A new home #1

It’s 9 o’clock on Monday morning at the thyssenkrupp training center in the Hamborn district of Duisburg. In the training hall for electronic technicians, 26 apprentices are seated in small groups around tables, fiddling with wires and connectors. Their assignment this morning is to build a circuit together. All of them began their apprenticeship with thyssenkrupp Steel in September 2016. Most of them grew up and went to school in Germany.

But for four of them the path to an apprenticeship was different: Inza Bamba, Alpha Oumar Sow, Moumbe Mitterand and Abdoulaye Fofana fled from their home countries. None of them went to school for any length of time and they arrived in Germany in quite different ways. They were placed in their apprenticeships by the Employment Agency, with which thyssenkrupp has a partnership arrangement. The apprenticeship program for refugees is part of the Group project “we.help”, which in turn was created as part of the “We together” initiative, a grouping of over 200 German businesses with a joint mission to promote the integration of refugees through job and apprenticeship offers. For Inza, Alpha, Moummbe and Abdoulaye the initiative is working: All four of them have not just learned German and lots about circuitry and fuses, they have also become settled in Germany and at thyssenkrupp. But it’s been a long road.

Inza Bamba arrived in Germany in 2014 aged 17. His homeland is Ivory Coast. Until six years ago there was a civil war in the country and things have hardly settled since then. There have been repeated army mutinies and the country is suffering a severe economic crisis. Bamba’s parents were killed in the civil war and he was forced to fend for himself, which is why he set off for Europe. “I didn’t know where I would end up when I fled. In the end I got here via various stops,” says the 20-year-old. He lives in a home for young refugees in the south of Duisburg. After his arrival he was able relatively quickly to attend vocational college and has completed various internships. “I really enjoyed that,” says Inza.

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It was at vocational college that he met Abdoulaye Fofana. Abdoulaye is from Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in Africa, which was still recovering from a bloody eleven-year civil war when it was hit by an Ebola epidemic. Abdoulaye’s parents are also dead. “All I had left was my grandmother. I had no future,” he says. He spent two years with other refugees traveling by car from Africa via Spain and finally arriving in Germany.

It was my big aim to do an apprenticeship here.

Abdoulaye Fofana

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Alpha Omar Souw came to Germany by sea from Kenya three years ago, fleeing civil war, terrorism and poverty. His leg is covered in scars – marks of torture. “I’ve been operated on three times in Germany,” Alpha says. He is 21, lives in an apartment in Dinslaken and travels to Duisburg every day by train.

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Moumbe Mitterand fled from the Boko Haram terror group in Cameroon. He too is an orphan and arrived in Germany in 2013. Moumbe wants to stay in Germany – to work and enjoy his freedom, he says.

It’s good to be in safety here.

Moumbe Mitterand

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Moumbe and Alpha also attended vocational school in Duisburg, completing various internships. When in their words “a nice lady from the Employment Agency” came to the school with thyssenkrupp’s apprenticeship offer, they jumped at it. Now they go to school two days a week and spend three days working at the firm. “It’s a good mix of theory and practice,” says Inza. He particularly enjoys the practical exercises. On top of their training in the company they get two hours of German lessons every Monday from a teacher provided by the company. All four attended an integration course including language classes shortly after their arrival in Germany and are now further developing their language skills. Even phrases such as “installation and control technology” now roll easily off their tongue.

The four are currently preparing for their halfway exams, with their finals scheduled for 2020. “They’re working very hard. If they keep on like this with the same level of motivation, I’m sure they’ll be fine,” says head of training Frank Kleinfeld. He was skeptical at first whether having the young refugees in the company “might prove difficult”. After all, none of them have received normal German schooling. But now Kleinfeld sees the four as a great addition to the company: “It’s fun working with them because they are motivated and enthusiastic.”

The four refugees are also comfortable working for thyssenkrupp. “Our colleagues are all very nice and the trainers help and explain a lot,” says Moumbe. He thinks the apprenticeship is the best way to start a new life in Germany. “I’d love to stay here and start a family one day,” he says. The others nod. They have similar goals. A glance at the clock tells them it’s time for their German lesson. After all it is Monday.

#we.help - Our portrait series

“Training is key to the successful integration of refugees. That takes time, and we should allow ourselves this time,” said thyssenkrupp CEO Heinrich Hiesinger at the launch of our refugee initiative “we.help”. Today, two years on, we are proud of how quickly our project has developed: We have already created 391 additional internship and apprenticeship places which have attracted a lot of valuable colleagues. And we are not stopping there, because in the words of Marlies Peine, project manager of the “Wir zusammen” initiative: “With its “we.help” program thyssenkrupp is not just offering solid career prospects for a large number of refugees; its extensive commitment is also encouraging other companies to get actively involved. So thyssenkrupp is a role model for others, and at the same time is utilizing new business opportunities that immigration is opening up for Germany – both regionally and nationwide. Ultimately that is the key to successful and sustainable integration.”

Like us, other companies are also helping with the integration of refugees: 200 German businesses have joined together in the German industry integration initiative “Wir-Zusammen” (We together), and many more are expected to follow. On July 6 the business magazine Handelsblatt is inviting companies to the thyssenkrupp Quarter to exchange experiences, discuss the political framework and present successful examples of the initiative in practice.

With our series #we.help we want to show what successful integration looks like on a day-to-day basis. From now on we will be following colleagues who are starting a new life here in Germany. We asked them about their experiences, what their start to working life has been like and what challenges they face.

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