With the rapid growth and outstanding vacancies in the tech industry, finding a job should be a breeze, no? For many people, this is not the case. Several tech academies aim to solve that problem. One of those aims for the group of people that have a particularly tough time finding employment. Amsterdam-based social enterprise RefugeeForce reskills asylum seekers in the Netherlands towards a SalesForce job.
Reskilling refugees to Salesforce
Gaspar Rodriguez is the director and co-founder of RefugeeForce. He knows how hard it is to arrive in a new country and find a job. “I always moved around to new countries. I found that even for a normal immigrant, it can be incredibly tough.”
For refugees, there are even more hurdles to take, Rodriguez realised. He joined forces with co-founders Nick Broekema and Marielle Schweickart to create an academy specifically aimed at asylum seekers in The Netherlands. Their background in and experience with Salesforce led them to the conclusion that that’s where people were needed. With RefugeeForce they aim to solve two problems at once: the lack of trained Salesforce specialists and the distance of refugees to the job market.
Under- or unemployed
“Only 30 per cent of refugees have jobs three years after they arrive in The Netherlands. A very high number of them remains unemployed or underemployed”, says Rodriguez. The biggest reason: a lack of network. “They don’t know anybody here. They go to asylum camps where they meet only other refugees. Having no network is huge when looking for a job.”
Another problem is not having any credentials. Refugees with a master’s degree at their University back home, find their credentials do not transfer to the European job market. So they have to recertify. “That means going back to school for two years. A lot of them choose to go for a low-paying job instead of going for another bachelor’s degree, leaving them underemployed.”
The stigma towards refugees
Then there is a third issue that refugees face when looking for a job, says Rodriguez. “There is a lot of stigma towards them. This is hard to capture in numbers, but we notice employers are scared these people are not a good fit for the team or might have extra needs. It’s really hard to convince companies that hiring a refugee is a good idea.”
RefugeeForce overcomes that hurdle by collaborating with large companies. Their latest recruitment partner seeking to onboard Salesforce talent is NewMotion, the EV-charging company of Shell. In October 2020, Newmotion hired their first RefugeeForce alumni with the intent to establish a pipeline of Salesforce talent into the company.
Already highly educated
Those people come from all over the world. From Venezuela, Nigeria, China, Ethiopia. Right now many of them come from Syria, escaping the war there. The average age is 29, the majority is male. “They are all highly educated, as the Netherlands looks very strongly at that before admitting them. Their English is good. They generally have experience in finance, accounting. They have worked at NGOs or large corporations. Very few have a background in tech.”
That’s where RefugeeForce comes in. After an ‘intensive, in-person program of 20 classroom sessions over 8-10 weeks – 2 evenings per week for 2.5 hours’, students are certified Salesforce specialists. They learn technical skills, while also working on their soft skills for job interviews and networking. During the course, they can work on their network which can help them find a job afterwards.
Word of mouth
Finding people to take the course is no problem, says Rodriguez. Their programme quickly fills up. “Initially we went through organisations like vluchtelingenwerk to reach out to asylum seekers. That’s how we got our start. But after that, it was mostly word of mouth. People who completed the course talked about it to other refugees. Most of the applicants come through alumni.”
Currently, RefugeeForce has certified over 75 people. Half of them have found a job, although Rodriguez says they only track if people end up in a Salesforce related job. “Besides offering training, we also help people find a job. There is no point in educating 1000 people if they don’t get hired.”
From Amsterdam to Berlin, London, Paris
However, educating 1000 people that do get hired is even better. That’s why RefugeeForce is looking to scale up its operations and expand to Europe. Next stop: Berlin. “We want to have different learning hubs in different cities. Cities that have a large Salesforce ecosystem and many underemployed refugees. So we start with a pilot in Berlin in July, with 10 people.”
Rodriguez doesn’t stop there. After Berlin, London is next. After that, Paris. “We are starting in London at the end of the year. We were already approached by one company that wanted to fund the whole programme there.” He’s not ready to disclose a name yet, but ensures it is a ‘leading Salesforce implementation partner’.
For Rodriguez and RefugeeForce, this brings them closer to their goal: get new talent in the Salesforce ecosystem and help refugees to get a job with a future in their new country. “As an organisation, we don’t get to choose who the government lets in or not. But we do get to decide what happens to them once they are here. They are already accepted, they’re here, let’s make the most of it.”