Hydro’s engagement for refugees draws praise

They learn how to braze, build circuits, about the industrial mechanics around the aluminum – but first and foremost German. What the young men who fled from Syria now get at Hydro in Grevenbroich, District Administrator Hans-jürgen Petrauschke says is "a really strong effort towards integration and participation."

September 15, 2016
Image of group of Syrian students standing around table in workshop
The Syrian students learn German, and some techniques too, at Hydro’s apprentice workshop in Grevenbroich. District administrator Petrauschke (center) was pleased to see, what HR Manager Stephanie Toerkel explained to him. (Photo: Anja Tinter)

Petrauschke and District Director Dirk Bruegge, together with the refugees commissioner of the Rhine district Neuss, Benjamin Josephs, recently paid a visit to Hydro’s apprentice workshop. Plant manager Christoph Budde and HR Manager Stephanie Toerkel explained the status of Hydro’s efforts so far, one year after the decision to create eight additional apprenticeship positions for refugees.

"We learned quickly. The legal framework conditions were still to defined, as the institutions in charge only began to really get into the new mode, as more and more came to seek shelter in Germany. To find suitable candidates turned out to be a lengthy task. Solutions above all came from volunteers, because they had met the refugees personally and knew about their lives and talents,” says Toerkel.

One candidate turned up so eloquently and knowledgeably that the logistics department directly hired him as an intern for commercial operations, with great results so far. Furthermore, among the “Centennial apprentices” who started in August is a young Syrian: thanks to two years of schooling in Germany, he is apt enough now to learn how to operate state-of-the-art machines and equipment at the rolling mill. Also the Rheinwerk and Alunorf sites in Neuss have already set up internships, and a young man now in a qualification year at Rheinwerk, for later apprenticeship.

The key hurdle to get started in the industry is a lack of German language skills. But, instead of sending away the candidates identified with some metals background, Hydro has been offering German lessons since March, accompanied by regular workshop training – and some insight to shop floor operations.

Trainers will get cross-culture training

Having language lessons and workshop, theory and practice, so close, is a steady driver for the pupils. They are not used to coping with any criticism, so advice has to come quite carefully. Thus, plant manager Christoph Budde decided with his HR staff to also school leaders: “These days we organize for an intercultural competence training for all those here who have to do with refugees.”

Further lessons learned on the way: “First we taught participants from several countries and with several interpreters. That slows it down. So we concentrated on Syrians," said Stephanie Toerkel.

Eight young men currently attend these courses. They have been alone in Germany since November 2015; their families are in Turkey or Syria. They live in Grevenbroich, privately or at Heim, they are Muslims or orthodox Christians. By end of January 2017, they face the test for skill level B1 – the possible entry gate to continue in Hydro as an apprentice or for preparatory qualification.

“All of them are highly motivated and flexible students, only with the language as a barrier. To master the job world, however, they should also complete the B2 level,” says integration aide Vanessa Guerra. She leads the language class – and her superior from the organizing Technology Center Glehn, Norbert Koethen, would welcome public allowance for continued language courses in accordance with B2.

“Many thanks to Hydro, and also the employees involved, for offering resources to help the refugees. Here we see: The refugees want to learn something and perform, as quickly as possible,” said Hans Jürgen Petrauschke. “Especially at their young age, we need to not let them hang around, but always keep them busy."

Asked where the administration could help further, Stephanie Toerkel comments in favor of others: “What we've learned meanwhile, many other companies are still at odds with – notably, the whole bureaucracy around the employment of refugees."

Author: Michael Peter Steffen

Updated: October 11, 2016