Fit4Work is the core programme of an association named ‘platform networking for jobs’ that focuses on the integration of well-educated migrants into the labour market. The target audience are persons with an academic background – migrants coming from third countries outside the EU and Swiss remigrants. The vast majority of these people immigrated to Switzerland due to a relationship or a marriage with a Swiss partner. They are most likely to struggle when seeking employment since they are from non-EU countries, have no Swiss qualifications or recognised certificates and cannot make use of helpful relations in the labour market. Furthermore, for well-educated persons these barriers are presumably even graver than for people with lower education levels. The platform networking for jobs tries to overcome these obstacles – the objective is, in the first place, to enhance the social mobility of their clients and, in the second place, to make this unused potential available to the Swiss economy. Thereby, networking is a key word: two experienced mentors from the local business world accompany every employment seeker and grant their mentees access to their business networks and their numerous connections.
The programme Fit4Work includes different instruments and measures such as an analysis of the current situation, an assessment of individual skills and strengths, coaching and individual trainings, the assessment of educational certificates, but at the heart of the programme is the mentoring approach. Therefore, the platform is in constant, close contact with local companies and recruits voluntary mentors from different hierarchical levels. The volunteers are usually working in larger firms since these employers often have specific diversity policies and therefore facilitate such a voluntary engagement. As Roxana Paz, executive director of the association, emphasises: “The formula of the programme are tailor-made solutions.”
Around ten years ago, Roxana Paz developed the concept of the programme Fit4Work and found with the relief organisation of the Roman Catholic Church in Switzerland ‘Caritas’ a partner and sponsor of the project. After two years, Caritas ended the partnership since the focus on well-educated people did supposedly not match with their main goal of helping people experiencing poverty. Subsequently, Roxana Paz started her own business and founded the association platform networking for jobs. During the years, the organisation did continuously grow and thereby profited from the fact that there are only few programmes targeting exactly this audience. Today, the platform has clients from all over the German-speaking part of Switzerland.
The platform networking for jobs is organised as a non-profit association with four permanent employees and around 300 voluntary mentors, among whom half actually play an active part. The yearly budget of the association amounts to CHF 470,000 (approx. € 386,000) (Platform networking for jobs, 2014). Thereby, around one third of the revenues stem directly from the clients, who pay CHF 2,000 (approx. € 1,600) for the participation in the programme as well as 5% of the annual salary of the new employment as a one-off payment. There is the additional possibility that the participation fee is paid by the social assistance office if the client does not dispose of the necessary financial means. CHF 110,000 (approx. € 90,000) are contributed each year by the public administration – on the one hand by the Social Services Department of the City of Zurich and on the other hand by the administration of the Canton of Zurich – and the remainder of the financial resources stem from membership fees and private donations.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
As the concepts of networking and mentoring reveal: the platform networking for jobs is a place where diverse people meet. According to Roxana Paz, executive director of the association:
“Within our organisation, we embrace diversity. It is a reality in the Western world and should be reflected in the companies and in society. We do not want to define the term ‘diversity’, but our objective is to build bridges between the different cultures.”
Obviously, cultural diversity plays a crucial role within the presented programme Fit4Work and the organisation also aims at sensitising the mentors and the employees of the collaborating companies to the advantages of a diverse staff. Clearly, the platform networking for jobs promotes the positive aspects of cultural diversity and seeks to make positive use of the unused potential of their immigrated clients. Several of the provided workshops focus on various features of cultural diversity and on bridging the different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, as well.
Main factors influencing success or failure
Since its foundation, the association did continuously grow and currently is a well-functioning non-profit employment agency. Its success rate is impressive: 67% of the clients found an employment within six to twelve months. The duration of this process often depends on the degree: persons with a degree in economics are apparently placed more quickly than people with a formation at an arts faculty. In total, the platform thus places around 25 persons per year. Meanwhile, the association is rather well known by word of mouth among its target audience.
The main factors influencing this success are the active engagement of the organisation and especially of the executive director, the close ties with the local business world and the large number of voluntary mentors who enable these tailor-made solutions. The platform itself needs a lot of networking activities to establish and maintain the personal contacts with the relevant companies in Zurich and the potential mentors. According to Roxana Paz: “The relatively small size of the association is a clear advantage here, since adjustments may be made much more quickly.” Of course, the financial support of the Social Services Department of the City of Zurich also contributes to the financial stability of the organisation.
Nevertheless, the organisation faces constant obstacles: the financial situation of the platform networking for jobs is always quite strained and all employees need to dedicate around 20% of their time to fundraising. Furthermore, the association complains about the support policy of the public administration in the field of integration: since their clients on average have a too good command of the German language, the public integration offices are not willing to make a financial contribution to the project. The executive director argues: “Valuable integration programmes that show such an exceptional cost-benefit ratio should receive more recognition and support from the public administration – even if they target well-educated migrants.”
Fit4Work is a successful programme in integrating well-educated migrants and remigrants from third countries into the Swiss labour market. It is innovative in the sense that it puts its main focus on the networking and mentoring approach. The close cooperation with larger companies in the Zurich business world and the use of the various connections and networks of its employees ensure a relatively quick placement of a high quota of office seekers. According to the executive director, the future ambitions of the platform comprise a further growth, an increase in the number of clients and an enlargement of the provided programmes.
Image: Platform Networking for Jobs