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Work experience project paves the way for residence permit holders towards labour market

    Thursday 12 January 2023
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To use the labour potential of highly educated residence permit holders, we need to help them prepare for the labour market. A work experience project at Windesheim is a first step for about 20 participants a year. Employers, once they get over their cold feet, are enthusiastic.

NT2 lecturer Wilma Lipke-Steenbeek and lecturer Samir Garic are associated with the Work Experience Placement for Highly Educated Refugees (WEP) project at Windesheim. Wilma teaches Dutch language (NT2, Dutch as a second language) to residence permit holders and is also project leader. Samir is a Social Work lecturer, project member and has been involved in helping refugees prepare for the labour market for years.

Who are the residence permit holders in the project and where are they from?

'In our project, we focus on highly educated non-Dutch speakers who have a recognized refugee status and are doing an NT2 course with us. They have usually been in the Netherlands for more than two years, have a work permit and the right to work. Their background is highly diverse, both in terms of culture, country of origin and educational or professional background. They have a background in the financial sector or in health care, for example. Many participants come to us from Syria, Turkey and countries like Yemen and Afghanistan. Usually their route is through the municipal authorities on to Windesheim, to follow an NT2 programme. An additional opportunity we offer them is to participate in this work experience project with an employer in the local area, to facilitate their entry into the labour market.'

Can you give some examples of work experience placements?

'Here at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences, we have several work experience placements. We look at what the residence permit holders have done before: what field of work do they have experience in and what do they want to continue in? We’ve had residence permit holders working, among other things, in event organization and in the legal department. Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a trip with someone from Syria who trained as a pharmacist and worked there in that capacity. So I approached the Isala Hospital in Zwolle to ask if they are interested in the work experience project. Isala has let me know that they find my question interesting and tomorrow we’ll discuss the possibilities and see if there’s a match between the candidate and the hospital.'

How does this project work in practice?

Members of the project work experience for residence permit holders towards labour market in their work environment‘Our project team is made up of five people. Together we keep the   project running and work with volunteers who take on the role of coaches. When a residence permit holder applies, we first conduct an extensive intake interview. It's important first to discuss expectations, someone's motivation and their Dutch language skills. For example, a lawyer in Turkey works very differently than here in the Netherlands. Together, we look for a potential employer and once there’s a match, the programme can start on the next scheduled date. We have two such kick-off times a year, with about 10 participants each time. In total, we supervise about 20 people a year. Participants work for twenty weeks, two to three days a week, without pay and without a job guarantee. Quite an investment, but it usually pays off. We provide them with intensive supervision: they receive personal support from a coach, have a contact with the employer and, under the supervision of a lecturer, take part in peer review meetings together with the other participants'.

What’s the goal of this project?

'We find that participants are very eager to get started so they can get a job. With our WEP project, we help them do that. A work experience placement is not only a great way to get acquainted with the culture and work culture in particular, but also to build a network and to practise speaking and writing in Dutch. For our participants, work is an important part of their identity and by getting back on track this way, they find out where they stand, what they want and what's already possible. Personal coaching is essential in that process and that's what we offer.'

How do participants look back on taking part in this project?

'In most cases, participants as well as employers look back very positively on the work experience programme. In the years we’ve been coaching participants, we have actually never experienced things going wrong. That's not to say that there are no disappointments, but those too are helpful for the participants. A disappointment can help them understand that perhaps their expectations were too high, that ambitions need to be adjusted or that a goal is achievable in a different way, for example by breaking it down into several small steps. The work experience gives the participant much more insight into what's possible and realistic.'

How important is the personal coach?

'Very important. Our coaches are volunteers who selflessly support the participants. They are often lecturers or retirees who possess the necessary coaching skills. It’s nice for participants to be able to talk to a person they can think of as a friend or buddy. With their coach they can discuss anything and everything they encounter along the way: what are awkward situations, what do they run into, what are the cultural differences, questions like that.'

What’s the relationship with employers like?

'There’s currently quite a shortage in the labour market and employers are interested partly for that reason, but they’re also still a bit hesitant. We find that they become enthusiastic as soon as they've got over their cold feet. So it's important that we continue to invest in the relationship with employers and keep them well informed. Because the project also depends on their willingness to invest in providing good supervision. Employers, for example, want to know what it's like to have someone working in their company who doesn’t yet have a full command of the Dutch language. We can tell them all about that!'


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