In conversation with Alderman Rita Noordzij

In 2016, Zaanstad was the first Dutch municipality to partner with NewBees. How has this collaboration developed? And what were the learning moments over the past 5 years? In conversation with Alderman Rita Noordzij, policy advisor Refugees Jarik Bouw en Leslie Richardson, casemanager Jongerenloket

het begon in Zaanstad Rita

Rita: “It all started on a hotel boat near Zaandam. Due to the influx of refugees in 2015, we had to create emergency shelter for newcomers there. At its peak, over 1,500 refugees were housed there. A huge group of volunteers, organizations and civic initiatives was involved in this shelter. One of them was Annemiek (founder newbees, ed), she had just returned from Lesvos. What has stuck with me is that Annemiek looked beyond the label of ‘refugee’. She sees the human being behind the newcomer. These people were not refugees, but doctors, pharmacists, parents, entrepreneurs. Each with their own talent. A beautiful insight. Shortly after that, we decided as a municipality, that in Zaanstad everyone should participate right from the start. Because of the joint lobbying of NewBees and the COA (who organised the housing of newcomers on the hotel boat, ed.) with the State, newcomers in our city were allowed to work as volunteers, something that had not been possible anywhere else before.”

Jarik: “Soon we realised that more was needed. We believe that newcomers have a right to good participation. But how do you get started when you are new in a country you don’t know yet? We talked to several parties about this subject and NewBees was one of them. They have been fulfilling an important role in Zaandam for more than five years now. NewBees prepares newcomers for a place in society by means of traineeships. Through their network in the city they know how to make good matches based on talent and equality. So that the match feels good on both sides, and all parties involved benefit greatly from it.”

Leslie: “NewBees is looking for positions to gain work experience. We do that as well: we also employ job hunters, for example, and the Consultant Employer Services (WSP, Werkgevers Servicepunt). But NewBees knows this target group inside out. And therefore also the challenges and problems that newcomers face. Especially the NewBees experts, they have had to go through these steps themselves.”

Jarik: “Practice what you preach’, that is NewBees’ modus operandi. They give newcomers the opportunity to start a career within their organisation. This is very motivating for newcomers to see – it really is possible to find a good job in the Netherlands.”

‘Practice what you preach’, this is what NewBees does

Rita: “I remember being at the corporate identity launch of NewBees. A lot of newcomers were brought in to arrange catering and design. To finally be able to get back to work and use their expertise, you just saw them blossom. One of them said that she had come into her own again because of NewBees’ commitment and attention. Wonderful. But no matter how good the collaboration is, it must of course yield something. That is why we started measuring the impact of the matches in 2017.”

het begon in Zaanstad Jarik featured

Jarik: “When we started with NewBees, we assumed from an ideological point of view that if you focus on talent, newcomers will find more enjoyable work more quickly and most importantly that they would more easily find their place in society.”

Rita: “The impact measurement showed that everyone who came into contact with NewBees experienced immediate positive impact. Not only the newcomer, but also the companies, the municipality and society as a whole. So the impact measurement confirmed that our assumption is a good foundation for the choices we made. In recent years, new impact analyses confirmed this time and again.”

Leslie: “I do notice that many new-comers have different expectations in the beginning. For example, I have had clients in my caseload who were lawyers in Syria and thought they could simply start work here. Unfortunately, that is not an easy step to take. I like to keep everyone happy, but in practice that can be a challenge.”

Rita: “Het is voor nieuwkomers inderdaad heel belangrijk om hulp te krijgen om bij het bedrijfsleven te komen. Ongeacht de talenten die je hebt, of hoe slim je ook bent – zonder netwerk en kennis van de Nederlandse (werk)cultuur is het lastig om zelf te starten.”

No matter how good the collaboration is, it must of course yield something

Leslie: “Over the years we have created a social network around newcomers, in which the chain parties (such as the municipality, the Dutch Council for Refugees, NewBees, district teams, etc.) are well attuned to each other and work together. With Corona, we sat around the table together regularly; what are we going to do, who will take on which activities and when, et cetera. It is a strength that all parties work together so well.”

Jarik: “NewBees coordinates with the district teams, our Jongerenloket (organisation for youth that offers guidance and encourages school/ work) and Werkom (the municipal employment company, ed.), and provides tailor-made solutions. They look at what is needed on a case-by-case basis. For someone with a longer distance to the labor market, the NewBees Traineeship gives a newcomer insight into the Dutch work culture. For people with a shorter distance, the Traineeship serves as a stepping stone to paid work.”

Leslie: “Through NewBees, newcomers get a taste of what it is like to work in the Netherlands. They also practice their Dutch, because in addition to work, language is important. The better the language skills, the better the chances on the labour market. NewBees matches broadly; from goat farm to care institution, and from schools to mosaic laying. This way people get introduced to different branches. After the traineeship they know what is possible, and also what suits their ambitions. From there, the three of us look further, the newbie, the matcher and me. What, for example, is needed to take the next step? The short lines of communication with the NewBees matchers make for a pleasant collaboration.”

Rita: “I am pleased with this close collaboration that gives newcomers a fair start in Zaanstad. But this gets a bit more complicated in these Corona times.”

Jarik: “You hear how difficult it is for newcomers to connect, to fit into society. Especially for those who have only recently been housed here. Almost all appointments with the municipality, VluchtelingenWerk and NewBees now take place digitally. It’s great that we can continue to do this, but digital is really different from physical. For example, to take a walk and point out where the bakery and the good schools are, or just to say hi to the neighbors, that is more difficult in these times. This digital false start for newcomers is concerning.”

At NewBees they sometimes look a little differently at how we do things

Leslie: “I notice that too. That is why I now make an extra effort to reach out to the newcomers in my caseload.”

Jarik: “In Zaanstad we want to achieve a lot. The reality is that we depend on our financial resources. As a municipality we have to find ways to scrape together finances to continue our implementation program. A difficult situation, which leads to difficult conversations with our partners. We want to do as much as possible, but with less money. Not everyone understands this. Fortunately, we can talk openly about this with NewBees.”

Rita: “As a partner, Annemiek really thinks with us. She understood that there was less money available. Subsequently she was able to clearly state what could and could not be done with that amount of money. A relief. We can also spar well together, about the approach but also about broader issues. As an alderman that can be nice.”

Jarik: “At NewBees they sometimes look a little differently at how we do things. Due to the positive experiences with this approach, we are now also investigating whether we can apply it more widely.”

Rita: “Of course the learning moments are very valuable too. For me, for example, it was a realization that not everyone can participate from day one, even if that is our vision. The group of newcomers is large, and so are the differences between people. As a municipality sometimes you want to go too fast, but you cannot ask everyone to start immediately. However, it remains important to start personal guidance as soon as possible and to start providing tailor-made solutions.”

Jarik: “While some people will say; ‘Expect more from us, fill our schedules up’ and ‘we can take language lessons and work at the same time.’ The time in the asylum seekers center (azc) is difficult for many people. They are allowed to do very little or nothing, and are taking a language course that is not progressing. As a result, some people want to start quickly in order to make up for the time they lost with their journey here and in the azc. My lesson is; keep talking and listen to the people you are doing it for.”

Keep talking and listening to the people for whom you do it

het begon in Zaanstad Leslie featured

Leslie: “As a precondition for successful integration, it is therefore also important to focus on language. More language lessons are crucial. The language requirement in the new civic integration will be much higher, from A2 to B1. You can only expect people to do this if you give them the tools to do so. And of course there will be people who will stick to a lower level, that’s okay.”

Rita: “We have a cottage in France. Only if you speak the language, or make an effort to speak the language, will you be able to make contacts. That is when people, not everyone of course, are willing to help you. And only then can you participate in the village. Successful integration is indeed linked to language. But to have someone who helps you, who you can turn to is just as important. A Syrian ice cream maker who wants to open a store may speak Dutch very well, but he also needs advice on the complicated procedures and permits that we have here in the Netherlands. The NewBees Traineeship is a great stepping stone to learning this culture and the systems involved.”

An entrepreneur said that he never expected that the traineeship would have such an impact on his staff. My tip to employers is therefore: if you have doubts, try it anyway.

Jarik: “I fully agree with that. It is about getting a place in society. That is not something that lies solely with you as a newcomer, you do that together with people who already know the way. Someone who shows you around the neighborhood, who tells you how associations work, or how you should act as a parent at school. This is how you get to know the culture. The other side of the story is that as a society you also have to be open to the beautiful things that people from other cultures bring with them. The question is how, as a city, you can be open to this and use it to your advantage.”

As a society you have to be open to the beautiful things that people from other cultures bring with them

Rita: “That reminds me of a bakery here in the city that wanted to include a newcomer in its team through the Traineeship. The owner’s staff was against this, but he did it anyway. During the Traineeship you saw the staff change. They helped the newcomer speak Dutch, learned about delicacies from his country of origin. Afterwards, the entrepreneur indicated that he never expected it to have such an impact on his staff. My tip to employers is therefore; if you ever have doubts, give it a try. When you get to know each other, you accept and understand each other better.”

Leslie: “Newcomers are really super eager. Sometimes employers find it frustrating that newcomers often say ‘yes’ when asked if they understand them when they actually don’t. As a youth counselor, I sometimes get tired when a newcomer still doesn’t understand me after explaining it ten times. But then I consult myself. Did I explain it properly? Am I using the right words? We get a whole lot further with patience and understanding for each other.”

Jarik: “Some employers are very interested in knowledge and papers. Whereas the people who have managed to make it to the Netherlands despite having fled, their hardships and the asylum procedure, they have so much perseverance. Every company benefits from those kinds of skills.”

This interview was published in our hot off the press magazine, in honour of NewBees’ five year anniversary. Would you like to read the other articles, portraits and background stories about integration, inclusion and diversity? Download hier here.

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