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Mentoring for migrants

In the district Lippe in Germany, voluntary mentors support young migrants getting started on the job. What is special about the project: The mentors have a migration background themselves and thereby often find a personal approach to the young more easily. The Business und Employment Support Agency Netz-werk Lippe gGmbH has established the mentoring program (as part of the program „XENOS - integration and diversity“). The results are promising.

In Germany, young people with a migration background often lag behind in their career potential. According to statistics, only a third of young foreigners undergo training for the job, whereas the number for German adolescents in general is about twice as high. There is a variety of reasons for the difficulties in transition from school to working life, for instance low or non-existing school-qualification or discrimination in respect to applications. Furthermore, the social environment plays a central role. Studies reveal, that especially in Germany, the family background is crucial for career success. However, few parents of young migrants know much about the German education system, so the children receive little or no support from home. This is where the Netzwerk Lippe mentoring program comes in: Volunteers support and motivate young people, they give advice regarding the choice of profession, they inform about career perspectives, encourage the young and strengthen their self-esteem.

Since 2009, the Netzwerk Lippe has educated 63 voluntary mentors aged between 14 and 65 and coming from 15 different nation. The advantages are obvious, says project coordinator Dr. Wolfgang Sieber: Because of their own migration background, the mentors often have a better understanding of the situation and problems of the young. The threshold to get in contact is very low, the mentors are well accepted by the mentees. Especially mentors of the own community enjoy a high level of trust. Dr. Wolfgang Sieber: “With our low-threshold mentoring program we reach many immigrants that we don’t get with regular offers.” Furthermore, it is much easier for some adolescents to accept an advice from volunteers than from professionals, who only care because it is their job to do so..

Different professional and social background

The mentors have very different professional and social backgrounds. Many of them already work voluntarily with young people, e.g. as coaches in sports clubs, homework helpers, employees in girls’ clubs or youth leaders in neighbourhood centres. The idea is that the mentors use these existing contacts with young people and provide assistance when needed. Volunteers, who have little contact with young people in their daily lives, have an opportunity to work in language cafés for refugees set up by the Netzwerk Lippe. The refugees meet once a week in the cafés in order to stabilize and to improve their German language skills. One positive side effect: For some mentors, new career perspectives opened up during the process as well. Some are employed in the language cafes, others started to study.


All mentors were prepared for their task in special training courses. The Netzwerk Lippe gGmbH has developed different but abutted mentor trainings. A course consists of around 40 lessons and covers issues such as basics of communication, group dynamics, time management, organization, social area information up to the German educational and training system. All in all, there are three different courses with slightly different focus.

The training was very beneficial and helpful, the mentors summarise: “I have learned a lot and can apply this in my immediate environment”, says Erhan Eksioglu. He trains young people in a soccer club with 15 different nationalities.

Beyond the sporting activities he gets to know the problems of the young very well, e.g. difficulties in school, trouble with authorities and institutions and the big question: How can I get an apprenticeship or a job? Erhan Eksioglu provides tips and helps in compiling job applications - and often achieves more in this informal way than professionals in institutions. “I just want to put young people back on the right track”, the coach says.

The young people only need a gentle push ...

Sport is a bridge to reach young people also for Karim Suleiman. The native Syrian works as a professional sport teacher in various clubs, schools and kindergartens and takes care of migrants. Since he was trained as a mentor, he can support both young migrants and their families: “I am proud that young people know: Karim takes care of us.” Suleiman came to Germany in 1995 as a Kurdish refugee. His migration background facilitates the work, the 47 years old says. This already starts with the language. Suleiman speaks German, English, Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish. His experience: “Most of the time, the young people only need a gentle push and a little encouragement (“You can do it”) towards taking their future into their own hands.  This is what they are missing at home.” 

      Accordingly high are the needs and demands for mentors, but here the model is also reaching its limits. The mentors have limited time resources. Compared to full-time employees, it  cannot be expected the same level of professionalism, skills and knowledge, requirements for transparency and documentation, says Dr. Wolfgang Sieber from the Netzwerk Lippe gGmbH. “We need to consider very carefully where and how volunteers work without overburdening them.” A further weakness: There was no matching with mentors and mentees. This aspect was taken into account in the following training programs and projects. On the whole the the advantages outweighs the disadvantages, underlines Wolfgang Sieber. “Experience shows that active labour market policies to help job seekers do not automatically reach migrants.” Thus, it is all the more important to approach the target group actively and provide information on a personal level. For that, the mentoring program is a very suitable approach and will be pursued in the District Lippe.

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Revised 2014.08.21