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One of the most common criticisms levelled against Berlin’s start-up scene is that it produces first-rate versions of second-hand ideas, with the media accusing incubators like Rocket Internet of creating startups that copycat existing American companies. So hats off to MigrantHire, which was created in order to solve a distinctively German issue – integrating the one million refugees who moved here in 2015 into the workforce.
While there are a number of platforms and start-ups created to tackle the refugee crisis, MigrantHire is unique in how it has been developed by someone with a personal take on the issue: Syrian refugee Hussein Shaker. Shaker, who moved to Germany in 2015, had been thinking about ways he could help with the refugee crisis when he met Norwegian entrepreneur Remi Mekki, who told him about his idea of helping refugees secure meaningful long-term employment. As someone who was experiencing difficulties with work first-hand, Shaker was inspired by Mekki’s idea and together, the pair built a start-up.
Mekki, who is no longer with MigrantHire, summarised the company’s goals in his closing statement at September’s Tech Crunch startup pitch: “MigrantHire is LinkedIn for refugees. A platform that allows German companies to find qualified and verified talent, and this is how we will help at least ten thousand refugees get jobs.” I spoke to Hussein and current CEO Michael Schweikart to find out more.
Remi Mekki stated in the Tech Crunch pitch in September that there are 600,000 vacant jobs in Germany. Why are refugees not getting these jobs?
Michael: The main reason is still the language barrier. As some of the refugees have been in Germany for between 1 and 2 years now, this is getting better, but it is still the main issue as German is a difficult language to learn and quite different from Arabic (in the case of Arabic-speaking refugees). In addition to that, the lack of documented qualifications as well as cultural and, in some cases, legal barriers make it hard for refugees to secure these jobs.
In his pitch, Mekki compared the platform to LinkedIn. But why wouldn’t refugees just use the existing biggest workplace platform?
Michael: MigrantHire and LinkedIn are similar in that you can create a professional profile there. With MigrantHire however, the focus is not on networking and connecting professionals with other professionals but on making it easier for job-seeking refugees to find work. Our sign-up process is very fast and easy and once you are finished you can apply with one click to the jobs that companies post on our platform. As such, we are more of a two-sided marketplace bringing together job seekers and employers. In addition to that, we don’t just focus on high-end jobs but cover the full range.
Hussein: MigrantHire is specifically tailored to the needs of refugees because we record information such as legal status and language level in the signup process. We also help the candidates by guiding them through the process and helping them with legal and cultural issues.
Last year you placed approximately 150 candidates in jobs or training positions like apprenticeships. What are you hoping to achieve this year?
Michael: Our goal is to help as many refugees as we can. We currently have 11,000 candidates on the platform and we’re growing by approximately 2000-3000 new candidates a month, and we expect to continue growing. We hope that the numbers of people we successfully place in programs or jobs will increase accordingly.
We have about 150 companies using the platform right now but there are different ways to use it. One is to post a job and wait for applications, the other is active sourcing (where companies don’t post job offers but browse the database) to check if specific candidates are suited to the job they’re offering and contacting them directly.
Hussein: Besides which, we’re planning to make our matching algorithm a lot smarter. By the end of January we will have integrated machine learning, which means we will be able to give refugees very good recommendations about which job would best suit them and their resume. The problem we have at the moment is that they don’t know what job is best suited to them or how to apply. Since we already have quite a few jobs listed and browsing through them all is not so easy, we will have a very intelligent recommendation machine that does that automatically. So this is the one part of the tech concept that we will start with, and the development will be finished by the end of January.
We will scale the job side because we have quite a high number of refugees already on the service and from January onwards, the service will allow users to access at least 4,000 jobs at temporary work agencies. We intend to add 100-150 jobs a day, so by the end of January we should reach a few thousand. The focus will be on scaling the business and making it easier for people to apply.
What are the biggest companies you have signed up to the platform?
Michael: We have Manpower and Adecco, two of the largest personnel companies in Germany. We have the consulting and technology provider Capgemini, and we’ve successfully placed a candidate at Rocket Internet. Nestle and MyMuesli have just signed up, as has [Berlin’s public transport service] BVG.
Does one success story in particular stand out?
Hussein: Bahjat, a PHP developer from Syria was the first candidate we placed in a company. In 2016, he already had two job offers but he could not take one of them because he didn’t have a working permit yet. Neither he nor the company knew how to get one. He was very frustrated because the only thing he thought he could do was to wait. After he signed up with MigrantHire we got him a job interview with Signavio, a company based in Berlin. His interview was a success and we managed to get him a working permit within two and a half weeks. Since that time, he has been happily employed with them.
To find out more or to use the service, head over to MigrantHire.
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