Accenture: Using Technology to turn Refugees into Employees

“Everyone had to leave their country, there was a problem that they had to escape, but keep in mind they had built a life before the crisis.”

– Eva Buch-Erkens, Volunteer Lead, Accenture

Accenture truly embodies the global nature of business as an international consulting firm with 425,000 employees worldwide. Beyond the day-to-day operations, Accenture’s Kronberg site near Frankfurt in Germany, operates as a think-tank, incubating the firm’s innovation and social projects. In 2015, the leadership team at Accenture had two competing demands from its German employee base: 1) employees dedicated to assisting refugees outside of the workplace wanted Accenture as an organization to take on a greater role in the refugee crisis; and 2) hiring managers were confronted with the challenge of filling 400 vacant technology specialist positions in Accenture sites throughout Germany. Accenture quickly realized that these competing demands could actually be complimentary.

Accenture believed it could best assist refugees, and meet its own labour demands, by creating a specific pathway for refugees to access employment opportunities at Accenture. The Jump Start Refugees program was developed to target refugees in Germany with a bachelor’s degree from their home country and an affinity for technology. After completing the six-week training program, and passing the final exam, trainees would be guaranteed an offer of employment at Accenture as a Software Engineer Associate. But Accenture recognized that training alone was not enough; new trainees would need accommodation and a welcoming environment to truly thrive. Participants were paid and provided one-room flats in Frankfurt, a short commute to the Accenture office, and lunch at work throughout the six-week training program. Current Accenture employees were involved in the program as trainers, and participated in preparing the new trainees to work on client projects.

As of April 2017, the first cohort had officially graduated from the program: all eight participants passed the final exam and were offered full-time positions at Accenture.  Given the outstanding results of the pilot, Accenture was eager to have the Jump Start Refugees program integrated into their regular recruitment operations. The corporate HR department was brought in, and efforts were immediately undertaken to expand the program beyond Accenture-Kronberg. The key to Accenture’s success was starting with a pilot, demonstrating the skill trainees bring to the workplace and showing the positive results to the broader Accenture team. The success of the pilot, in addition to the well documented practices for implementation, meant the corporate HR department could easily scale up to other Accenture sites, and integrate the program into their standard hiring and training processes.

Given the success of the pilot and adoption of the program into regular HR operations, the next cohort is double the participants, from 8 to 16. Accenture is already looking to expand the project to include other populations traditionally excluded from the Software Engineer profession, including women and those who have been unemployed for the long-term, to promote social cohesion and reduce the perception that all programs are exclusively geared towards refugee populations. At the end of the day, the program addresses a persistent challenge Accenture faces: an inability to find enough qualified employees with the required technical skills.

Supporting other German Employers

While Accenture was committed to offering employment within its own firm, it recognized the need to support other companies to find refugee talent to meet their labour market needs. With that goal in mind, Accenture created opportunities to get involved at the community level to support refugee employment across industries.

To prepare refugees for the German labour market, Accenture collaborated with local organizations to deliver three important activities: resume revision sessions, cultural awareness training and job fairs.  In Frankfurt and Hamburg, Accenture employees partnered with local non-profits that were already assisting refugees to deliver one-on-one sessions to help refugees best tailor their resumes to the local German context. During these sessions, Accenture employees were able to translate refugees’ work experience into transferable skills for the German labour market. Translating foreign experience into skills readily valued by German employers was crucial for refugees that lacked the formal education or the certifications needed to be employed in Germany. In Dusseldorf, Accenture volunteers recognized the need to educate refugees on the local context and culture in the German community. Since mid-2015, volunteers have hosted cultural awareness and employment workshops for refugees. The group meets weekend afternoons for four-hour sessions; with 10 participants per cohort, Accenture volunteers are helping refugees navigate and integrate into the community.

From its work with local employers, Accenture quickly realized that there was an interest, especially from small and medium size businesses, to meet refugees in-person to learn more about their skills and experience. So in October 2016, Accenture organized a career fair in Frankfurt, successfully connecting 300 refugees with 15 local businesses. The event was particularly useful for refugees who have work experience in various fields, but do not have the necessary certifications needed for Germany’s highly regulated labour market. The opportunity for refugees to meet with businesses hiring and speak to their own experiences was invaluable to accessing employment. After the major success of the first job fair, the City of Frankfurt asked Accenture to organize another, larger fair, in collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, the Argentur fur Arbeits, the Frankfurt Job Center and the Frankfurt Handelskammer. For a seamless collaboration across so many different organizations, Accenture developed a unique online registration form which each participant had to complete to receive a registration number to attend the event. With each organization promoting the same registration process, over 1000 job-seekers were in attendance and 52 local businesses were there to greet them. The second job fair is an excellent example of the success that can be realized from private-public partnerships: Accenture provided the funding to develop the registration process, the Chamber of Commerce brought in the companies looking to hire, the Argentur fur Arbeits and the Job Center informed unemployed refugees about the career fair, while the City of Frankfurt identified the demographics of the refugee population in its city.

Tips for employers:

  • Demonstrate value. Piloting the Jump Start Refugees program with a small cohort and demonstrating its overall success, in addition to the added value the refugee trainees brought to the Accenture workforce, was critical for buy-in from corporate HR. Start small, demonstrate the value to the larger team, and then scale the initiative.
  • Empower dedicated employees. Accenture relied heavily on a workforce that was already dedicated to assisting refugees. Consider your own workforce and engage employees on the opportunities to assist refugees. By making a company-wide commitment to a volunteer initiative, employees can feel empowered to meaningfully engage in building refugee inclusion in their community.
  • Build effective partnerships. Communities have existing organizations that assist in the different aspects of accessing employment. Consider what your company can contribute and reach out to these existing organizations to lend your support. Accenture was able to provide a technology-based solution that effectively fostered collaboration across different employment support organizations; what does your organization have to offer?

Content for this article originally appeared in, “Company Interventions for Refugee Employment in Germany”, prepared by Lina Zdruli, M.A. Georgetown University

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