, the company believes that all these projects will contribute not just to meeting refugee’s immediate needs, but also to the broader national objective of integration through encouraging contact – professional and personal – between their German staff and incoming refugees. Board Member for Human Resources Christian Illek. “The more support we provide for making personal contacts – among Germans and among refugees – the better the chance for integration into our society,” he says. “This is our goal.” As refugees become part of society the company expects that they will become a significant customer base.
For the company, this strategy is not just about meeting CSR requirements. It also makes good business sense, for Deutsche Telekom and the German commercial sector as a whole. As they become part of society the company expects that they will become a significant customer base, with their current dependency mobile data becoming a strong interest in fixed line communication once they find a job and housing. In the meantime, Deutsche Telekom is committed to providing support for at least the next two years. “These programmes require a lot of investment, time and patience but they will bring us more cultural diversity which we need to build a more peaceful and stable society,” says Kotulla. “Companies need stable societies to do business successfully. A truly peaceful and stable society has to be connected, not just on a technical but also a cultural level.”
Deutsche Telekom is starting to hire refugees directly as employees, primarily through offering internships