Refugees Work was founded last November after a not-for-profit platform connecting NGOs to pro-bono work was contacted by a business wanting to hire refugees but not knowing how to go about it.
This week, the Refugees Work website opened for registration, with 140 companies and 1000 refugees already signed up in just the first few days.
“It's going well so far,” one of the founders Dominik Beron told The Local Austria. “We're seeing different industries with different motivations. Many accept there is a social responsibility to do this but there is also the recruiting motivation. Employers want to hire new people and they know that many refugees are trained and were even leading companies in their home countries.”
Last year around 90,000 asylum applications were registered in Austria and the topic has been a hotly debated issue, with the government erecting border fences and setting a cap of 35,700 asylum applications for 2015.
Public opinion on the issue is divided, although the charity Caritas say they are still seeing high numbers of volunteers in Vienna looking to donate their time to support refugees. Initiatives such as Refugees Welcome, where Austrians offer their spare rooms to refugees, and the refugee-run magdas Hotel, have also both been warmly received.
Refugees Work is the latest charitable project to launch in this area, helping businesses needing a highly-skilled and diverse workforce as well as asylum seeker and refugees looking for work.
Having tried and failed to find an NGO with the time and resources to take on the idea, Beron and his colleague Jacob Wagner decided to crowd-fund and do it themselves instead.
Difficulties finding work
The law in Austria states that people going through the asylum process are legally not allowed to be in paid employment. Those who do receive refugee status - which can take years, even decades - do have the same access to the labour market as everybody else, although the perception of some employers that it is complicated or sometimes unattractive to hire refugees can make it more difficult to get work.
Refugees Work aims to help both groups, by matching asylum seekers with volunteer opportunities and refugees with work suitable to their experience - but Beron emphasises there is also a strong business case as well.
“Employers can see there is a benefit of hiring people with different backgrounds,” says Beron. “For example a luxury hotel might want someone who can speak to Arabic to guests rather than German or English.”
Still in its soft launch stage, the website will continue to register companies and refugees in the next two weeks before the job platform opens and begins matching them.
“We wanted to give the refugees a chance to get help from NGOs to create good profiles, with information about themselves and good photos,” explains Beron. “This way, we also hope to make some matches on the first day.”