The continuous rejection was frustrating
Introducing Abdallah Ashour, Intelligent Cloud and Infrastructure at Accenture.
Today, many refugees are leaving home and entering Europe, selecting the Netherlands as the country to settle in. The number one priority for a smooth and successful integration is ensuring they find suitable and sustainable employment.
The Refugee Talent Hub (RTH), launched in 2015 by a team of Dutch Accenture employees with half of them having a refugee background, aims to close the gap between talented, job-seeking refugees and Dutch organizations looking for new employees. ‘As a refugee, when you come into contact with someone who boosts your confidence and challenges you to look at yourself from a different perspective, you feel as though almost anything is possible.’
Abdallah Ashour (31) had a bachelor degree in Computer Science from the Al Aqsa University in Gaza. A conflict of interest with the political establishment made it unsafe for him to stay in Palestine. In September 2014, he was forced to leave the country, abandoning a job as a technical support assistant at the institution. Arriving in the Netherlands all alone, Abdallah immediately applied for a residence permit. When he was granted one in March 2015, his job hunt commenced. ‘I was determined to find a job in IT, which was my expertise. However, all companies I called seemed to opt out during the initial phone call. It was the combination of my lack of fluent Dutch as well as a gap in my skill set that was outdated because I hadn’t been working for nearly a year. The continuous rejection was extremely frustrating, and it felt like I was being boxed in by unscalable walls.’
‘While struggling to find a job, I enrolled in a front-end development course in Rotterdam - which, ultimately, led to an interesting internship at ABN AMRO. Unfortunately, that didn’t develop into a full-time position, so I reached out to many organizations and individuals who I thought could be of assistance. While I don’t remember exactly when I made initial contact with the Refugee Talent Hub, at some point I received an invite from them, alerting me to the fact that they were renewing their platform and requesting me to update my profile, which I did. A month later, I received three interesting job prospects, and I applied for all of them.’
‘I didn’t think I stood a chance’
‘One of the openings was for a front-end developer at Accenture. The idea of working for such a large organization appealed to me greatly. However, I thought my chances were very slim. Hélène (van Melle) coached me and motivated me all the way through, and made me believe I was a good candidate. And it paid off: I got the job! I love working at a company that is at the forefront of new technologies and offers employees the opportunity to continuously learn and develop personally and professionally. RTH broke down a seemingly unbreakable wall for me.’
"The Refugee Talent Hub broke down a seemingly unbreakable wall for me ."
‘Boosting people’s confidence is an inextricable part of our job,’ explains Paul Mbikayi, director of the Refugee Talent Hub. As a Congolese refugee who arrived in the Netherlands in 1994, he knows how important that vote of confidence is. ‘Being a refugee has negative connotations in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. I remember feeling like a parasite for the first years. In Congo, I had studied Civil Engineering and was politically active - I was used to contributing to society and to feel that “I mattered”. As a refugee, you’re not considered a person who contributes to society, but rather as one who needs to be helped by it. It took me thirteen years to come to terms with the fact that no matter how hard I tried to fight my refugee status; there was no escaping the fact that I was one. But I also acknowledge that I managed to find a good job, created a large network and have actually found my place in this country.’
‘Why did I succeed, and why didn’t they?’
‘I often take a moment to think of other refugees, especially those who arrived around the same time as I did and are still struggling to find their way. “Why did I succeed, and why didn’t they?” That question kept buzzing through my head. After some time, it hit me: I am not the only one who is responsible for my success, there are many people who believed in me and opened doors for me. I organized a cycling tour past all different asylum centers to thank all the people that had contributed to my “personal journey”. Also, it motivated me to take on the role as Refugee Ambassador, which I embraced for seven years. It was during that time that I crossed paths with the Refugee Talent Hub.’
‘My main goal has always been to tell refugees that in their new country, there are people who are willing to open their door, heart and network for you. This is why I became a fan of the Refugee Talent Hub after just hearing their name - the fact that they put the words "refugee" and "talent" in one sentence put a smile on my face. I had never even heard of Accenture, nor the technologies they specialize in. However, I knew instantly I wanted to be part of this initiative. I was impressed and moved by Accenture’s dedication and hands-on approach to this cause. They truly stick to their word.’
Connecting with real people again
‘Accenture’s partnership sponsor, Hélène van Melle, shared my enthusiasm.’ ‘My day-to-day duties in our global HR team didn’t allow me to connect to real people, which is quite a shame because that’s originally why I wanted to work in HR,’ Hélène explains. ‘This was around the time the refugee crisis dominated the news, and I, like so many other people, was moved and saddened by the situation. Fortunately, through my work for the Refugee Talent Hub, I feel I can make small, yet significant positive changes to people’s lives.’
‘Looking back, it has been an interesting first year,’ says Hélène. ‘The digital platform that was initially developed didn’t quite work out the way we envisaged and hoped it would. We realized our goals were better reached by enabling the refugee talents and the organizations to meet face-to-face - resulting in 35 meet & greets, training sessions and other events taking place last year. The energy and enthusiasm that erupt from these encounters is nothing short of amazing, and, without fail, a personal highlight every time.’
More adaptable for a wider variety of jobs
Paul: ‘There is a fundamental difference between Dutch people and refugees when it comes to what they studied and how that influences their outlook on life. In Holland, it’s not uncommon for someone who has studied psychology to end up working in HR, or someone who has a master in physics to find a job in ICT, for instance. This is not the case in many other countries, including my country of birth, Congo. Often, what you study defines your future career - there is little to no wiggle room for any kind of deviation from that path.’
‘Of course, family pressure also plays a part: when a family saved money for their child to study medicine, it’s unthinkable that he or she would not become a doctor. A change in mindset was required on the side of the talented refugees. As Refugee Talent Hub, we see it as a prerequisite to change this narrow perception amongst refugees, in order to make them more adaptable for a wider variety of jobs.’
Looking for a long-lasting, sustainable match
‘Don’t get me wrong: the idea that we should just prepare refugee talents for any type of job, simply for the sake of having a job, is definitely not our mission. On the contrary, in order for a match to be sustainable, it’s essential that a person does something he likes and what he’s good at. Hence, the answer lies in finding other talents the person has - in addition to what he or she chose to study. It’s a matter of flexibility: refugees need to come to terms with that fact that they need to become more adaptable. Refugees also contribute to their own chance of success is the message we’re trying to instill in them.’
"The answer lies in finding other talents the person has ."
‘Dutch organizations definitely have work to do, too. Not all HR departments and recruiters acknowledge the abundance of talent among refugees. They need to learn how to see beyond a CV and change the way they perceive refugees. So, how do we transcend these barriers? By meeting with people from all kinds of companies, training (corporate) mentors and making sure the right people meet and connect with one another. This is what we wish to achieve: ensuring all parties that cross paths are well-prepared and equipped to maximize the chance of success for when they eventually meet,’ Paul concludes.
On the road to success
For Abdallah, this maximization was the final piece of the puzzle. ‘As a refugee, when you meet with someone who boosts your confidence and challenges you to look at yourself from a different perspective, almost anything is possible. I’ve learned how to process feedback and listen to advice from others, and that has enriched my life. Refugees definitely need someone who can help them along the path to whichever career they are suitable for. I’m grateful that the Refugee Talent Hub came into my life: it was a confidence-booster, an opening to meet the right people in the right places and, ultimately, the beginning of my journey to fulfilling my destiny.