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It is a mild spring day in Gütersloh. In Mohns Park, a group of young men and women are playing volleyball. They talk and laugh a lot, enjoying life. What sounds so normal was anything but a given for them for a time – because this particular group of young people fled war and destruction in their homelands to make a new start in Germany. Bertelsmann is helping them with this. Joint recreational activities like volleyball, ping-pong and Kubb are just a few of the many "BE Welcome" programs on offer. The company launched the project at its Gütersloh location to help young refugees enter the local labor market. In 2016, the Corporate Education department carried out the first round of "BE Welcome" in cooperation with the Gütersloh Job Center. Given the positive feedback from everyone involved, and specific job placement successes, the employees decided to do it again this year.
"As a socially responsible company, Bertelsmann takes responsibility for refugees, providing them with sustained, effective support in entering the German job market with 'BE Welcome'," says Immanuel Hermreck, Bertelsmann CHRO. "Having career prospects is a key contributor to successful integration."
After eleven participants in all last year, now eleven men and four women between the ages of 19 and 26 are on board with "BE Welcome." Thirteen of them come from Syria, two from Iraq. They have lived in Germany for a year or two, and come from a variety of social backgrounds. "We're pleased that we are not only able to continue the project, but also that we recruited more participants for 2017," says Anna Terletzki, a social worker and head of the project at Bertelsmann. "Thanks to the varied program, we hope to prepare them as well as possible for entering working life."
"BE Welcome" is designed to help refugees acquire the key prerequisites needed to have career prospects through Germany's dual-training system within a year. The top priority is to learn German. The participants receive intensive language training over the entire period – daily for the first four months, then weekly. Another equally important element is the intensive socio-educational support they receive from the project team, which is again reinforced by the social pedagogue Andreas Majewski for this purpose.
The "BE Welcome" team also helps participants cope with numerous everyday situations, including dealings with the authorities, official correspondence, and finding an apartment. Comprehensive information about the training and university system in Germany is provided as part of the training. Visits to companies serve to provide glimpses of the workaday routine at German companies, while visits to the employment agency's Vocational Information Center provide further insights. And finally, joint recreational activities such as volleyball play an important role.
Once the initial foundations have been laid, the practical phase begins. During six-week orientation internships at Bertelsmann companies and other companies in the Gütersloh district, the participants gather work experience. Ideally, an internship leads to an entry qualification period, during which they complete the first year of an apprenticeship "on probation" and attend vocational school while also working at the company. If the participant and the company both decide they are right for each other, the actual apprenticeship can start with an employment contract. Particularly talented apprentices can go straight into their second year of apprenticeship.
For the refugees of the first "BE Welcome" group, participation really paid off. Each of them has gained new prospects. For example, one has begun his entry qualification in the print department at Mohn Media; a second plans to start this in the summer. Two others are completing an entry qualification to become an auto mechanic and an electronics technician, respectively. Two participants have begun state-subsidized apprenticeships, one in retail, the other in warehouse logistics. One young man is going to school to become an assistant IT specialist, and a young woman is being trained as an early-childhood educator. One participant has been studying German as a foreign language since October, and another has begun his orientation studies in order to study International Business in the coming winter semester.
"The first edition of the project exceeded our expectations," says the "BE Welcome" team. "We were especially impressed by the group's high level of solidarity and motivation. We are delighted that we were able to help the participants gain new prospects – and of course we will try to do so as best as possible again this year, with the second year.