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"I have a new family" – Fleeing a civil war in her own country, Soulie successfully started a new life in Germany. The "Internship PLUS direct entry" program made it possible.

S oulie Bakr made a daring decision. She left her home and embarked on the dangerous journey to Germany. The bloody civil war raging in Syria forced her to make this difficult decision. In the early morning hours, she set out without even being able to say good-bye to her parents. Of course, this makes her very sad. Nevertheless, her courage has paid off. "I've found a new family here," says Soulie, thanks to a new position as an intern at Deutsche Telekom and nice coworkers.

I've found a new family. I want to thank the team, they helped me a lot.

But she isn't doing a simple internship. Rather, she is part of a pilot project called "Internship PLUS direct entry," which takes into account the conditions of refugees. What makes this internship so special?

4 High quality education

Guaranteeing access to inclusive, equal opportunities, and high quality education as well as a chance for life-long learning - that's the fourth sustainable development goal of the United Nations.

Our contribution

We believe it is very important to provide socially disadvantaged people with access to high-quality training. The "Internship PLUS direct entry" pilot project is an example of this. We also promote the building of media skills and invest a lot of money in training and developing our employees.

"Internship PLUS direct entry" is an initiative by Deutsche Telekom together with DAX-quoted Deutsche Post/DHL Group, Henkel and the Federal Employment Agency. The aim of the program is to successfully integrate refugees into the labor market, even those who don't have recognized professional training. It's a gigantic challenge, as Barbara Costanzo knows. She is Head of Group Social Engagement at Deutsche Telekom and oversees the project: "Learning the German language is just one of the major barriers for many refugees." Barbara is also involved in refugee aid outside of the office. She knows the stumbling blocks and knows what people go through as they attempt to integrate.


questions for...

Soulie Bakr Barbara Costanzo

Question 1 of 12

  • Soulie, where are you from and how long have you been living in Germany?

    I am from Syria and have been in Germany for three years.

  • What was easy for you when you came to Germany? And what was your biggest hurdle?

    The journey was precarious, of course. But what was truly difficult for me was when it was time to say good-bye to my family. I don't think I'd be able to do it again. I don't know if I will ever see my family again. My parents overslept and I got up earlier and fled to Germany. That was a difficult moment for me.

  • That means you weren't able to say good-bye to your parents? Your parents were sleeping when you left?

    Yes, I only told my sister and my little niece that I was leaving. I simply couldn't say good-bye to my parents. I didn't want to go through that. It was all quite difficult for me.

  • Barbara, you are responsible for integrating refugees into working life at Deutsche Telekom, among other things. You started a new project especially for refugees at Deutsche Telekom called "Internship plus direct entry." Why?

    "Internship plus direct entry" is a program initiated together with the Post DHL Group, Henkel and the Federal Employment Agency. It's a program that lasts two and a half years, which is rather unusual – other than vocational training programs, there aren't many long-term work integration programs for refugees around. But it makes sense, because with a long-term program such as this we can achieve a gradual and slow entry into working life, – which in turn leads to more working hours and responsibility. This is important for many refugees, because many of them also need to take language courses and deal with a lot of other things, such as bureaucratic red tape, looking for housing, and so on.

  • Can't refugees get jobs the "normal" way?

    Well, I can't speak for all of Germany. I can only speak for Deutsche Telekom and our direct partners - and we're part of a network that consists of 190 partners. In this respect I can say that direct entry, that is, applying for a job opening and dealing with German competition, unfortunately does not work. Why is that? - That's likely due to many, many different reasons. On the one hand, there are applications submitted the regular way. That means: job advertisements, online applications, and the like. But most companies, including us, don't get very far that way. That's why we've switched almost entirely to Facebook and volunteer acquisition, or acquisition through people like Soulie, who already work for us and know a lot of other refugees. That's certainly one way, but we're not getting any applications. The other thing is that many certificates are not recognized, or it takes forever to get professional experience or certificates recognized.

  • Certainly many refugees have good professional qualifications. Do these qualifications always match Deutsche Telekom's needs? Can the trainees work in all fields of activity?

    Well, that encompasses the whole wide world, both in terms of the many positions we offer as well as for the people who come here. Some have relevant professional experience, especially in the IT sector. There are quite a few people, for example from Syria and Iraq, who studied IT-related subjects or who have professional IT experience. But we are also interested in people who have, well, let's call it an affinity for IT. People who owned a mobile communications shop or something like that and of whom we ask ourselves during their internship: Could this person be trained for a job with us? The purpose of an internship is not only to get good employees but also to give people confidence and to give them a chance to a daily routine after a longer phase of waiting. And on the other hand, you also want to increase the appeal for SMEs, for example, whose possibilities are entirely different than ours, let's say.

  • In your experience, what are the biggest challenges when it comes to integration? And what is going particularly well?

    Let me start with the second question. What's going particularly well is that things are a lot easier for managers and teams than one might think. Before we started the project, we talked a lot about trauma and integration and cultural differences and such. We actually set up our own support programs on the subject, but these are barely being taken advantage of, so I'd say things are going really well and we've never had problems placing people. This is really fantastic and makes me very happy, because I think that it is particularly important for this target group that there be no quotas to fill and teams aren't forced to take someone on. There are many challenges – Soulie, you can certainly testify to this – and the language barrier remains an important issue. This means that even if processes are faster, for example the asylum applications are processed more quickly, we still have the problem that learning an entirely different language, sometimes with a different script, simply takes time, and that's difficult in terms of the Deutsche Telekom environment, when English or German still needs to be learned. But there are also lots of bureaucratic processes, such as residency restrictions, which do not make it easy to place people where we might have an open position.

  • Soulie, you work in customer service. What are your duties and what skill set do you need to do your job?

    I deal with administrative tasks and various tools and ordering systems for internal and external customer service. Also processing of requests, complaints and escalations. What I need for this is IT expertise, knowledge of the German language, of course, and system data analysis experience. And here I'd like to thank my team, because they helped me a lot in learning the system.

  • Do you feel good working here? Do you like your job?

    I like my job here very much. The people are very nice to me, and I've actually gotten to know a new family here. Really, that's great. I noticed Deutsche Telekom's motto, "Life is for Sharing," from the beginning. That's my life's motto as well. I find the world to be a very big place, and together we can do great things, which is really the reason why I am here. And I am grateful for this opportunity.

  • When you compare your current job with your professional life in your home country, what is different?

    A new keyboard (laughing), and especially the "Z" key, because I've often asked myself "Where is that darned 'Z'?" on the English keyboard (laughing). That's one new thing I had to get used to. And then, of course, there is the branch of industry. For example, there are many textile companies in Syria, and that's a whole different thing. But the principle is the same, customer service is the same, the motto is the same, the customer is always right. And my wonderful colleagues helped me learn the system, which was quite difficult.

  • What is your greatest wish?

    Peace in Syria, of course. I know that people are very, very tired now, and I can understand how they feel. We are really lucky here in Germany. Here we have rights, we have everything. There is no other country like Germany that offers training, for example, and many other opportunities, and all you need to do is take advantage of these opportunities. But the people in Syria and Jordan are tired. I think that they can no longer tolerate the war. Of course, my personal wish is to go get my family. I miss my family. I want to see my family. And I'd still like to have a good job here, because when someone is good to you, you should give back something good too. So that's my wish.

  • Ms. Costanzo, you are involved in refugee aid outside of your professional life as well, aren't you? Do the two areas, – professional and personal commitment, – benefit from each other?

    Absolutely. There's no doubt about that. I benefit quite a bit, because I believe that by volunteering you get to know people even better than when taking part in a program at work. You find out what it really means to go through the asylum seeking process, for example, or what it means not to be able to find housing although you've finally got the permission. I believe that it is very important to understand what kind of support is needed at work as well in order to be able to focus, and to understand integration as a whole and to broaden your horizons.

The challenges faced by the program, how Barbara deals with these challenges, how her personal involvement in refugee aid has changed her viewpoint and what Soulie's biggest wish is are addressed by Barbara and Soulie in an interview.