What do a German car manufacturer, railway operator and global courier service have in common? They all employ refugees.

Volkswagen, the largest carmaker in Europe, Germany's state-owned railway operator Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Post DHL are all seeing results from their decision to invest in people who have started a new life in Germany after fleeing war.

“Refugees are bringing special skills with them. We have to figure them out and use them,” said Annette Mock from DPD DHL Group, which provides training and internships to 450 refugees across Germany. “They are really committed people and they are bringing enthusiasm, understanding and also skills and resilience.”

Neither philanthropy nor charity is the motivation here; this is, increasingly, business as usual in a European state which has operated an open-border policy.

More than one million asylum-seekers arrived in Germany during 2015 and 2016. Many of these people have valuable professional experience, but the firms understand that training is crucial if this hiring approach is going to be effective.

In each of these three companies, refugee employees experience a combination of intensive German lessons along with hands-on practical experience. Workshops, mentors, classrooms – it's all part of the job.

“The refugees we bring into our company do a really, really good job,” said Martin Seiler, member of the management board at Deutsche Bahn AG, which has more than 400 refugees in their training programme that operates in 10 locations across Germany. “It's really a win-win situation because we get employees onboard with broader diversity, with another background and with a high potential for motivation and engagement for the company.”

But other staff members don’t miss out on upskilling and training. They also attend workshops on how to improve their cultural awareness and sensitivity when working in teams with refugees and other people who are adapting to a new environment.

Other companies which have recognised the value of skilled and motivated refugees include Porsche, Deutsche Telekom and SAP, a multinational firm that develops software for businesses.

A breakdown of Germany's refugee population
A breakdown of Germany's refugee population
Image: UNHCR

According to Germany’s Institute for Employment Research, around 36% of refugees between 15 and 60 are now in work. That's around 380,000 to 400,000 people, and the think tank forecasts that figure will rise by January 2020.

These top-line figures may seem healthy, but experts have voiced concern over the quality of the work many displaced people are doing. Research shows two-thirds of Germany's refugees in work are employed either as temporary workers or in the service industry.

DHL and Deutsche Bahn were among the organizations who shared their experience with other private-sector players and government officials at the Global Refugee Forum, a high-level multi-stakeholder meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, which included education, jobs and livelihoods among its key themes.

During this public-private gathering, governments, businesses and other organizations shared their experiences of integrating displaced people into their companies and communities.

"Multilateralism remains the most effective response to the growing challenges around the world, from climate and conflict to population displacement," UN Secretary-General António Guterres told leaders at the event's opening.

At the end of 2018, around 10.9 million people of exclusively foreign nationality were registered in Germany's Central Register of Foreigners (AZR). According to the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis), this included around 266,000 foreigners from countries outside the European Union with a residence permit for the purpose of gainful employment - an increase of more than 20% on the previous year.

This increase is seen by many as a problem to be solved. For these companies, however, it represents a growing and underused resource - and one from which they are already benefiting.