Path to a (Real) Job

A joint program by Austrian business and government helps top migrants find work worthy of their qualifications

Fatma Elshhati | December 2008 / January 2009

With two young children and a wife to look after, Ramon Gonzalez came to Vienna in 2005, a "family friendly" city, he believed, far from the hectic and chaotic life of Madrid.

The move was more complicated than he expected. The highly qualified Venezuelan-born engineer was shy, and found it difficult to get established.  For three years he, like the 1.4 million other migrants living and working in Austria, found that without insider experience and connections finding better employment opportunities was a difficult task, and he was forced into jobs for which he was vastly over-qualified and in which he was unable to earn enough to provide for his household.

In fact, a full seventy-eight percent of all jobs in Austria are acquired through informal means and personal networks, according to a study released by the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO), The Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF), and The Employment Service (AMS). This puts newcomers at an enormous disadvantage.

So, a Mentoring For Migrants (Mentoring für MigrantInnen) program was created in collaboration with the three organizations, offering participants a fairer chance to find better and more satisfying jobs in the Austrian job market.

The project pairs people seeking work who are both qualified and have proficiency in German with experienced mentors from the professional world.

"Much of what the program offers is simply to provide the incentive and motivation that these people need," said Mag. Judith Safar, who leads the program for mentees at the ÖIF in Vienna. About half of those assigned to the program have lived in Austria for 10 to 15 years already, yet they still find themselves working in sub standard jobs.

"It is particularly important to get the attention of migrant entrepreneurs and help them get the experience needed in order to succeed," she added.

Gonzalez’s degree as a certified radiologic-medical-assistant in Venezuela was valid in Spain, but he was unable to get his qualifications recognized in Austria. After a discouraging experience in a marginal job with a failed company, he sought help from the Chamber of Commerce.

"I needed to find a stable job; I have a family and cannot afford to take any more risks, that’s why I joined the program," Gonzalez explained in a recent interview. "My mentor helped me to regain my self-confidence as a professional."

A very grateful Ramon Gonzalez is now working as an electrical engineer for "RTA-Fahrzeugversuchsanlage," a company where he had previously interned. "In a way, I achieved my goals from outside the program," he said, but the confidence boost helped and he realized it was as important to make the contacts as land the job.

The program’s biggest challenge is matching the mentors to the mentees.

"This is a very delicate process. We have tried to match the "couples" on the basis of professional and geographical backgrounds. But we didn’t know whether the matching would work," Safar said. "We have been happy with the results, thogh." A survey conducted by the ÖIF after the conclusion of the first "Pilot Project" revealed that 88% of the mentees were happy with the selection.

After they are introduced to each other, the paired couples work out goals, depending on the needs and ambitions of the mentees and what is feasible in the four-month cycle. These goals range from simple things like writing CV’s and attending seminars to interview training and introductions.

"The project is very flexible and individual," explains Mag. Margit Kreuzhuber from the Austrian Federal Chamber of Commerce (WKO). "The mentors help their partners find jobs by showing them the direction they should head in their field, and they share with them the knowledge needed to succeed in that market." The mentors also help create a network of contacts for the mentees to further their advancement in their particular professions.

The program, however, has its limits: Pairs meet only 5 to 10 hours per month, on average, and the guidance offered does not pretend to be a step-by-step instruction manual. Still, it does aim to steer the mentee in the right direction.

Roland Leithenmayr, Gonzalez’s mentor, had completed his job after just two meetings with his mentee.

"I was a bit disappointed that I could not do more to help my mentee." Leithenmayr says. "All I did was simply encourage Ramon to improve his CV and re-send it to a number of companies that had rejected him before," he explains. "Also, I had to keep his sprits up during the process, so that he would not give up."

Three-quarters of the mentors reported gaining valuable insights into the lives of migrants in Austria, Safar said, in addition to forming relationships with people from different backgrounds. "Many even volunteered to mentor for a second time."

"The project also brings a sense of corporate social responsibility to those participating," she added.

Leithenmayr, an initiator and member of the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Consulting Group of the WKO, seemed simply to enjoy the company of the young man he had met through the program.

"We have similar interests in the field of renewable energy, so we may even engage in future projects together," he said.

Mentoring Für MigrantInnen has finished its first cycle, called "Pilot Project," and is in the midst of its second, already feeling flush with success.

"Every second mentee in the group of sixty has found a job," Safar says with evident satisfaction.  The program is currently offered in Vienna and Upper Austria, and two sessions are currently being held per year, beginning in spring and autumn.  The deadline for the spring application is early February.

For further information contact:


Austrian Integration Fund

Mag Judith Safar

Project Manager Mentoring for migrants

3., Schlachthausgasse 30

Phone: 0676 55 66 718


Upper Austria:

Austrian Integration Fund

Mag. Dilek Ketan

Hauptplatz 2 / 2

4053 Haid

Tel:  (07229) 787 43-11


For more information on mentoring visit

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