Migrant IntegrationMigrant Integration
As a coach for The Next Step project at Manpower, I’m interested in an individual’s prior education and their intentions, talents and ambitions for their career in the Netherlands. Part of the process is working to validate the prior learning of refugees; also for those who do not have degrees. I meet with my candidates in person, and together we draft a personal development plan to map their career opportunities and integration ambitions. I supplement the personal development plan with guidance and coaching for a period of six months to ensure that their goals are reached.
“It’s My Personal Drive to Empower Others Who Have Potential”
It feels good to help others. Seeing the appreciation and fulfilment in my candidates during the process, that’s what keeps me going, and gives me a good feeling. I myself have a background as a refugee from Sierra Leone, I know how difficult it can be to carve out your space in a new setting. My background is in international communication management, but I am also involved in community development initiatives, I have volunteer roles – I am always trying to get involved. But I also like to help others to get involved, it’s my personal drive to empower others who have potential. Sometimes people just need guidance, or a role model to find their space.
Some candidates already know where they want to work, and are confident with their existing skills and education; but like anyone, you still need to be flexible, to persevere and to know what you want if you want to succeed in the job market. I work with refugees to help them to navigate the path to employment, but in the end, the candidate has to secure the job him/herself- they are the ones who will be going to the job interview!
For Manpower, I think the project is a way of contributing to developing people. It’s an interesting project to be a part of.
Nothing is for free, and to make your own life easier, you should work. Not everyone is born to be a famous football player, you have to find what you love and identify your opportunities. Some people think that work is a punishment- but it’s not! When I came to the Netherlands, I didn’t know where I would end up. I had no hope, I was traumatized, I kept to myself and I felt like I was worth nothing. Today I have been living for one year and a half in this country; I am proud that I am working and I am happy.
I feel like I can be somebody because I am doing what I love and I can see my future unfolding. At first, I was working as a housekeeping supervisor at a hotel, but I felt that the role was not right for me. So I sat down at home, and thought about what I would like to do and about my hobbies. One of them is cooking! I gained some determination from this exercise, and made an effort to share my interest to work in a professional kitchen as a cook. My coach at Manpower, a Dutch employment agency, said “So you think you can be a cook?” and I replied: “Of course! Why not, I can do it!”
“I am proud that I am working; I see myself progressing every day.”
My advice is to speak out, to tell people what you want and what you need, otherwise people cannot support you. This approach helped me. I shared my information and career plans with others. That is why I am working in a professional kitchen today. Although we have some challenges, as migrants - I had some fear of being different, and looking different with my dark skin. The language is a challenge. But I am learning Dutch, so in a few years I will be speaking perfect Dutch like a local. There are many opportunities for migrants, and everyone can and should work.
Growing up in Iran, I knew I wanted to own my own business. My father had a hair salon, my mother was a seamstress and self-employment was just a normal part of life. I actually played basketball in Iran for ten years, I played for the national team. After an accident to my leg, I had to re-evaluate my life plans. I spent a summer working for my father in his salon; I gained the skills to be a hairstylist through practical experience and decided to start my own salon. So when I came to the Netherlands, I had the same expectations to be self- employed. But the integration agency wanted me to play safe, and take a job with Heineken, packing boxes; and the government wouldn’t support me financially to start my own business.
Again, I had to re-evaluate my life plans. I refused the job at Heineken, and lent money to start my hair salon. To be a hairstylist in the Netherlands you don’t need a special diploma. But I had to learn about taxes, all the paperwork, and the terminology. In Iran we don’t have tax or this level of administration. It was really difficult to adjust to this. I also had issues with the municipality regarding access to social welfare payments. Ultimately I decided that I would rather earn my own money – even if it was a smaller amount, than to rely on social welfare. So now, every day I work from 9am to 6pm at the hair salon, then I work at my other businesses, a small convenience store until 9pm. The convenience store is another investment, a backup in case something happens to me as a hairstylist. At the moment I have the energy and I am young, so it’s work, work, work. So that later, I will be comfortable.
"You will succeed, but it takes time and energy. You have to have a Plan A, but also a Plan B and C…."
Owning a business in the Netherlands is difficult. It’s one step forward and two steps back. Because of the level of taxes, you pay so much that it’s difficult to make progress with your earnings and business. Even if you work more, you have to pay more taxes, which is a big disincentive. It makes me want to move to a different country.
My advice for other people who want to start a business in the Netherlands- if you are good at what you do, you will succeed, but it takes time and energy. You have to have a Plan A, but also a Plan B and C and D….