The take-away from the brainstorming session in week 6 is that there is a clear bias in the hiring process in Austria, thus contributing to the ever-growing problem of refugees struggling to find financial stability and thus hindering their capabilities of integrating well into society. Initially, the idea was to tackle this problem head-on, but diving further into research on this topic revealed quite a complex system of issues that weren’t so simple to address. So the first step was to dissect this research and identify some of those root causes.
Like all migrants, refugees have difficulty finding jobs due to language barriers, problems proving their qualifications, and other contributing factors. This is contrasted with the fact that there is a shortage of labor in Austria, with roughly 160k job vacancies that need to be urgently filled. (InfoMigrants, 2019) According to official figures, 30,000 refugees in the country are unemployed. (InfoMigrants, 2019)
This fact has exasperated the need to integrate refugees into the labor market properly. Five existing organizations in Austria offer programs to promote the social and labor integration of refugee migrants, such as language, resume building, interview training, amongst other things. (Ehlers, 2021)
Around 2015, AMS, the Austrian Employment Agency, organized a ‘competence check” for the integration of refugees. They needed a quick response at that time to avoid the de-qualification and demotivation of refugees. AMS didn’t have the tools or competency to carry out these checks themselves, so they developed a tool in collaboration with vocational or training institutions. However, an algorithm built to help AMS assess and categorize job seekers for better efficiency was found to be discriminatory. (Kayser-Bril, 2019). This led me to the next part of my research, which looked at the quality of jobs attained by refugees through various sources.
Studies have shown that the highest quality of job earned by refugees is through an Austrian contact. In contrast, jobs attained through an ethnic connection are low pay, low quality, and often short term. Furthermore, while independent job searches (through job listing portals) yield higher-paying jobs, it is usually limited to refugee migrants with higher education qualifications. While jobs attained through the Austrian Employment Agency can be a good fit for the skills of refugee migrants, they’re found to be exploitative and that the pay is less than their native counterparts, and their employers often engage in exploitative practices. (Ortlieb and Weiss, 2020)
In conclusion, and to re-iterate my thought process from week 6, while these programs might be designed with good intentions, there is a clear need to change the mindset of the employers and not put the onus only on refugees.
For this week’s workshop challenge, a few ideas came to mind regarding how to tackle this issue. I’ve listed them here, with reasons as to why the research shows they might not be reasonable solutions:
1. An HR resume filtering program designed to avoid any racial biases.
Austria’s hiring process can be considered quite archaic. For example, it is common practice to showcase your photo, marital status, and other personal details in your resume. This poses an issue when your ethnic background is visible, and the hiring personnel conducts their business with biases.
However, the example of AMS using an algorithm to automate their process is a good lesson in how biases can be built into a system and further exasperate the issue.
2. An online job listing and recruitment platform that allows you to create anonymous profiles and apply for jobs listed through the platform.
In April 2015, Penguin Random House UK launched a new recruitment initiative to use digital tools and rid the process of hiring biases. They used Tumblr to market this new hiring campaign to a younger demographic (18+ with no experience or formal education). They don’t accept CVs to make it more even for people who don’t have experience. They only asked questions and narrowed it down by their answer (it remained completely anonymous until the final shortlisting stage). (Recruiting Future, 2015)
The example with Penguin Random House UK might have worked as it was targeting a niche skillset and demographic. However, the same might not be as helpful when being introduced to a larger group of people. Adaptation of an online platform, especially with the prevalence of the Austrian Employment Agency, might also prove to be complicated.
3. Gamification as a placemaking project to connect refugees with their host communities.
Programs for “translating” qualifications already exist, both in Austria (as mentioned previously) and throughout Europe. However, there is much more to a person than their qualifications, and this seems to be lost in translation when refugees try to adjust to their new communities.
Austria is made up of villages mostly, and the physical distances between them are immense. The upside to this remoteness is that they have a strong sense of community. Get-togethers and events (pre-corona) happened quite often.
However, unless these events happen, it’s challenging to find an entryway into these communities. The communities in these villages are pretty private and closed off. Public spaces aren’t often used outside of significant events during a few key moments in the year.
I was reading about placemaking as a tool of collaboration in physical spaces. It gives individuals of a community a sense of belonging. (Project for Public Spaces, 2019) In a research journal titled “Let’s Play the City,” Gamification is presented as an idea to introduce placemaking into urban spaces that lack social interaction. (Azali, 2021)
The idea is to install a giant interactive screen with a game similar to Farmville. However, each town resident is assigned a patch to tend to a few times a week in this virtual farm. This gives the community a chance to gather while taking away the stressful tasks of a real-life community garden. In addition, it will hopefully bring life to the town center and give refugees of the community a chance to be seen and met by other residents, thus hopefully creating warmer connections through play.
Since 2015, refugees in Austria have struggled to find a place in society. The conservative and closed-off culture, language barriers, and vast country sprawl contribute to the alienation of newcomers. Already existing integration efforts look good on paper but have not been particularly helpful. So to localize the solution, the concept of placemaking through Gamification can be introduced to towns and villages and allow refugees and their host communities to honestly and effectively socialize and work side-by-side, without the burden of real-life responsibilities. The idea is to assign each town resident a daily or weekly task to be completed by playing a game on a digital screen in the center of the village, effectively giving a chance for light-hearted social interaction.
Azali, N. (2021). Place-making in the Middle East and North Africa Region View project.
Ehlers, C. (2021). Organizations Helping Refugees in Austria. [online] The Borgen Project. Available at: https://borgenproject.org/refugees-in-austria/ [Accessed 1 Aug. 2021].
InfoMigrants (2019). Austria turns to refugees amid labor shortage. [online] InfoMigrants. Available at: https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/14877/austria-turns-to-refugees-amid-labor-shortage.
Kayser-Bril, N. (2019). Austria’s employment agency rolls out discriminatory algorithm, sees no problem. [online] AlgorithmWatch. Available at: https://algorithmwatch.org/en/austrias-employment-agency-ams-rolls-out-discriminatory-algorithm/ [Accessed 1 Aug. 2021].
Ortlieb, R. and Weiss, S. (2020). Job quality of refugees in Austria: Trade-offs between multiple workplace characteristics. German Journal of Human Resource Management: Zeitschrift für Personalforschung, 34(4), pp.418–442.
Project for Public Spaces (2019). What is Placemaking? [online] Pps.org. Available at: https://www.pps.org/article/what-is-placemaking.
Recruiting Future (2015). Ep 8: How Should HR Respond to the Digital Revolution? [online] The Recruiting Future Podcast. Available at: https://recruitingfuture.com/2015/04/ep-8-how-should-hr-respond-to-the-digital-revolution/ [Accessed 1 Aug. 2021].