‘We help prepare migrants for the job market – and prepare Greek employers for diversity’

Navigating the naturalisation process and finding a job can be a complicated and long procedure for migrants coming to Greece. Generation 2.0, a non-profit organisation working towards a diverse and inclusive society, tries to not only help migrants integrate and thrive, but also to bring about social and legal reform.

'We help prepare migrants for the job market – and prepare Greek employers for diversity'
'Our career counselling prepares job-seekers for the job market, and our project prepares employers in Greece for diversity.' Photo: Aris Athanatos/Generation 2.0

This article is part of Changing the Narrative. Articles in this series are written by student or early career journalists who took part in The Local's training course on solutions-focused migration reporting. Find out more about the project here.

Over the last few years, news reports about migration to Greece usually focus on the arrival of refugees, overcrowded camps, and the dire need of aid, short-term solutions and immediate responses. Although this is an issue that deserves coverage, migration in Greece goes beyond the humanitarian crisis on the islands and near the borders. 

What happens to the people that decide to stay in Greece? How can they find work, integrate, get their papers in order, and build a life? 

The Hellenic Statistical Authority reported that Greece received 119,489 migrants in 2018, the largest number since 1991, following a steady annual increase that started in 2016 when the number nearly doubled since the previous year. Such an influx can be a challenge to manage anywhere, but in a country that only recently managed to come out of a long recession and that still has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, especially high levels of migrant unemployment were to be expected.

The unemployment rate of foreign-born residents was 28.6 percent in 2018, about 10 points higher than that of the native population. Complicated paperwork and processes for work and residence permits, not speaking Greek, difficulties with opening a bank account, xenophobia, and a saturated job market are a few of the factors behind this gap. 

One possible way to break this vicious circle? Equip the migrant population with the essential tools and knowledge to make it, while trying to change the environment into being more accepting of them. Generation 2.0 started as an informal group in 2006 fighting for the rights of immigrant children that grew up in Greece, and gradually evolved into a non-profit organisation based in Athens that offers career and legal counselling to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, while also advocating for social and legal reform in Greece.

“Our vision is to achieve a Greek society that is multicultural, open to diversity and that gives everyone the opportunity to express themselves without being judged because of their religion, race, disability or sexuality. We fight to break the stereotypes and to give everyone the right to participate as equal members of society”, says Thanasis Tsaldaris, the project manager of the organisation.

Their services are aimed at people 18-67 years old, men and women, refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. “The majority of the people coming here are men and usually of a lower educational profile, but not all cases are like that, we’ve had PhD holders come here as well as people that didn’t have the opportunity to receive an education”, says Tsaldaris.

Out of the services offered by Generation 2.0, the career counselling department is the most sought after. Of the 440 total beneficiaries of the organisation in 2018, 406 participated in the Employability program.

“Most people that will walk through the door of the organisation will most likely come for the career counselling service, because it is a project that we’ve built up since 2016 and it’s grown quite a bit. The people who come here really get empowered and are able to navigate the job market, with a large percentage of them managing to find a job in the end”, Tsaldaris explains.

The team behind Generation 2.0. Photo: Aris Athanatos/Generation 2.0

One of these people is Thierno Barry*, a 25-year-old refugee from Guinea. He was referred to Generation 2.0 by another NGO and through individual career counselling sessions he prepared a CV and received training for his job interview in the social services sector. In the end, he got the job.

“They helped me to prepare for the interview the way they do it in Greece, I didn’t know how it’s done here,” he says.

The career counselling services include individual counselling and guidance sessions where counsellors help people create their resumes and prepare for job interviews, soft skills development seminars, peer learning sessions, networking events, Greek language classes, labour rights seminars, and more.

“The labour rights seminars are essential, almost mandatory, because just finding a job is not enough. We want the people who come here to find a legitimate job that is legal and fair, and where their rights will not be violated”, says Katerina Kapnisi, the coordinator of the career counselling department.

Empowering the people who come to Generation 2.0 is more important to the organisation than simply solving a current problem.

They aim to provide the information, training and facilities for people to learn how to navigate the job market, apply for jobs, get their paperwork done and be independent.

“We are not the ones who will find a job for them like a job agency, instead we will empower them to do it themselves, submit the paperwork themselves, send their cover letter, call the employer and ask questions themselves. Empowerment is our main focus,” Tsaldaris adds.

In addition to their focus on empowerment, what they do differently than other similar NGOs is that they don’t only try to help the people looking for a job, but they also reach out to employers and try to change the environment of the Greek job market.

“Our career counselling services prepare the job seekers for the job market, but our project ‘Diversity in the Workplace’ prepares employers in Greece for diversity”, says Kapnisi.

Other than raising awareness, this project also has a practical side. Employers that are interested in diversifying their workplace reach out to Generation 2.0 with job vacancies. The organisation also informs and trains employers and companies on the practical issues that may come up, such as what they need to know about hiring an asylum seeker concerning residence permits, bank accounts and insurance. Over 70 companies currently participate in this network.

Overall in 2018, 156 people who received some of the career counselling services submitted at least one job application, 837 attended job interviews, and 82 were hired, almost double the number of the recruitments of the previous year.

But that is not the only way they measure success.

“Numbers matter and we use them to communicate with the donors, but what is important is the quality of the work being done, at Generation we don’t work like a production line ‘you come in, do the session, then go’, instead we try to always do substantial work on all levels with the people that will come in the organisation”, says Tsaldaris.

Generation 2.0 works with both migrants looking for employment, and employers working to be more inclusive. Photo: Aris Athanatos/Generation 2.0

As with any NGO, it is important to also talk about the funding. Most of the funding comes from foundations, both in Greece and abroad, and a much smaller part comes from European projects. Although Generation 2.0 have managed to establish themselves and are able to get the funding they need, this usually comes with some limitations.

“It’s something that most organisations experience daily, you might want to do so many things, but in the end you don’t have the required resources. This is a constant issue and I think that whoever you talk with that works at an NGO will tell you the same”, says Tsaldaris.

Another issue is that funding is usually for short-term projects and responses. “Ideally, we would always have long-term funding that will help us see the results of our work, because a person might be training and preparing to get a job now, but will find a job in six months or a year. That doesn’t mean that what we do is not working just because we don’t see the results right now”, adds Kapnisi.

Bureaucracy can also cause some issues and create obstacles. There are times that state offices do not accept residence applications even when the deadlines were extended, the unemployment office might reject an application, or a bank might not open an account for a person without a passport.

“Unfortunately, these are only some of the problems that make the situation much more difficult and discourage some employers from going ahead and hiring one of the people we’ve been working with”, says Kapnisi.

The coronavirus pandemic has also influenced Generation 2.0’s work. The national lockdown in Greece and the need for social distancing have forced them to change the way they work. They had to limit the number of people they receive and had to move many of the services and activities online. Many of the scheduled events and activities also had to be postponed or even cancelled. However, they managed to adapt.

“I never actually went to Generation because I was referred to them two or three months ago, during Corona times. They helped me prepare my CV and trained me for the job interview, they helped me so much”, says Barry*, one of the people that received career counselling entirely through Zoom or Whatsapp. “I’m very thankful for what they did for me and I hope they can help more people like me because the immigrant people here are struggling to survive”, he adds.

The unemployment gap between the native-born and migrant populations is not an issue unique to Greece, so there are lessons other countries can learn. What Generation 2.0 do differently is how they focus on empowerment and advocacy instead of only preparing and training migrants for the workforce.

Reaching out to employers and training companies on issues of diversity is also essential, especially for a country like Greece, that up until recently has been quite homogeneous in terms of race and religion. As Kapnisi puts it “what really matters is for the job market and the employers to be not only accepting of migrants, but also treating them fairly and with equality.”

*Name has been changed to protect his anonymity

Dimitra Karapanagiotou is a journalist and student based in the Netherlands, originally from Greece.

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How tutor groups are trying to bridge the inequality gap in Swedish schools

In Sweden, every fourth student in compulsory education has a foreign background, which means that they were either born abroad or born in Sweden with both parents from abroad. However, students from Swedish families and their peers with foreign backgrounds are meeting less and less often in schools, in a result of increased segregation that is posing a challenge for many municipalities.

How tutor groups are trying to bridge the inequality gap in Swedish schools
Camilla Wennberg and Zamzam, one of her students. Photo: Private

This article is part of Changing the Narrative. Articles in this series are written by student or early career journalists who took part in The Local's training course on solutions-focused migration reporting. Find out more about the project here.

In 2019, Sweden's public broadcaster SVT surveyed 3,641 primary schools and reviewed data from Skolverket, the Swedish National Agency for Education, on the academic year 2017/2018. The results showed that the distribution of students from foreign backgrounds was very unequal, with some schools having almost only students from migrant families and others having as few as five percent. According to Skolverket, the concentration of students with the same social and migration background might be one of the reasons for an increased difference in school results, which poses a threat to the goal of offering equal opportunities for all.

The relation between segregation and difficulties in succeeding in school was pointed out by some of the migrant parents in study circles that Eva Lundgren Stenbom, a cultural producer, organised in Norrköping, central Sweden, in 2013. The very decision to found her own NGO, Imagine (what we can do), was motivated by an encounter with the mother of a girl who participated in a project Eva Stenbom worked previously. She wanted help to get to know more locals with whom she could practise her Swedish, because Eva was in fact the only Swede she talked to regularly.

Seeing how difficult it could be for a foreigner to establish relations and feel part of society, Lundgren Stenbom created the association and started the study circles, among other activities such as sewing workshops. The events were planned for locals and migrants living in neighboring areas of the city to meet once a week and discuss the everyday issues they faced in their community.

The meetings were attended mostly by adults, sometimes followed by their children. Topics on integrating into Swedish society and parenthood would often come up, and Lundgren Stenbom remembers many parents asking for help with problems that affected their children, especially in school. Thinking about the younger generations and hearing the demand from parents, she decided to expand the study circles to include children.

For the past four years, an increasing number of students with migrant background have enrolled on the tutoring programme organised by Imagine (what we can do). At first, the study circles took place in Lundgren Stenbom's home, located in a neighbourhood that is almost the perfect metaphor for the segregation between locals and migrants. On one side of the street is the Röda Stan neighbourhood, where most of the houses are owned by Swedes, while right across Värmlandsgatan many migrant families live in the Marielund buildings. The organisation started with the aim of creating places and opportunities for the neighbours to meet.

However, the study circles soon showed to be inefficient, Lundgren Stenbom says, because of the busy and loud atmosphere of several students sharing the attention of few tutors. “Sometimes there would be 10 or 12 students for two or three tutors, and it made it very difficult to advance in the lessons,” she remembers. A different system was needed.

The tutoring programme then became individualised, with better results, according to the NGO's evaluation. As it currently works, each student is paired with a tutor with whom they will work for at least one semester. The meetings usually take place at the tutor's house, which proved to be the best solution and one of the learnings the organisation had throughout the years. “Because many of the students live in families with more kids, very often it is more difficult for the student to focus and concentrate on the work without interruption,” Lundgren Stenbom explains.

The programme also recommends that the tutor/student pair set a schedule of weekly meetings on a pre-defined day and a time slot of one to two hours. Feedback and follow-ups are constant, but according to Lundgren Stenbom they lack data on how much the students' grades have improved after enrolling in the programme.

There are currently 35 pupils, mostly aged 11 to 19 years, receiving help with homework or preparing for exams, and another 20 people on the waiting list. Several of them have been in Sweden for almost 15 years, while some have moved to the country more recently. The goal, Lundgren Stenbom states, is to support the students so they progress to higher educational levels and get better opportunities on the job market.

One of the volunteers on the programme is Camilla Wennberg, an engineer who has tutored two students since 2017. Her current pupil is 14-year-old Somayo, from Somalia, with whom Wennberg has worked for the past one-and-a-half years. Before that, she taught Somayo's older sister Zamzam for two years.

Before stricter recommendations to lower the spread of the coronavirus came into effect in Sweden, every Wednesday evening Somayo and one of her parents would cross Norrköping by tram to go to Wennberg's house. The father or the mother accompanied her because they believe taking the tram alone at night is not safe, which Wennberg agrees with. During the weeks when social contact has been more restricted, tutor and student have met online.

The effort that Somayo and her family make to attend the tutoring session and the fact that she has been not only up to date with her homework, but a bit ahead of the class, is a sign for Wennberg that the Somalian teenager has high educational aspirations. “She is more ambitious,” states the proud tutor. 

Wennberg sees the language as a main factor for difficulties children from migrant backgrounds may have in school. “When it's just calculation it's easy, but when you have to understand what the question is asking for, then it is more complicated for her.” Sometimes they translate the questions to English, which helps.

Ann-Sofi Ringkvist and Madeleine Szente, who coordinate a programme by the Red Cross, which has provided support to schools in Linköping since 2011, also believe that improving language skills is an important feature of homework tutoring and one of the biggest challenges for migrant students and their families in the integration to the school system.

Although the programme was not created with the purpose of helping children from migrant backgrounds, but everyone who needs extra educational support, most of the students are currently from migrant families.

The three schools where the Red Cross is present in the city show the divide in the distribution of students with different backgrounds: in the Skäggetorp neighbourhood, the vast majority of students in the two schools participating in the programme belong to migrant families, while in Ekholmen the proportion of students who do not have a Swedish background is much smaller: around five per class. Ringkvist, who is herself a volunteer, believes that children benefit from a mixed class environment and stresses that several students need tutoring, independently of their family's country of origin.

The program is aimed at students from 8 to 16 years of age. In grades seven to nine, the tutoring takes place after school, while for younger pupils it takes place in a separate room during school time. Unlike the initiative in Norrköping, where the tutoring is requested by the families, the Red Cross volunteers collaborate with the school staff. The tutors, many of whom are retired teachers themselves, work with groups of students and follow the instructions from the teachers. During the sessions, two volunteers provide support for groups of 10 to 15 pupils, but there are times when as many as 25 young students are working together.

The large number of people attending tutoring sessions is seen by the organisation as both a challenge and a sign of success. Ringkvist explains that students wanting to receive tutoring is understood as a positive evaluation of the volunteer's work, but that many children in the same room can make it difficult for them to focus on school content.

“There are several goals, the main one is to make going to school pleasurable. We are not supposed to give them grades, we just want to help them, so maybe they find it easier to talk to a volunteer than to the teachers.They can feel more confident of themselves,” says Szente.


Although the adults involved in the homework tutoring programmes see language acquisition as one of the main challenges students with migrant background face in succeeding in the Swedish school system, what do the young students themselves think?

Somayo, who is being tutored by Camilla Wennberg, was unavailable to be interviewed because she was taking part in a two-week introductory programme to the job market and was working part-time in a fast-food chain. Due to her busy schedule, she was not able to attend the tutoring sessions when we spoke to Wennberg.

Somayo's absence did not seem to be a matter of concern, as her tutor stressed how important the work-training programme was for the teenager. Somayo's grades and accomplishments in maths can be understood as a sign of the programme's success, and alongside the fact that she was also doing part-time work, it can be inferred that her Swedish language skills might be much higher than it may seem.

One important aspect to consider, however, is the difference between the academic language skills required to pass exams such as the national high-school exam – usually a source of anxiety for young people, as it defines the educational pathway they are able to take – and the skills required for everyday interactions in informal settings or in lower-paid work.

The unequal representation of students from migrant families in Swedish schools may result in a daily experience of segregation for the young people who are trying to navigate a school system and a culture foreign to their parents. While governmental strategies to distribute students more evenly are being developed, volunteers in the homework tutoring programmes have been making individual efforts to orientate school children.

As Camilla Wennberg describes, her encounters with Somayo and her family are limited to the tutoring sessions, but these are occasions for her to answer questions from Somayo that go beyond mathematics. She thinks of their friendly exchange with her students as an opportunity she would not have had otherwise, something she values.

“It is nice to know her,” says Wennberg. “I think most people can help others teaching their own language, for example by correcting an essay. They just need to be open minded: whatever you can give, it is worth something.”

Myung Hwa Baldini is a journalist working in education and children's rights. She is based in Sweden.