RSF Recruitment overcame the biggest obstacle to hiring skilled refugees. The answer: social media

RSF Recruitment overcame the biggest obstacle to hiring skilled refugees. The answer: social media

RSF Recruitment overcame the biggest obstacle to hiring skilled refugees. The answer: social media
Disclaimer: Photo courtesy of Refugee Start Force.


Since 2014, according to the UNHCR, about 1.8 million refugees have arrived in Europe. Three years ago, Joost van der Hel, a lawyer in the pharma sector, wanted to do something to help the newcomers settle into their new lives in the Netherlands, so he started enquiring about where he could meet refugees with a legal background.

“I had a professional network of over 4,000 members,” he said. “I wanted to share it with refugees from the legal field, arrange internships and help them find work. But I couldn’t find any refugees.”

Joost had stumbled upon the biggest challenge facing people and organisations working to help refugees: it was very difficult to access them. “Refugees lack networks. Many of them are highly qualified, but need a chance to find their way. We have to make them part of real society.”

Netherlands_Joost van der Hel and Mohammad Kafina_Refugee Start Force

Disclaimer: Joost van der Hel and Mohammad Kafina from Refugee Start Force, Netherlands. Photo courtesy of Nizar.


Joost van der Hel now works with Refugee Start Force, which has opened a new recruitment wing called RSF Recruitment. This recruitment website is specifically aimed at skilled and educated refugees in the Netherlands and has 14 professional expert groups, including law, medicine and journalism. It operates out of the Nyenrode Incubator, at the prestigious business school Nyenrode University. Tim Spoormakers, a BBA student at the school, works as the Recruitment Director.

Joost continued to face challenges contacting skilled and educated refugees until he stumbled upon the role of social media in the lives of most refugees. A recent study found that refugees in the Netherlands spend an average of seven hours per day online, mainly on social media networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp and YouTube. “Their smart phone is their connection with the world, their families and everything else,” says Joost. It is also their preferred way to find local support from others in similar situations.

In October 2015, Joost met a small group of refugees to brainstorm ways in which help could be extended to them. Two months later, he started a Facebook group focused on talent development and the road to employment. In a week, the group had more than 1,000 members. More groups were quickly created to connect refugees from different parts of the country. “Every time we found a new hub (of professionals from a certain field), we started a new group,” Joost said.

Netherlands_Refugee Start Force

Disclaimer: Photo courtesy of Refugee Start Force.


The result is that, in 2019, Joost and his team are now able to connect companies and professionals to refugee jobseekers from the same field. The skills in their database can address requests for professionals ranging from a water management company looking for Arabic-speaking engineers, to solar panel installation, to nursing jobs in the city hospitals, to English teachers. The database has mostly Syrian refugees, who continue to be the largest group seeking asylum in the Netherlands at 2,202 out of 14,716 asylum seekers in 2017.

Recruitment Director Tim Spoormakers explained that they strive to help people enter the labour market according to their skills. “We regularly see that people with relatively high skills work below their level and receive few career opportunities. But for sustainable integration, we strive to get people to work in their own field with career development opportunities.”

According to Tim, a recurring issue is that the degrees from Syria are not rated the same as the ones in the Netherlands, thus requiring the candidate to take on additional education or training. At RSF Recruitment, they work largely on projects that include training as well as an assured number of job placements.

Joost says they don’t offer unskilled jobs like dishwashers and the like. “We see refugees as expats. We check whether they are able to do the work, and their motivation.”

Tim acknowledges that there are other aspects to successful integration into Dutch society. Based on his experience, he advises newcomers to create a social and professional network; focus on learning the Dutch language; and attend additional training, workshops and education while familiarising themselves with the Dutch labour market.

(Writing by Susan Muthalaly; Editing by Seban Scaria

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