The transnational ESF-project MeMoRe, with partners in Belgium, Germany, Finland and Sweden, began in the aftermath of the refugee crisis of 2015. In recent years, there has been a considerable increase in the number of migrants/refugees living in Europe, especially after the civil war in Syria and the ongoing conflict in Africa and the Middle East. In the near future new migration flows can be expected, among others due to climate change.
Studies have shown that integration in the labour market is a critical success factor for the social integration of newcomers in a country. Labour market integration, however, is a challenge. Unemployment among immigrants born outside the EU is 8,4% higher than that of native populations in EU28 countries. Research indicates that traditional labour market programmes do not always work well for refugees and people with migrant backgrounds, regardless of the effort made by proactive labour market policy-makers.
In Europe, ‘mentoring to work’ programmes are increasingly becoming a solution to this end. The transnational consortium decided to explore possible solutions for the precarious nature of mentoring to work programmes for newcomers and decided to apply for a transnational ESF project (MeMoRe).
The common aim of the transnational consortium was:
the development of effective and sustainable mentoring models for the integration of refugees into the European labour market
We wanted to gain more clarity on the concept of ‘mentoring to work’ and on the critical success factors of mentoring to work initiatives.
Hence, the Research Institute for Work and Society (HIVA), a multidisciplinary research institute of the University of Leuven and specialized in academic and policy-oriented research, carried out a concept analysis and scientific literature review. This was further refined in consultation with practitioners through an iterative process of consultation and adaptation.
This resulted in two research papers:
Mentoring in vocational education
In most countries, refugees can choose from two kinds of labour market integration trajectories: one with an educational component or one entirely professional. Accordingly, for some refugees, sustainable labour market integration starts in an educational setting where relevant skills can be acquired.
Mentoring within the setting of (vocational) education is important and has a positive effect on employment outcomes. This is the starting point of the Finnish project MentoMigri. The project developed a mentoring model for the integration of migrants through education. Students in upper secondary level have been trained to work as mentors for migrants (mentees). This programme aims at the growth in knowledge and skills of mentors as well as mentees, which makes mentoring a two-way learning process.
Mentoring to work for low qualified refugees
Statistics indicated that a majority of refugees arriving in Belgium and Germany had low levels of qualification. Mentoring to work was seen as a successful method for the integration of high qualified newcomers. The challenges faced by highly qualified newcomers are further compounded when it comes to people with lower qualifications. We explored the relevance of the development of mentoring to work for lower qualified refugees and how this might look like. Two models have been developed.
Another project, ‘Bottom Up Integration’, approached the integration of migrants into the labour market from a different perspective, using another definition and perspective of mentoring and integration as used by the transnational consortium. The method relates more to transformational coaching, and is not an approach to be used by voluntary mentors of mentoring-to-work initiatives as understood by the partners of the transnational consortium.
A toolbox for more sustainable mentoring-to-work initiatives
Mentoring to work programmes are often set up with project based funding. As a result, these programmes are temporary or end up in a project carousel (with changing goals).
We developed a toolbox that helps mentoring to work organisations reflect on how they can become more sustainable and adopt a more socio-entrepreneurial approach. The toolbox contains fifteen topics that guide you in the development of a wiser design of your mentoring to work organisation.
Multiple actors are involved in the integration process which makes it a complex field to work in, for professionals as well as volunteers (e.g. mentors).
To understand the basic conditions needed in order for mentoring to work organisations to be successful in the context of integrated refugee management, the project IntegriF of the Harz University of Applied Sciences (Germany) collected interview data and organised workshops with regional experts and practitioners to compare, contrast and join the perspectives of relevant network actors.
During these workshops several methods were investigated that support the exchange of perspectives and establish a reflective practice.
The actors involved are working in the field of vocational and educational orientation of refugees. Doing so, IntegriF developed methods that empower stakeholders (incl. mentoring to work organisations) and support the development of their network competencies to overcome together barriers in the integration process.
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