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Future of Work

From fleeing war to finding work: companies aim to help refugees find jobs

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Dady, a Congolese refugee who fled his country due to armed conflict, is now an order picker at Ikea in Reims, France.

Dady, a Congolese refugee who fled his country due to armed conflict, is now an order picker at Ikea in Reims, France. Image: UNHCR/Josselin Bremaud

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  • Refugees and forcibly displaced populations are often locked out of labour markets in countries which host them.
  • The World Economic Forum is working to expand employment opportunities for refugees and accelerate hiring through the Refugee Employment Alliance.
  • Partners of the Alliance have hired over 54,000 refugees to date across the globe. By December 2027, they expect to hire an additional 125,000 refugees and support 33,000 with mentoring, skills training, and access to digital devices.

The impact of accelerating refugee employment.

In May 2022, the World Economic Forum launched the Refugee Employment Alliance to accelerate global support for the economic integration of refugees. Co-chaired by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Ingka Group, this builds on the momentum witnessed in the rapid labour market integration of Ukrainian refugees to unlock economic opportunity for those displaced worldwide.

And while the benefits of employment are self-evident for refugees, countries and businesses have an imperative to invest in the employability of refugees too. The World Economic Forum’s, The Future of Jobs Report 2023 finds that 53% of companies cite the inability to attract talent as one of the main barriers to business transformation, with skills gaps in local labour markets accounting for 60% of the challenge. Despite these pressures to find talent, the employment gap between refugees and migrant groups – commonly referred to as the “refugee gap” – highlights that refugees remain a source of untapped potential for host countries and the global labour market more broadly.

“The biggest challenge that many refugees face is access to the formal labour market. Language barriers, lack of recognition of their qualifications, and discrimination all limit job opportunities. Education and work are interrupted when one is forced to flee as well as the absence of social and professional networks, making it difficult to compete successfully in the job market. As a result, refugees face high levels of unemployment and economic insecurity, which inhibits their ability to support themselves and contribute to their new communities. This alliance is an important and much-needed initiative that opens up job opportunities that would lead to independence, dignity and income for refugees seeking decent work and add economic vibrancy to their host communities.”

Kelly T. Clements, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR

“After several years of experience working with refugees, we know that supporting refugee employment and employability is good for both business and society. Refugees bring diversity, which sparks innovation within our company; for example, when it comes to our recruitment practices. From our internal co-worker surveys, we know that refugees increase co-workers’ pride and a sense of belonging to the company. Finally, refugees are experts at resilience and adaptability and tend to stay with the same employer longer, which is a true win-win.”

Tolga Öncu, Chief Operations Officer, Ingka Group

The Refugee Employment Alliance accelerates progress on refugee hiring by acting as platform to coordinate action across the public and private sectors. In addition to bringing a diverse group of partners together and highlighting commitments to hire refugees, the goal is to ensure those already committed to refugee hiring can do so with greater speed.

In December 2023, the Alliance joined its co-chair, UNHCR, at the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) to mobilize support for the socio-economic inclusion of 1 million refugees by 2027. Refugee Employment Alliance members and guests contributed to this global target with a collective commitment to hiring 125,000 refugees by 2027. Partners will additionally support approximately 33,000 refugees and others displaced with employability support, ranging from mentoring to ensuring access to digital devices. Together, these commitments illustrate the shared support for refugee employment and employability globally.

Partners of the Alliance include Adecco, Agility, APCO Worldwide, BP, Coursera, DHL Group, Flex, GEP, G-P, Greyston, Ingka Group (IKEA), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Kale Holding, Limak Holding, ManpowerGroup, Randstad, SAP, Tent, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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What's the challenge with refugee employment?

At the end of 2022, 35.3 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced across borders as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations.

Refugees and forcibly displaced populations continue to be locked out of local labour markets. In many countries, people with refugee status are not legally allowed to work. Other challenges refugees face when job hunting in their new countries include requirements to work in a local language and, in some cases, local certifications and documentation. Many refugees often also experience a multitude of social and cultural issues.

Companies keen to hire refugees often cite challenges matching refugee talent to the right jobs.

Our approach to increase employment and employability for refugees.

Organizations that have joined the Refugee Employment Alliance have worked together to consolidate learning into actionable insight.

In January 2023, the alliance published a briefing paper, Enabling the Economic Integration of Refugees: Lessons learned on refugee employment and employability from the rapid response to Ukraine, and hosted government, business and civil society leaders at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023.The publication sets out four key areas for action:

  • Ensure legal and timely access to local labour markets
  • Prioritize skills-first approaches
  • Proactively support job matching
  • Drive public-private partnerships that enable holistic support

In 2023, the alliance further consolidated learning into actionable insight through Putting Skills-First: A Framework for Action and Lessons on Providing Refugees with Timely Access to Work, advancing action through public-private dialogue and knowledge exchange. Milestone events included the Growth Summit 2023 and the Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2023.

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024.

In the context of a fragmented world, dialogue and collaboration continue to prove critical in building trust and forging solutions.

The Refugee Employment Alliance was active during the Annual Meeting 2024. The initiative:

  • Hosted public and private sessions that offered a continued call to action, both for durable solutions in countries of origin as well as sustained support in host communities.
  • Launched the Refugee Employment Alliance Strategic Intelligence map, which summarizes the pathways to refugee employment and associated key issues.
  • Presented a compilation of briefing papers and case studies developed over the past two years to elevate the Alliance’s key messages.

Ongoing Workstreams.

The Refugee Employment Alliance was hosted by the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the New Economy and Society until March 2024.

The World Economic Forum and the Co-Chairs of the Refugee Employment Alliance are continuing to advance refugee employment.

For more information, please contact us.

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Future of WorkHumanitarian ActionJobs and Skills
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Partners:
Adecco GroupAgilityAPCOBPCourseraDHL GroupFlexGEPGreystonIngka Group (IKEA)International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)Kale HoldingLimak HoldingManpowerGroupRandstadSAPTentUNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)UNHCR, the UN Refugee AgencyUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
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