7.7 Billion

Helping immigrants get a job via mentoring

"In Afghanistan, when you want to find a job, you go and see people directly. They give you two to three days' work and then you go and look elsewhere. Here, you need qualifications, experience, one type of contract or another."

Speaking softly and in perfect French, 25-year-old Rozy-Khan Shinwari recalls his struggles to find employment.

Despite the efforts of the Public Centre for Social Welfare and the Brussels-Capital Region Employment Office, Mr Shinwari, a young refugee who arrived in Belgium at the end of 2015, found himself at a loss.

There was either too much information, or too many things unsaid, or codes he couldn't understand.

It was thanks to Afghan friends that he found Duo for a Job, an association that facilitates the job-hunting process via mentoring.

In five years, the non-profit body has matched 1,330 young job seekers from immigrant backgrounds with senior or retired professionals well versed in the ways of the Belgian job market.

Still active in the insurance sector, 63-year-old mentor Patrick Beauvois took the young man under his wing for six months.

"He had a decent CV but it was too formulaic. He was searching but not finding his match. So, we went back to the basics: What do you want to do, what don't you want to do?"

What Mr Shinwari likes is sales and the food sector. Mr Beauvois thinks this is because they remind Mr Shinwari of his father's shop at home, saying: "It's important to have some landmarks in an environment where everything has to be rebuilt."

The polite and hard-working Afghan was employed for three months as a part-time storekeeper.

"The owner was happy with me, but there wasn't enough work. Since then, it's been difficult. 'Sorry, I haven't got a degree but I can assure you that I'm competent!' It doesn't work like that here," he says.

In terms of experience, back home Mr Shinwari spent two years in the army. His salary provided for his family, as his father could no longer work. He fled the country after the Taleban took his older brother - till now, nobody knows where his brother is.

He adds: "My younger brother is somewhere in Turkey, but there, work means doing 12-hour days for a very low wage."

Mr Shinwari feels an urgency to get a job and send money back home.

But this survival state of mind is "hardly compatible with a structured orientation process that aims at long-term professional insertion", Duo for a Job noted in a report.

Seventy-three per cent of the youth who have taken part in Duo for a Job's programme have found a training course or job.

The association gives credit to its mentoring system, which tackles two main issues that youth often overlook: a lack of self-confidence and no network.

Mr Shinwari has not yet received a job offer, but the young man, who speaks Pashto, Dari and French, hopes to find work as an interpreter.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 30, 2019, with the headline Helping immigrants get a job via mentoring. Subscribe