Employability – Skills and Resources in Displacement Contexts
"When I returned to Mosul after multiple displacements, my apartment and my belongings were burned and my money was gone. I have always wanted to open a clothes shop and guarantee the future of my children. Through the programme, I learned how to buy and import fabric and how to sell my products, and I have developed a business plan. It has encouraged me to overcome fears and truly trust in my abilities."
- Young male project participant in Mosul, Iraq
The project in brief
The project is implemented by the Danish Red Cross, Iraqi Red Crescent Society and Palestine Red Crescent Society Syria Branch.
The approach was developed over a period of time, starting with an EU project in Denmark from 2003 to 2008 and further developed in other transnational EU projects. It was further contextualised to specific projects in Iraq and Syria starting in 2022, funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The approach is now consistently being integrated into new projects, as a programmatic and integrated way of working to support resilience of people affected by protracted displacement.
Life in displacement often risks being a life ‘on hold’, where skills and resources are not properly put to use, as opportunities for doing so are restricted or psychosocial challenges like distress or loss of hope in the future prevail. Key to the project approach is to support (young) people to maintain and strengthen life, soft and technical skills, guided by mentors and their own personal goals, and linking to entrepreneurial, vocational or other technical trainings.
The main aim of the approach is to support people affected by displacement to maintain skills and resources and be ready to successfully use opportunities for work, business or higher education, and thereby contribute to their resilience and self-reliance, wherever the future lies after displacement.
Main activities of the Good Practice
The employability approach translates into modular programmes, to be contextualised according to local needs and opportunities. Participants determine their own pathways through these programmes, based on self-reflection of progress cross-cutting the steps below, with support from mentors and a personal action plan. Mentors can be well-trained staff or volunteers from the implementing organisation, or partners in educational institutions or the private sector. Each module focuses on different skills.
- Step 1: Life skills, i.e., basic psychosocial competencies to deal with challenges and changes of daily life such as communication, decision-making, stress management and conflict resolution
Activity: A series of peer-to-peer life skills sessions, including exercises to identify personal strengths, resources and aspirations
- Step 2: Employability-related soft skills, for example through training workshops or teamwork experience
Activity options: Training in resume writing, job interviews and workplace culture; planning and implementing a community initiative as a group
- Step 3: Technical skills to either successfully engage in a microbusiness, obtain and maintain a job or pursue higher education
Activity options: Training to develop a business plan and provision of a microbusiness grant; linkage to vocational training opportunities provided by governmental training centres or partner organisations; internship placements or on-the-job training in companies
Longer-term mentoring has shown to be valuable not only for dealing with adaptation of plans along the way, but also for enabling access to local knowledge and networks. In the context of Denmark, supporting the social inclusion of project participants has also included advocacy for asylum seekers’ access to local labour markets.
© Danish Red Cross
Elements which helped facilitate the implementation of the good practice
The approach was first developed in the context of DRC asylum centres in Denmark, at a time when asylum seekers had no access to work and little access to vocational training or other opportunities to stay active and maintain existing skills and resources while waiting for their asylum cases to be processed. Advocating for better socio-economic rights and opportunities for asylum seekers was therefore a core priority for DRC, and slowly access to work was improved, although still limited. Because inclusion goes hand in hand with empowerment, while advocating for access, the focus was also on asylum seekers’ employability skills, which risked slowly decreasing in a stand-by period of their life.
What facilitated the implementation of an integrated employability approach in all three countries is cross-sectoral collaboration within and outside the organisation, and the efforts of staff and partners with different technical expertise and different technical ‘languages’ to work together and develop an integrated programme going beyond mutual referrals. The starting point for this collaboration was to recognise the value of more holistic support: stand-alone livelihood interventions that focused only on technical skills to exercise a profession or provided money to invest in a business had limited effectiveness when working with people dealing with the psychosocial challenges brought about by conflict or displacement, like high distress or loss of hope in the future. A certain level of psychosocial wellbeing, confidence and encouragement is necessary to successfully and continuously participate in vocational training and the labour market. At the same time, stand-alone mental health and psychosocial interventions risk having limited or only temporary effectiveness when the affected people’s socio-economic circumstances do not change. For example, if someone does not have access to decent work and is unable to provide for themselves and people under their care, concrete stress factors will remain. This was also pointed out by young people who had participated in psychosocial programmes in Iraq and Syria themselves, who often asked about the ‘next steps’ towards education and work.
What challenges were encountered in delivering the project and how were they overcome?
Delivering the projects across departments and units provided some internal challenges concerning the integration of support associated with different technical areas to ensure that all project modules are connected within one coherent programme.
In Denmark, working with asylum seekers, everyday life and longer-term participation can be a challenge, as changes on case processes affect participants (mentally, as well as practically, by either having to move if residence is granted, or leave the project due to case rejection and potential return).
How they were overcome
- Creating a joint understanding and shared ownership: A programme design workshop brought technical advisors, project managers and heads of relevant departments from field to regional and headquarter level together in one room to reach a joint understanding of key concepts and pathways through the project components from the participants’ perspective. This was helpful to get people on the same page, develop shared ownership and move the programme development forward.
- Fostering understanding across technical areas: Facilitators of different project components need to understand the entire programme and approach, and each other’s technical language. Inviting livelihood staff and volunteers to attend the life skills training of facilitators was helpful to foster their understanding and support of the MHPSS component, and vice versa.
- Including an organisational development component in planning and budget if integrated approaches are rather new to the implementing organisation: This is useful to create structures in which different departments can collaborate effectively. Developing a unified Standard Operating Procedure for all project components enhanced clarity of roles, responsibilities and coordination, and strengthened shared ownership between departments.
- Ensuring flexibility in programming: Taking a modular approach where each step can provide a certificate as a stand-alone step, or ensuring flexibility to allow new participants to join mid-way.
© Iraqi Red Crescent Society
Results of the Good Practice
- Participants reported increased self-confidence and skills that improved their employability, for example communication skills, problem solving skills, skills to use different computer softwares, skills to write CVs, business knowledge, and skills to make presentations and present their ideas.
- Participants reported an increased ability to listen to others and to navigate diversity in society.
- Participants initiated activities that were beneficial to the local community, such as renovating a building, a sewing project providing the community with clothes and awareness raising on substance abuse.
- Participants set realistic personal goals and defined concrete steps to reach them.
- Some started their own microbusiness projects.
In what way does the good practice meet one or more of the four objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees?
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
The employability approach can enhance refugee self-reliance as it is designed to empower individuals affected by displacement through:
- Increasing access to livelihoods by providing displaced individuals with essential skills and knowledge to secure employment or develop their own business project.
- Improving psychosocial wellbeing, including mental and emotional health, by addressing psychosocial needs and building confidence, providing guidance on emotional control and defining goals for the future.
- Increasing social inclusion by enabling people to participate actively in local communities and gain a sense of belonging and acceptance, and by facilitating access to local knowledge, networks and opportunities.
The approach is currently integrated into further projects, with the aim of scaling it up and establishing it as a programme. The approach will also be tested in other contexts where displacement has affected people, e.g., in protracted displacement and camp settings in Kenya and Ethiopia, and upon return to a country of origin.
Are there areas in which support would be required to continue and/or scale up your good practice?
Partnership is key to develop and scale up this approach in further contexts. By partnering with organisations with strong MHPSS or livelihood support capacities it is possible to create even higher quality and more impactful integrated employability programmes by jointly implementing the different modules. The approach also requires connecting with local structures and collaborating with relevant actors in the area, such as government agencies, private sector companies, vocational training institutes, chambers of commerce and labour unions, who may offer relevant knowledge, practical training or work placements.