”The profit largely outweighs the resources spent”

Roskilde Municipality has successfully teamed up with a Danish company to employ refugees. They receive language classes at the job, and the municipality has posted employees to assist with minor ongoing challenges.

Roskilde Municipality and the Danish company BC Hospitality Group has entered into a strong partnership on employing refugees. One group of newly hired people are ready to begin their job training at the five-star Hotel Marriott in Copenhagen. © BC Hospitality Group

When the housekeeping morning shift arrives at Hotel Marriott in central Copenhagen, usually 35 year old Ali is the first one to show up. From time to time he is almost one hour early for his shift. ”I like to work. Sitting at home and being on social welfare is not a life for me. Now, that I have a job, I’m happy every morning I wake up.”

Ali is from Afghanistan – and he is just one in a larger group of refugees, originating also from Syria and Eritrea, who since the beginning of August have made sure that the guests in the five-star hotel stay in perfectly cleaned rooms.

Before Ali and his colleagues were employed, they went through thorough job training. And this is the result of a close and fruitful partnership between Roskilde Municipality and the Danish company BC Hospitality Group who provides service like cleaning and kitchen work as well as administration and technical staff at several Danish hotels and event venues like Bella Center and Hotel Crowne Plaza.

“We as a company need the labor, so for us it’s a win-win situation that we can get the hands we lack and at the same time contribute to society.”

This is not the first time for BC Hospitality Group to venture into a project with Roskilde Municipality on integration of refugees in the Danish labor market. And there is a perfectly natural explanation, says CSR-manager Mireille Jakobsen: “We as a company need the labor, so for us it’s a win-win situation that we can get the hands we lack and at the same time contribute to society. The loyal and motivated employees we gain in the end are worth it, so the profit largely outweighs the resources spent,” she says and adds that the company works strategically with CSR, especially focusing on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In Roskilde Municipality the integration efforts, surrounding the many newly arrived refugees, have gradually become a success story with positive results, both when looking at the cold figures and the human gains. Yet, this has required both innovative approaches, restructuring of the organization and the development of new tools that are continuously being improved, says Maria Tvarnø, head of the integration department.

”I believe that all municipalities have gone through development processes as the refugee arrivals have increased. We found that the efforts surrounding refugees were spread across several departments, but now we have gathered all the core tasks in one place, so we can get much more cohesion and focus on the individual citizen, and it clearly improves our opportunities to help refugees into education and jobs.”

In addition, the municipality aims to map the qualifications and schooling, language skills, work experience and job preferences of refugees as soon as they arrive. This provides the municipality a strong starting point for dialogue with potential employers, says Maria Tvarnø. She acknowledges however that the integration efforts are still challenged:

“Initially, many companies have not seen refugees as a resource, and therefore they haven’t been prepared to invest in integration projects, perhaps due to the impressions they might get from the media. So our task is mainly to make the companies see refugees as an attractive labor reserve.”

For 35 year old Ali the path into the Danish labor market has not been quite easy.

“When I first came to Denmark, it was difficult to understand how things worked. There is a big difference between the labor market here and where I come from.”

The typical Danish work culture with flat hierarchies and a very open and relaxed dialogue with managers and leaders is also something that many refugees are not necessarily used to. And additionally, misunderstandings in language and communication problems could create barriers for a successful integration.

However Roskilde Municipality has found a solution – as part of the project with BC Hospitality Group two employees from the municipality have been present on site full-time in order to assist with the minor ongoing challenges.

“It’s been crucial for us to have that resource provided, because it means that we as a company do not need to use the resources on those social and cultural challenges, and instead we can focus on the professional training,” says Mireille Jakobsen.

UNHCR’s Spokesperson for Denmark, Elisabeth Arnsdorf Haslund hopes that fruitful initiatives like this will inspire other companies and Danish municipalities to work together in the integration efforts:

”It is our experience, that all refugees want to contribute, and it’s so important that they have the chance to be a part of the Danish labor market, even if it requires a helping hand to begin with. It’s in the workplace that refugees are able to establish strong, social network that are crucial for a good integration in Denmark.”

Another important explanation behind the good results is the fact, that the refugees receive language classes on site during working hours. That way they can test their skills right away, and it’s easy to assess the vocabulary they need. Even though it takes time away from the real work, it pays off, because the refugees’ Danish skills improve much faster than when they go to language school late in the evening, tired after a hard day of work.

To Ali it is evident, that he is using his Danish skills on a daily basis – and in fact also his English skills, since this is the official language on an international hotel like Hotel Marriott.

“By working here, I improve in both languages. I need to move on with my life, and for each day passing, it gets better and easier to be part of the Danish labor market,” he says.

Ali and many other refugees who have been through the job training with Roskilde Municipality and BC Hospitality Group end up with normal employment contracts – and that is no surprise to Mireille Jakobsen:

“We simply see a willingness to complete the job training and a very strong motivation to work. The qualifications and prerequisites need to be there, of course, but I really experience a strong wish to be rid of the help of the municipality and to be self-supported. The vast majority of the refugees, we have worked with, really wants to give back to society.”