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Best Practice 16 August Aug 2020 2043 16 August 2020

Migrants can make a real difference in a company

Problem solving, the ability to withstand stress, knowing how to deal with highly complex situations. Migrants develop soft skills that are key for companies. But too often, they are not aware of it.

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They speak more than one language. They are familiar with several cultures and very often, to reach Italy they have embarked on difficult journeys taking several months and - in some cases - years. Migrants have a wealth of valuable personal resources that companies often fail to recognise or put to good use. “The Italian integration model is based on low level inclusion and on the misconception that migrants have to do the jobs that Italians do not want to do, which are low quality, short-term and underpaid,” explains Professor Laura Zanfrini, head of the economy and labour department at the Fondazione ISMU (Initiatives and Studies on Multi-ethnicity). “We face two problems, one is discrimination and the other is our country’s economic framework, we under-utilise skills and resources which negatively impacts the quality of work.”

So how can Italian companies change course and dispel this misconception? “To capitalise on the rich heritage migrants bring with them,” Zanfrini continues, “it is essential that we develop the existing methods and tools to recognise their soft skills.” The Fondazione ISMU has created an online directory of business practices showcasing examples of inclusivity which can go hand in hand with the need to be competitive and innovative, creating a model of labour market inclusion with the potential to capitalise on migrants’ skills.

The Italian integration model is based on low level inclusion and on the misconception that migrants have to do the jobs that Italians do not want to do.

Laura Zanfrini, head of the economy and labour department at the Fondazione ISMU

The directory was created as part of the DimiCome research project (Diversity Management and Integration. Migrant skills and the labour market), carried out by the Fondazione ISMU and co-financed by the FAMI (Fund for asylum, migration and integration), of which Professor Zanfrini is scientific coordinator.

The goal of DimiCome is to promote the integration of migrants into the economy by capitalising on their unique characteristics and skills – especially those they have acquired due to their specific experience and their dual backgrounds – and fostering their positive impact on the competitivity of enterprises. This goal was set before the Covid-19 outbreak, but today it is even more relevant. DimiCome has mapped over 60 companies in five Italian Regions – Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Piemont, Apulia and Veneto. They include multinationals, medium-to-large-sized companies and small or micro businesses in a variety of sectors, from manufacturing to hospitals and care, environmental services, integrated services, from culture to training and project management, from agriculture to sales, from construction to catering & hospitality, from logistics to transport.

One such company is the Veneto-based Stiga operating in the metal manufacturing sector. With a workforce of 800, 260 employees are migrants and when the company hired a large number of foreign workers in the late 90s, it built up a network of collaboration with local towns to ensure its workers and their families could find accommodation.

Nonsolocarta Service in Apulia is another example. It is a wholesale and retail supplier of packaging with 15 employees, two of whom are migrants who found their jobs thanks to the relationship between the company and locally-based organisations such as Caritas in the city of Andria and the association MigrantesLiberi.

Thanks to their life experiences and their journeys, migrants have developed soft skills essential to any company.

Laura Zanfrini, head of the economy and labour department at the Fondazione ISMU

These are just some examples of companies that have promoted labour market inclusion and the value of migrants’ skills by introducing a series of measures such as Diversity Management processes, training, support to self-entrepreneurs, company welfare programmes, projects to promote a culture of inclusion and inter-cultural exchanges within the community. “For this project we decided to invest in encouraging companies to recognise and value migrants and their backgrounds because we are convinced that this is a real added value for Italian companies,” Laura Zanfrini explains. “Migrants have more linguistic, intercultural and mediation skills. The life experiences of migrants and their whole – sometimes tortuous - journey means they have developed soft skills essential to any company. Skills such as problem solving, the ability to withstand stress and knowing how to deal with highly complex situations. The real challenge is to make these skills visible to everyone when often migrants themselves are not aware of them.”

Of the more than 60 companies included in the mapping, 15 were selected to be part of a more detailed study which will form the basis of a training kit to be made freely available to Italian companies in the coming months.

“These last few months have made us all aware of the need for a paradigm shift to once again put a clear focus on worker dignity, the quality of work and the value of individual talents, on the ability to marry profit targets with corporate social responsibility, on sustainable growth and redefining globalisation,” Zanfrini continues. “These are a lot of challenges and the processes to integrate migrants and refugees are a kind of acid test. It will give companies the opportunity to contribute to improving the quality of the Italian model of integration, as part of a competitive repositioning that is long overdue and will help us to look forward to the future with hope.”

The ability to listen and a willingness to cultivate workers’ talents is not just about migrants. “The approach of companies which employ migrants is exemplary of the approach that should be taken towards any worker who brings their life and experience into a company,” remarks Zanfrini. “Recognising these skills and giving them a value makes a company fairer and more inclusive but also more competitive.”

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