For the 30th episode of the Startups Without Borders Podcast, we teamed up with RefugeeForce to talk about a new reality reshaping the workplace: How hiring refugees in European Companies can drive innovation. Our guests, Gaspar Rodriguez and Azmi Wahab, give us a tour of this new promising landscape.
By Arin Rahman
As an award-winning 7X Certified Senior Salesforce Consultant, Gaspar Rodriguez has amassed 10 years working in the Salesforce economy, a new reality that is expected to create over 4 million jobs by 2024.
Tapping into the opportunity brought by the Salesforce Economy, Gaspar set off to co-found, RefugeeForce, an organization that trains refugees in the Netherlands and Germany, equipping them with tools for them to build a career path in the tech world. One of these talented newcomers is Azmi Wahab.
In a candid conversation, Azmi and Gaspar share their insights on this thriving new job landscape.
What exactly is the Salesforce economy?
Gaspar: The Salesforce economy represents the new business revenue and jobs coming from the Salesforce ecosystem – the employers, companies, recruiters, developers using Salesforce. When you take all of that potential value creation happening that’s called the Salesforce economy. The latest projects expect to create 4.2 million jobs by 2024, and that’s global. The projection for Europe is that there will be half a million jobs, and this is across different industries: finance, retail, eCommerce, media, manufacturing.
“The Salesforce economy expects to create 4.2 million jobs by 2024, and that’s global. The projection for Europe is half a million jobs.”
When starting RefugeeForce, why did you utilize Salesforce as an entry point to offer jobs to refugees?
Gaspar: There’s a lot of opportunities out there on the table that are under-utilized, and you have people with Computer Science degrees, or data analysis, or 10 years of customer service experience in their back pocket, but they’re working at a job where they’re not utilizing those skills.
What kind of companies partner with Refugee Force, and what kind of companies do you consider ideal to work with?
Gaspar: In the Salesforce ecosystem there are a few different camps; one camp is Salesforce Customers, so the ones that are using Salesforce to manage their businesses. On the other side, we have partners who help those companies implement Salesforce, design it, and make sure it’s meeting their needs. They have more developers and consultants on their team, and those will do multiple projects throughout the year with multiple clients. We have another camp which is more of the AppExchange ISV partners who are building and developing applications that are licensed out to different clients.
Why should companies hire refugees?
G: Because there is a shortage of Salesforce talent. If you go to many companies that are working with Salesforce, they’re desperately looking for people. We know that it takes quite a while to get people trained up. We take part in that, and we say, “okay, we will train them up and get them a basic understanding, and then you can take them on from there and develop them into a higher-skilled Salesforce professional.”
They’re skilled, they’re ready, they’re motivated to start something new, and the biggest differentiator that they come with is their loyalty. In the tech scene, people are always jumping around from one company to another. Most of our people are super committed to learning something new. We measure a lot of our candidates during the recruitment process on potential. Will they become fast risers through the program and then drive that motivation into your company? We usually find that they do.
“They’re skilled, they’re ready, they’re motivated to start something new, and the biggest differentiator that they come with is their loyalty. In the tech scene, people are always jumping around from one company to another.”
Azmi, tell us about your journey from Malaysia to the Netherlands. What was it like?
A: I came to the Netherlands in March 2016. Back in Malaysia, I wasn’t working my dream job. I studied electrical engineering in wireless communication, but I couldn’t land any job, so I joined radio as a radio presenter and TV host in Singapore. Then I became a little bit political; I wrote a lot about politics in Malaysia, which made me end up here in the Netherlands as a refugee back in 2016.
During that period, I did so many odd jobs; I did freelance voice-over, document translations from my language to English and vice versa, I just wanted to keep going, I started to learn new skills, I studied data science in the Netherlands. Then, I found RefugeeForce, and it changed my life, combining all the skills that I had under my belt. Now I’m working my dream job in IT and technology. I worked as a data analyst in one startup in Amsterdam, and now we’re Sonous, Inc. I love my job every single day.
What does the landscape look like for a newcomer in the Netherlands? Is it hard to find a job for people who are non-European, or non-EU residents?
A: The refugees who are coming to Europe are coming from very different backgrounds. I was lucky that my country was not at war. Many opinions would say that “I could not get a job. I couldn’t get a good job in the Netherlands because I’m not white; I’m yellow. Because I don’t carry Dutch names.” At least in my case, I see a different reason. In many cases, language becomes the main obstacle. My English is good, but my Dutch still needs a lot of improvement.
“I never stopped applying. I encourage my fellow refugee friends, do not stop after 50 applications because what happens with your 51st application?”
So the formula that I follow is networking. I am always active, get myself into the community, offer help, do volunteer work, I send not fifty, not hundreds, but thousands of applications. I lost count. But I never stopped applying. I encourage my fellow refugee friends, do not stop after 50 applications because what happens with your 51st application?
Gaspar, if a company wants to hire refugees, what are the steps they should take?
G: Well, if you’re in the Salesforce ecosystem, you should talk to us, but if not, there are lots of other things you can do. Figure out how to reach a broader audience. Refugee communities are in very close contact in most countries. They have Whatsapp groups. Once you hire, it’s important to have structured development time. Make sure that they have a plan, that they are being supported in their professional development, and by their team.
One of the biggest things we work with our employers is to hire for attitude, and not just for skills, hire for motivation, hire for ambition. You can always train skills. If you have somebody with the right learning mindset, you can always train them, and they’ll want to learn. The other thing to consider are different soft skills that are important, especially in Salesforce. Technical skills are always in high demand, but soft skills are even more scarce. Things like diplomacy, flexibility, empathy, those things are going to make for a better team.
“Hire for attitude, and not just for skills, hire for motivation, hire for ambition. You can always train skills.”
Are companies required specific procedures, sponsorships, or visas to hire a refugee?
G: It depends on the status. In most European countries, if they haven’t received their asylum status, that means they cannot have paid work. During that time, it’s very difficult to hire somebody. In our program, we look for people who are about to receive their asylum status, have already received it, and are either underemployed or just looking for a new career.
There is one exception: in the Netherlands, you can apply for a small sponsorship to sponsor that candidate for six months of work if they’ve received certain credentials. If they’re almost to their permit, you can give them paid work for six months out of the year. Other than that, it’s quite straightforward for employers. It’s just like hiring anybody else once they’ve received their permit. There’s no sponsorship, and there’s no extra cost. It’s quite a level playing field in that sense.
“It’s just like hiring anybody else once they’ve received their permit. There’s no sponsorship, and there’s no extra cost. It’s quite a level playing field in that sense.”
What is the added value of diversity within a working team within an innovative tech company?
A: If you look at the statistics, the companies that use software and technologies see an average increase in the varieties of areas: an average of 27% increase in sales revenue, 32% increase in conversion, 34% increase in customer satisfaction, 56% in faster deployment.
Companies often dismiss refugees because most of them have foreign qualifications, which employers may have difficulties evaluating. They also often lack documentation of their degrees. But the good news is that refugees like us are willing to retrain and relearn new skills. We are always motivated to work extra hard to start life again here in Europe with support from many NGOs like RefugeeForce.
Azmi, what would be your advice for job seekers in Europe, in the Netherlands, or anywhere who are refugees and are looking to get into the tech world?
A: I would say this to my fellow friends, compete with other talents out there. We cannot just wait and use our wild card as refugee status to be offered an opportunity. It takes more than that. For us fellow refugees, we need to integrate, be integrated, be social, be active in the community, update your LinkedIn profile, keep applying, be seen. I apply with zero experience in Salesforce, no working experience, no problem. We do projects. We can create lots of mere life experience projects. Be as professional as possible. We need to remember that besides refugees, there are many others in our position also looking for a job.
This article was written in partnership with RefugeeForce.
If you are a company looking to hire refugee talents, get in touch on their website.