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Umicore Hoboken integrates refugees into the workforce (2018)

Umicore’s commitment to sustainability is not only about minimizing the impact of our operations. We also want to have a positive impact on society at large, by respecting people and communities. The refugee employment program that we support at our Hoboken site perfectly underpins that commitment. Today, 17 refugees work in Umicore’s sampling division.

“It’s a truly positive experience, both for Umicore and for the people themselves,”  - Lieven Maes, HR manager.

The refugee employment program that Umicore supports was initiated by Belgium’s Public Centers for Social Welfare (OCMW). “Belgium faced a record number of refugees in 2016 and 2017. In response, the PCSW applied legislative article 60 to integrate asylum seekers into the workforces of Belgian companies,” Lieven explains. Umicore Hoboken was interested. “More than helping us fill vacancies, the program aligns with our values of passion, care and collaboration. Hiring asylum seekers would help us create a more inclusive workplace.”

“More than helping us fill vacancies, the program aligns with our values of passion, care and collaboration. Hiring asylum seekers helps us create a more inclusive workplace.”  - Lieven Maes, HR manager Umicore Hoboken

From temporary to permanent employment contract

While some colleagues were hesitant about the idea, Umicore agreed to hire 10 refugees per year in 2017, 2018 and 2019. “The PCSW acts as employer for the first year,” Lieven explains. “However, we promise an employment agreement at Umicore after this period, provided we have suitable vacancies, of course, and the collaboration meets our criteria.”  
A very ambitious young man, Amjed Al-Zanganawe studied politics and was a journalist before fleeing Iraq in September 2015. After spending 8 months at a reception center, he moved to Antwerp, where his wife and 2-year-old daughter later joined him. Amjed was highly motivated to rebuild his life: “I was focused on learning Dutch, finding a job and moving forward in my new life.” Together with 9 other refugees, Amjed arrived at Umicore Hoboken in 2017. 
After this first year, the refugees go through the same recruitment process as other candidates.  After completion, they receive a temporary contract – and are then assessed again 18 months later to motivate them in their Dutch language studies. If they pass, they get a permanent employment agreement.  One of them, Amjed Al-Zanganawee, immediately passed the assessment and has a permanent contract. Today, 9 refugees already have Umicore employment agreements. 
The employment contract is not the last step. As learning and development are key at Umicore, we offer a series of trainings. Just recently, Amjed obtained his forklift driver license. “I am so grateful for the opportunities that Umicore gives me,” he says. “They give me the chance to grow and build a new life here.” 

“Umicore has really helped me at every step of the way. I’m sure I’ll get plenty more opportunities to grow here.” - Amjed Al-Zanganawee

Truly integrated into the workforce

“Today, everyone wants to keep the new colleagues on board,” says Lieven. What are the keys to this success? “The refugees themselves, to start with. We carefully selected them and invested in an intensive onboarding process and I’m so happy to witness their commitment. Still, we could never have done this without the dedication of HR coach Greet Van den Eynde and Teamleader Mohamed Fawzi. They made the refugees feel at home and supported them in every possible way, even in the face of language barriers, cultural differences, etc. They are now a fantastic team who work hard, are truly integrated and contribute a great deal to our company. I am very proud that we have made this such a success.” 

“I am very proud that we have made this such a success.”  - Lieven Maes, HR manager Umicore Hoboken

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