Cologne, Germany

Youth Employment Drives Diversity Goals

Stadt Köln

November 28, 2013

Business case for diversity targets vocational training and job opportunities for young people in local government

Cologne_youthCity managers in Cologne, Germany were puzzled. Apart from demographic changes, they noticed a significant drop in the number of applications for jobs in the city’s public service, one of the largest employers in the region. Recognizing the diversity of their increasingly multicultural city, the city managers and HR training personnel flagged the issue of recruiting young people “with a migrant background” into the civil service training programs as an important objective for Cologne’s future. Taking up the business case for diversity became a welcome driver in the city’s commitment to increase intercultural openness.

Since almost 50% of Cologne’s youth have a migrant background, it was important that this message reached them and their families. For the most part, young people are not aware of the range of career options available in public service. However, the youth recruitment issue was addressed by an innovative support program introduced by the city in 2007 and it’s been a great success so far. There has been a steady increase in the number of trainees with a migrant background, and by 2012 they accounted for 34.5% of all newly recruited staff. This roughly reflected the composition of Cologne’s population.

Starting with 22 youths, the pilot “Integration of Youths with a Migrant Background in City of Cologne Programs” was kicked off in 2008  as part of the EQUAL Communities Initiative funded by the European Social Fund (2000-2008) to address employment inequalities. The core components of the program include targeted, individual supervision; the elimination of language deficits; and an initial assessment of training needs. Applicants have the opportunity to prove themselves in a six-month trial period across a wide range of vocational fields. Each placement is formalized in advance with a Letter of Intent between the Cologne Job Centre and the City of Cologne to ensure that, wherever possible, these young people are recruited from unemployment benefit programs such as ALGII (U 25). The Job Centre covers  the cost of living (via Basic Security Benefits for Job Seekers SGBII) during the trial period.

Tailored solutions

Following a successful qualifying test and orientation assessment, the applicants are offered a six-month practicum and then receive help in finding a job that suits them. For some it’s customer service, for others traffic control. The choices are broad enough to meet every interest.

In addition to technical and vocational training, academic classes are held once a week at the Rheinisches Studieninstitut für kommunale Verwaltung (Rhine Institute of Municipal Administration Studies). Here, the emphasis is above all on German language proficiency, an essential workplace competency. Other subject areas include administrative and municipal (public) law and legislation, as well as organizational management, decision-making and essential social and communication skills. Weekly lessons also include sessions tailored to individual learning needs on topics ranging from self-help to conflict resolution.

“What is also especially encouraging is the number of young people who no longer have to rely on ALGII support thanks to entering training measures offered by the City of Cologne,” says Beate Blüggel, Director of the Regionale Arbeitsstelle zur Förderung von Kindern und Jugendlichen aus Zuwandererfamilien (RAA – Regional Section for the Support of Children and Youth from Immigrant Families) and Managing Director of the Zentrum für Mehrsprachigkeit und Integration (ZMI – Centre for Multilingualism and Integration). In 2011, out of 19 participants, 10 young people were taken on for training as office administrators; another as a surveying technician, and another as a road maintenance worker. Not every trainee continues with the city but all benefit from the training experience, including the city of Cologne. “While the young migrants get the opportunity to prove themselves in the profession of their choice during the six-month practicums, Cologne, as a multicultural city, can gain from the language potential and knowledge of cultural backgrounds that the young migrants are able to provide,” says Beate Blüggel.

Putting language skills in context

Intensive public relations activities and outreach ensure public awareness of the recruitment project. Project co-ordinators work with job centres, vocational officers at schools, through community and intercultural centres and with parents. Presentations and promotional activities target vocational orientation sessions, training exchanges and trade fairs as well as other events run by the City of Cologne’s Council on Integration Affairs.

Although migrant status is declared on a strictly voluntary basis, Cologne’s Human Resources Department has been developing testing procedures for applicants with a migrant background since 2005. Vocational assessments are made independent of language proficiency testing since many applicants are still in the process of learning German. Instead, results are adjusted for the “average increase” in language proficiency that can be expected by the end of the training program. “In this manner, our assessment compensates for disadvantages arising from migration itself, whatever the language skills. We are currently assessing whether the entry requirements can be opened even further,” says Ina Beate Fohlmeister, former Director of the City of Cologne’s Intercultural Department.


In addition to the special focus of the project “Integration of Youths with a Migrant Background in City of Cologne Programs,” large numbers of young Germans with migrant background also apply to the city’s youth training programs in the “conventional” way. Out of 4,065 applicants in 2011, 1,103 were submitted by young Germans with a migrant background, accounting for 27% of all applications. Of special note is a steady increase in the training rate among migrants, rising from 29.5% in 2010 to 30.4% in 2011 and 34.5 % in 2012. Maybe this is the secret to the program’s success; it builds awareness and sends a message about inclusion however one chooses to apply to the city’s training programs.

In 2007, Cologne became the first municipality to sign the “Charta der Vielfalt” (European Charter of Diversity), an initiative led by four major German enterprises, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche BP and Deutsche Telekom, to promote diversity in businesses and create a work environment free of prejudice. By becoming a signatory to the charter, Cologne has declared its commitment to promoting integration and diversity at all levels, ages and backgrounds.  Programs like Cologne’s youth employment initiative are putting good policy to work.

Making it Work for You:

  • Recognize your city’s cultural diversity as an asset. Are you taking advantage of the language resources a diverse workforce provides?
  • Create practicum or volunteer opportunities for young people in your organization to prove themselves within a secure “trial period.”
  • Culturally balanced recruitment and training for all city staff is essential to achieve a diverse workforce.

For this Good Idea contact:

Personal- und OrganisationsamtAusbildungsleitung
111/1 -Stadthaus Willy-Brandt-Platz
Köln, Germany,
0221 / 221-30248