“Job applicants with foreign names should be at the top of the application pile in companies with international ambitions,” says Rolf Assev, partner in StartupLab and employment mentor at Caritas.
Text: Birgit Vartdal
It did not take long after he introduced Mohammad Abdalmuhsen to his professional network before the refugee from Syria had a job.
«Rolf has meant a lot to me. I have visited his family. I see him at work every day; he gives me tips. He is kind and has a lot of experience. He is a role model,” Mohammad recounts about his job mentor in impressively fluent Norwegian.
Rolf Assev is equally full of praise:
«Mohammad is simply a great person. It is impressive what he has managed to achieve in just a couple of years. He is very talented, but also very humble. He is probably overqualified for this job with a good margin, but he takes pride in his work. His background is in gas and energy, and there should be plenty of large Norwegian companies that could have welcomed him into their businesses,” he says.
Wanted to support refugees
It is almost a year since Caritas introduced them to each other. Rolf recalls that he was in the mountains for the winter holidays and talked about refugees and how little they did to help them. That same evening, he did some searches on the Internet and Caritas appeared along with a concept he found interesting. A few weeks later, he was introduced to Mohammad (28) for the first time.
«Being an job mentor gives me insight into a world I don’t know and hopefully it will give me a lasting friendship with a wonderful person. Mohammad has met the whole family; something my family really appreciated,” he says.
A long and dangerous journey
The petroleum and chemical engineer from Deir Ezour in Syria has taken a long and dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in a small boat to Greece, on foot through parts of southern Europe, via Oslo to the asylum reception centre in Bardufoss, and back to Oslo where he now lives.
«Bardufoss was dark and cold. I was very shocked and surprised that this was Norway and I regretted coming here. But I like Oslo. It is full of people and of life and activity,” says Mohammad.
It was NAV, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, who referred him to Caritas and the job mentorship project. The project has changed a lot for Mohammad. Only 24 hours after Rolf had introduced Mohammad on StartupLab’s intranet, he got an internship with one of the associated startup companies, Defigo AS, former DinDong. The company makes smart doorbells that can control everything from lock, ventilation and elevator to alarms. After two months as an intern, he was offered a temporary position in the company.
«I remember that Rolf thought it would be difficult to find a job for me given my background in oil and gas, but in addition to my job at a gas company in Syria, I ran a phone store with my younger brother, so I had experience with technology, electronics and coupling,” he says.
Grateful but worried
He makes good use of this experience now. Mohammad installs the systems and monitors whether they are working properly. But the workdays can be long in a startup company, and additionally he attends Norwegian language courses every day. It is difficult to find enough time for sleep and rest. He worries about his parents and sisters who are left in war-torn Syria, and whether his higher education will be recognised in Norway.
«I don’t want to complain, I came here as a refugee and have been given opportunities. But I had a good job in Syria, a good financial situation and played football in the elite division. It’s tough to start all over again,” Mohammad sighs.
Diversity creates innovation
Rolf Assev wishes that more people discovered the opportunities a diverse Norway offers. He has the following message to employers who receive applications from refugees and other immigrants, but who are tempted to bury them at the bottom of the pile:
“Diversity is a prerequisite for innovation. Job applicants with foreign names should be at the top of the pile in companies with international ambitions. To merely have people from NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) and NHH (Norwegian School of Economics) creates little innovation. If the company wants to think outside the box, they must employ people with different backgrounds. Different backgrounds will lead to better discussions and better discussions will lead to better results,” says Rolf Assev.
Caritaneed more job mentors. The project is funded by NAV, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration.
DO YOU WANT TO BE A JOB MENTOR?
Would you like to use your work experience to help refugees and other immigrants gain employment? Do you have some spare time to help another person learn about the Norwegian workplace culture and to share small but important tips on how to succeed in the labour market in Norway?
We need volunteers to:
- Meet with an immigrant/refugee once a month
- Have a conversation about their job situation and experience
- Assist their job search process
The volunteers will share advice based on their work experience, usually within the same profession, and in consultation with the immigrant/refugee. Caritas will link potential volunteers with participants and provide training and follow-up along the way. Job mentors will also be invited to professional and social events, and will have the opportunity to get to know the organisation and other volunteers.
Who are we looking for?
A job mentor is a person who meets an immigrant or refugee regularly to talk about work, career and how the Norwegian work culture is. A mentor is someone to talk freely with. You will get to know new people and cultures, and get an insight into how Norwegian society is perceived from the perspective of migrants.
Being a job mentor is a flexible way of volunteering that allows you and the participant to decide when to meet.
Read more about the project and register at www.frivillig.no