By combining language learning and vocational knowledge, seven out of ten participants will go on to work placements, training or employment after a 60-week course. This contributes to integrating newly arrived migrants into Belgian society.

EVA bxl and their partner CBE Brusselleer

Brussels, Belgium

 

Purpose of the method

Alfa Near Work is an integration program intended to lead newly arrived migrants into work or vocational training. The aim of the method is to provide a shortcut to the labour market.

Background

EVA bxl is an organisation working locally to develop a solidarity-based economy. Their focus is on diversity and gender. Their operations consist solely of project support. They have a large number of partners in Brussels, one of whom is CBE Brusselleer, an adult education Dutch-language centre. Alfa Near Work is a project and methodology that CBE Brusselleer implements in collaboration with the non-profit organisation MAKS vzw.

EVA bxl develops social cooperatives in Brussels before ending their involvement and handing over the running to the cooperative itself. Among other projects, they have started café and preschool cooperatives. EVA bxl collaborates widely with many organisations in the Brussels region in order to create businesses that strengthen vulnerable groups.

Belgium has two official languages – French and Dutch – and is divided into two regions based on this language difference, making it important for newly arrived immigrants to receive education in the language and culture of the region in which they plan to settle.

CBE Brusselleer runs an adult education centre in Brussels at which they teach Dutch. Through the project Alfa Near Work, they are developing a method that allows participants to access the labour market, and thereby support themselves, more quickly. The method involves strengthening the participants language and vocational knowledge in parallel, where previously they would have started with language lessons and only started discussing employment prospects after a couple of years.

two male students working together
Photo: Eva Lindgren
Description of method

The training course lasts for 60 weeks, with language lessons at the core of the curriculum. It is intensified by giving the participants vocational advice from day one through MAKS, one of the partners in the project.

Literacy among participants in the project is low; many are illiterate while others have limited writing ability. There are some who speak Dutch and others who as yet do not speak the language.

To be admitted to the project, one must be motivated and willing to work actively to obtain employment. To begin with, each participant is required to take a test to assess her or his cognitive abilities – a prerequisite for being able to strengthen the participant in the optimal manner.

The training course is free of charge. It is needs-focused and allows the participant to learn in their own rhythm. Groups are small, with between 6 and 15 members in each. Participants learn Dutch, computer skills and mathematics at the same time as receiving careers advice.

Improving literacy is the core of the course; the ability to deal with language, figures, data and information and communications technology provides a basis for absorbing, processing and using information. Literacy is a prerequisite for independent action, social participation and personal development.

Participants receive continuous individual feedback regarding their studies. Teachers and job coaches work closely together during the project to follow each participant’s development.

Project activities include:

  • exploring the labour market;
  • talents and attributes – digital storytelling;
  • personal presentation;
  • digital CVs;
  • visits to vocational training centers; and
  • job seeking.

Participants are challenged to:

  • improve their self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • increase their knowledge of the society in which they will live;
  • improve their own chances of employment;
  • increase their participation in sociocultural activities; and
  • create networks.

A workshop is conducted with participants after the first eight weeks in order to assess how far along the road to employment they have come. After a further couple of months, the participants take part in digital storytelling in which they describe themselves, their history and their future: What did they do in their homeland? What experiences do they have? What do they intend to do?

In digital storytelling it may, for example, emerge that the participant enjoys organizing. This provides a point of departure; can they convert this personal attribute into a skill that may secure them a job? Digital storytelling is an effective working method and provides a creative timeout. Once the stories are completed, other classes can be invited in to share them. This teaches participants the art of presenting themselves and their story.

One important element of the program is that students are able to visit vocational training centers where they can strengthen their interest and learn about the opportunities available on the labour market. It is vital that participants obtain knowledge of the jobs available in Belgium and the qualifications for working in a given trade or profession.

Participants train interview techniques using Whats Up. This is a useful tool for strengthening communication skills.

This combination of language and vocational training is very effective. Participants are able to use their newly acquired language skills in a context that advances their chances of entering the labour market.

The program also emphazises the importance of voluntary work, through which participants can gain knowledge and a contact network and learn a great deal about society and various vocations.

There are participants with unrealistic vocational expectations, certainly in the short term, and it is then important to offer them realistic opportunities while at the same time nurturing their desire to establish themselves on the labour market.

Students reading and writing in class
Photo: Eva Lindgren
Results

This method has provided fantastic results; after 60 weeks, seven out of ten participants have gone on to work placements, been accepted for vocational training obtained employment.

Experiences

Working in parallel with language lessons and vocational advice/training has had an enormous impact. This is an active working method in which participants can see their objective early in the program; namely, to get a job. The collaboration between teachers, job coaches and other stakeholders is important to strengthening participants in the best possible manner. Frequent feedback to participants and parallel courses have created an efficient and active training platform.

It is crucial to the method that participants have been granted financial support by the public employment service for travel and preschool expenses. Alfa Near Work is approved by the regional public employment service as a training program.

The opportunity for participants to develop at their own pace has allowed them to grow based on their own circumstances; their self-belief, self-esteem and skills have all been strengthened.

Collaboration

Alfa Near Work encompasses a very extensive network of some 80 organisations; for example, public employment services, migrant reception centers, dutch-language centers, adult education institutions, community centers, preschools, prisons, etc.

Resources and funding
  • Project funding come from the public employment service
  • Regional funding
Contact

If you have any questions about the method, please contact EVA.