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Life at Siemens
Along well-trodden global migration routes, across deserts and over oceans, millions of refugees every year travel thousands of miles to escape conflict in their homeland. Carrying little, they leave behind their jobs, property and even sometimes their family. Fear drives them forward and hope gives them strength; they dream of a better future in another place.
It makes me really proud to work here because the employees and managers are really motivated to give their best to this.
After months of negotiating national borders, arriving in countries like Germany isn’t the end of their journey – it’s just the beginning of an often long process of asylum and integration.
Jörg Pohl heads up the Siemens Internship of Refugees Program and knows how a little stability can make a huge difference. “The paid internships are generally two months long, for people with qualifications who are going through the asylum process,” Jörg explains.
“Many refugees have had a great education. So to give them rewarding work and show them how a big organization like Siemens is set up, and what it’s like working in Germany – this is the first step of integration.”
There has been plenty of interest from refugees to enroll on the scheme and some have already been made into permanent members of the Siemens team. One of those, originally from Eritrea, went to Egypt and was kidnapped.
“Three months later, his family paid the demanded sum for his release. Then he travelled to Munich where he found a host family.”
It was from there he was offered an internship with Siemens to help develop his talent.
Now, he has started an IT apprenticeship and is one of the 351,000 people that make up the company around the world.
It opens up our culture, removes prejudice and opens your mind to the situation.
Integrating into a brand new culture is not an easy thing to do, especially for those who have fled their home. Siemens internships offer the chance to gain valuable experience by improving language skills, developing talents and building some lasting friendships.
Everyone on the internship is assigned a mentor from the very beginning as part of a ‘buddy system’. It gives them someone to talk to and offers them guidance throughout the program. “Sometimes they’ll go for a coffee, have lunch, or go to the cinema. It’s much more personal.”
The internship program isn’t the only thing Siemens is doing. Jörg explains how unused office space is being turned into accommodation for families to live in, and pre-classes have been created for younger refugees to prepare them for the apprenticeship program at Siemens. Sports parks are also being opened up for soccer and ping pong matches with employees. It's this type of contact that starts to change everyone's perception and encourages integration.
The majority of refugees on the program fled from Syria and Eritrea – and Jörg has found that many are highly skilled in engineering and IT.
Many managers have been so pleased with the interns who have taken part in the program that they want to recruit more. Lots of them say: “It opens up our culture, removes prejudice and opens your mind to the situation.”
Jörg admits that the integration process is a long and complex process, and that it all starts with face-to-face contact. “A lot of people have no personal contact with them. Newcomers are separated in buildings and so on, so we only see each other on the street.” Integration is key and Jörg has some of his own ideas on how we could start to encourage it.
"I think that integration will work better if we promote decentralized housing to bring the different cultures closer together.”
He hopes the work Siemens is doing will inspire more companies to launch their own initiatives and engage with the current crisis. “We want to show and share our concept to them so that they will also start their own programs.”
With the incredible talent these interns possess, Jörg is hopeful that it won’t be long before a refugee makes their way into a managerial position – and some day, the Board.