Workbench for a better future

Weinheim, October 17, 2016. Young interns gaining their first professional experience is an everyday occurrence within a company. But this internship is not an everyday event, because Yaman, Abdul-Hakim and Ahmed, Hawree, Abdourahman and Brice are not just standing before a workbench at Freudenberg for the first time. They are rebuilding their entire lives.

The six young men have all fled their homelands in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Cameroon and Gambia and are currently completing a professional preparatory year at the Hans-Freudenberg-Schule in Weinheim. Alongside learning German and subjects such as math and English, they are also studying cultural and not least job-related subjects. "We are preparing the young refugees to take up training places as metalworkers or machine and plant operators," explained school director Kreszentia Amann, "because they are in demand in the labor market." She developed the curriculum in cooperation with the Freudenberg Group. To ensure that practical aspects are not neglected, the young men complete a two-week internship at Freudenberg, four times a year.

Dr. Rainer Kuntz, Head of Vocational Training at Freudenberg, knows that it is far from easy to pave the way into the working world for refugees. For them and for the companies involved, the hurdles are enormous – from low levels of language skills to missing school certificates and legal uncertainty. So it was not certain until today, Monday, how many young men would start the internship. How many of them will complete it is also far from clear. Nevertheless, Rainer Kuntz is convinced: "Within the framework of the Freudenberg Aid Initiative for Refugees, which is promoting a multitude of projects, we are contributing to integration. And the actions we take should be firmly grounded. That is why we need a new concept to meet new challenges."

To begin with, according to Kuntz, it is necessary to explain the basic concept of the German vocational training program, because many refugees don't know much about it. They want to start studying immediately, even though that is far from being the right course for everyone. Many are under pressure to make money quickly to support their families in their home countries. "This means that they frequently take the first low-paid job they can find, unfortunately. That is why it is so important for us to convince the young men of the value of a dual training program and the personal development opportunities that go with it," said Kuntz.

It is at least as crucial to get to know their practical abilities as quickly as possible. "Where educational certificates and a good knowledge of German are lacking, their performance in the workshop becomes even more important. Only when we have had the chance to assess their abilities can we properly support the refugees and give them a bit of orientation."

The internship program is supported financially by donations from the Freudenberg Aid Initiative for Refugees. The young men are being trained by their own instructor. However, shared breaks and meals ensure that they have daily contact with German trainees. Freudenberg itself has no need of simple metalworking skills. This is why Kuntz is already asking around among suitable training companies. "I take every opportunity to explain the project to companies that are collaborating with us on vocational training," he commented.

A trial day is planned for spring 2017. Freudenberg will invite companies from across the region to the trainee workshop so that they can get to know the young people and form a picture of their abilities. "Standard procedures will not work for the application process either," Kuntz explained. "Once they have completed their internships, our goal is to get as many refugees as possible into a vocational training relationship."