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Let's stand with refugees

Skills for Employment Toolkit: A how-to guide for opening pathways to decent work for refugees

Businesses can make meaningful contributions to local neighbourhoods and to society at large by working toward refugee integration and open pathways to decent work for refugees. Together, we can prove that inclusive growth and positive social impact go hand in hand.​

At Ingka Group, we’ve committed to supporting 2,500 refugees by the end of 2023. Our goal is to improve their skills to gain employment inside or outside of our business. Through our Skills for Employment initiative we provide 3-6 months of training, after that refugees and asylum seekers are invited to apply for existing vacancies. So far, we have rolled out our Skills for Employment initiative in 24 countries reaching +1700 people.

We’ve developed this toolkit to share our experience and lessons learned so far.​ We hope this toolkit inspires you to act, too.​

Man in IKEA Store uniform

Let's take action, together.

Must we act?

To date, more than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began in late February. It’s the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the end of WWII. And sadly, this is only one of many examples in recent years that is forcing millions of people to flee their most important place in the world, their homes, and their countries. In recent years, many countries where Ingka operates have seen the arrival of large numbers of people. They come from all over the world, from regions experiencing crises of all kinds.

Arriving with high hopes, people want to make a fresh start – to build a new life for themselves and their families. The reality they find is somewhat different and, in many countries, integration proves to be difficult. As a result, the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2022 finds that large scale involuntary migration is a top long-term concern for economies and societies. The message is clear: yes, we must act.

Can we act?

Experts agree that having a job is key for successful integration. We know from experience that people are highly motivated to work and that they have skills, perspectives and experiences that can benefit societies and businesses. This is where we step in. We believe that every person has a talent to be nurtured and we value each individual because of their unique abilities and skills to be part of developing business and people, for the better.

As a values-driven company, equality and inclusion are part of our DNA. We know that a diverse workforce gives us a better understanding of our customers’ needs, and by reflecting the diversity of our local communities, we can widen our customer base and tap into new markets.

Will we act?

Wherever we are, we contribute to a thriving and inclusive community by how we run our businesses and through our local community engagement initiatives, such as transforming empty apartments and refugee centres into homes. We’ve also started to look at how we can expand refugee integration beyond our own operations by encouraging our business partners to act as well. Already, our Skills for Employment initiative has supported more than 1400 refugees and asylum seekers in 24 countries to improve their employability and language skills and increase their opportunities to set up a new career in a new country.

Now more than ever, it’s critical that we work together across companies, society and governments to support and open doors for jobs, integrations and development of people. We need to take action now, and by working together we can have a greater impact.

Let’s take action, together.

Jesper Brodin, Chief Executive Officer, Ingka Group

Ulrika Biesèrt, Chief Human Resources Officer, Ingka Group

Karen Pflug, Chief Sustainability Officer, Ingka Group

Tolga Öncü, Chief Operating Officer, Ingka Group

Why take action

It's happening now.

Whether we fully understand the geopolitical reasons for refugee migration, the fact is refugees need our help now.​

We welcome them and support them.

Refugees* are people forced to flee their homes because of the risk of persecution, war or environmental crises. Most of them undertake dangerous journeys and sea crossings, risking life and limb to try and reach countries with stable economies and functioning social systems. Some get stuck along the way, and some don’t survive the journey.​

* The International legal definition of a refugee as per the 1951 Convention is a person who, “owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality”.

Woman with a smile on her face, closing her eyes.

Trapped in a cycle​

These circumstances mean most refugees have few real prospects for the future, with little or no work or structure in their lives. Their contact with the local population is often very limited, which makes it difficult for them to learn the local language and culture. Many feel dependent and useless and, in that situation, their​ self-esteem plummets.​

Work is key for integration​

Experts are in agreement; employment is essential for long-term and successful integration in a host country. It needs to take place here and now, not just when conditions are ideal i.e. when refugees have learnt the local language, or when the population is united on the need for integration. In the end it’s very simple; with better integration comes fewer tensions in society.​

Although work is key, some countries don’t allow asylum seekers and refugees to work legally, and refugees often lack the necessary skills to be employed in a new country. That’s where Ingka and other businesses can support them.​

Woman standing in front of a window, smiling.

How to create a plan

Our 7 step approach

In the toolkit, we share the 7 step process we’ve used in our refugee job integration initiative.

It contains concrete actions that you can take as a business, as well as learnings from our co-workers sharing their experiences.

Two colleagues in an IKEA store, having a chat.

What we've learned so far

A number of stores across 24 countries have been running Skills for Employment initiatives for several years. Here we share some of the valuable lessons they’ve learned.​

Internal communication is essential​

Clear and timely communication is at the heart of a successful initiative. For example, Q&A sessions for co-workers prove to be especially helpful.​

Internal commitment is crucial​

Internal acceptance of, and support for, a refugee project is essential. A well-prepared initiative, when teamed with good communication, can help bring even critical voices on board. ​

Define project management responsibilities

Depending on the scale of the initiative, appointing a project manager may be necessary. If it’s a national project that takes place in different stores, you might need a person working full-time to set up and carry out the project.​

Set up intercultural training​

In the initial evaluation of the training for both refugees and employees, the intercultural training was considered particularly helpful and beneficial.​

Define responsibilities clearly​

It’s important that responsibilities are clearly defined, both internally and with any possible partner authorities or organisations. Everyone who is involved must know what their role and responsibilities are. This is the only way to make sure everything runs smoothly.​

Language is the biggest challenge​

In the questionnaires, all the participants expressed an urgent desire to improve their language skills. However, often language courses are only funded up to a very basic level, which​ in our experience, is not always sufficient for​ day-to-day work. One idea is to find people, such as retired teachers, who are prepared to volunteer.​

Buddies are a key success factor​

It’s important to set up proper onboarding for the participants as well as for the buddies, who have a crucial role in the process. Please consider sufficient time for the buddies as they are a key success factor.​

Don’t underestimate cultural differences

Employers may encounter views and values held by refugees that are different to their own, such as women in managerial roles or the idea of doing ’women’s work’. Changing habits takes time, so have patience. Everybody needs to be aware of these differences and accept them.​

Have empathy​

Don’t forget that many refugees are dealing with a multitude of problems while attempting to work and integrate into a foreign place, including worries about family members who have been left behind and recent trauma.

There will be many win-win experiences

Every IKEA country or store that has carried out a refugees’ skills for employment initiative has found it to be mutually enriching. It’s about meeting as equals and helping refugees become independent in their new environment. Employees and teams have said that the experience has broadened their mindset – now they feel they’re truly living the values​ of equality, diversity and inclusion.​

Consider the local context​

Be aware about the local context and the perception of refugees. Businesses have an important role to play in changing the narrative around refugees in the community. Communication activities around the skills for employment programme can add value to the local conversation. ​

Let's take action, together

Helping refugees find work isn’t just a humanitarian effort. It’s good for business.​

More than 30 million refugees were forced by conflict, persecution or natural disaster to leave their homelands. Wherever they’ve come from and for whatever reason, all refugees are people like everyone else. And they bring with them skills, talent and hope.

Supporting refugees’ integration is something that everyone can get involved in, as an individual, society, government or business.​

We believe more companies, big or small, have important and unique roles to play for labour integration of refugees. Companies can choose to see opportunities, not threats. Refugees provide an opportunity to bring diversity, talent, innovation and resilience into your company. Work brings human dignity to people and enable individuals to participate in social and economic life, which are crucial to build a place to call home. ​

We see that refugees can bring great value to business and society – if we enable them to. We support refugees because it is the right thing to do and because it makes business sense.​

When we developed the refugee Skills for Employment initiative, we already knew that great things are achieved when people work together toward a common goal.​

That’s why we believe everyone needs to be involved. Including you.​

Woman standing outside, with a warm how ever determined look on her face.

Download the Skills for Employment toolkit here