From Asylum to Employment: The Wuppertal Partizipation Network
A multi-sector job readiness initiative that helps asylum seekers access the labour market
What happens when refugees and asylum seekers are denied access to employment as they await a change in their status? Stuck in a jobless limbo, many find themselves socially isolated and increasingly vulnerable as time goes by. Unemployment erodes their skills and denies them the work experience and confidence needed to enter the job market.
In the North Rhine-Westphalia city of Wuppertal, asylum seekers had lived in cramped transitional housing for years, without legal access to jobs, their young people stigmatized by limited educational qualifications. Then, in 2007, changes to the federal Asylum Seekers Benefits Act resulted in new opportunities for a population formerly denied access to both employment and training. Earning wages sufficient to be independent of social services became a mandatory requirement to qualify for residency and the right to stay in the Germany.
Jobs and Job Readiness
The City of Wuppertal responded by introducing an intensive job readiness project to help asylum seekers find long-term employment. In 2008, the city established Partizipation, the Wuppertal Network for the promotion of labour market integration of “abode claimants and refugees.” (Wuppertaler Netzwerk zur Förderung der arbeitsmarktlichen Integration von Bleibeberechtigten und Flüchtlingen). Operated by the city’s Department of Immigration and Integration, the Partizipation Network was created specifically to help this local population seek either training or a job placement.
The Partizipation Network is a multi-sector initiative led by the city of Wuppertal with local NGOs as operational partners. Its systematic, proactive approach includes door-to-door recruitment of clients (asylum seekers on the city lists) and more cold-calling to identify potential employers and job placements. Community partners such as Diakonia Wuppertal, the Catholic Women’s Social Services (SKF), and GESA (Gefährdetenhilfe Wuppertal eV) provide focused job coaching, training courses, mentoring and help with resumes and job applications. Their expertise also helps prioritize the needs of this client group, ensuring women are not left behind, for example, and motivating young people to participate.
Step by Step Approach
Once identified, trained social workers meet face-to-face with clients to assess their educational and professional qualifications, German skills, motivational readiness and ability to participate in employment. Together, they develop a work plan to guide the next steps in the job search. Signed by both parties, the work plan includes follow-up appointments every 4-6 weeks.
Essential to the success of the labour-market integration program is the scale of support offered to a client group marginalized by lack of opportunity. Appointments, reminders, counseling, guidance and support for the participants are as important as the interactions of project managers with employers and other stakeholders.
Within six months, city social workers started receiving calls asking how to sign on. They also noticed a change in the attitudes of participants and their families as children saw their parents become first-time job seekers and job-holders.
Pilot project outcomes included 157 people finding work, including 78 full-time jobs. At the end of two years, most participants were also able to successfully extend their residence permits. The project has since been replicated in the neighbouring cities of Remscheid and Solingen.
Wuppertal’s intensive intervention resulted in both improved integration and cost savings for government. Began as a pilot project with funding from the German Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs BMAS and the European Social Fund, it’s noteworthy that the Partizipation Network succeeded during a time of financial crisis. In 2010, the pilot project was rewarded with three years of new funding and a mandate to expand its services as Partizipation Plus with new partner, Job Center Wuppertal.
Making it Work for You:
- Work with community partners and to rely on their organizational strengths to develop the project to its fullest.
- Be prepared to offer intensive hands-on coaching and counseling for marginalized populations. The extra time and resources will be repaid by your clients’ success.
- Ask yourself the million dollar question: what is the cost of neglect? Can your city or organization afford to leave its neediest groups behind?
For this Good Idea contact:
Christine Roddewig-Oudnia , Stadt Wuppertal, Ressort Zuwanderung und Integration
An der Bergbahn 33