A tailored transition to working life for students with a migrant background

International Career Service Rhein-Main creates a bridge between universities and work.

Around 25,000 international students and another 25,000 German students with a migrant background are currently studying at the five public universities in the Rhine-Main area – Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, RheinMain University of Applied Sciences and Technical University of Darmstadt – plus Mainz University as an associate institution. Some of these students run into difficulties in their search for suitable academic positions in trade and industry, the social sector or at public employers. Taking the leap into self-employment is equally challenging. The Institute for Economics, Labour and Culture (IWAK) at Goethe University Frankfurt predicts that by 2028 southern Hesse will have a shortage of 50,000 skilled employees with an academic qualification. The causes of these challenges include the absence of relevant networks, poor knowledge of the German labor market and corporate cultures, as well as legal hurdles.

Graduates with a migrant background can make a key contribution to addressing this shortage of skilled workers. Their integration into the job market is of central importance to the region’s economic development. Goethe University Frankfurt runs long-term programs to leverage these potentials and remove obstacles so the lack of trained experts can be tackled effectively.

Joint project

A joint project is currently being established in southern Hesse to act as a bridge between universities and the world of work for students with a migrant background. To this end, five Hessian universities have founded the International Career Service Rhein-Main (ICS RM). It is expected to be up and running by 2028, with financial support from the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and the Arts, the European Social Fund and the universities themselves.

The network also includes commercial and public employers from the Rhine-Main region, representatives of the start-up ecosystem, and supporting organizations such as the Federal Employment Agency, the relevant immigration authorities and municipal business development agencies. Together with the universities, they want to make it easier for graduates with a migrant background to make the transition into working life – irrespective of whether they are employed or are planning innovative start-ups.

“Hessian universities are important players in helping to overcome the shortage of skilled workers,” Timon Gremmels, Hessian Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and the Arts said of the project initiative as its roundtable convened for the first time. “Now that this pilot project has been approved, we are continuing to strengthen our commitment to developing international potential and at the same time delivering a contribution to equal educational opportunities. We want to interest talent from all over the world in the Rhine-Main region and understand exactly how we can support students with a migration background even better to ensure not only their successful transition into professional life, but also their desire to remain here with us in Hesse.”

In addition to overall responsibility for project coordination, Goethe University Frankfurt is also offering various subprojects geared to students’ personal and professional development.

The “Career Guidance” module provides step-by-step support for students entering the labor market. It goes beyond traditional career advice and offers students ways of discovering their own abilities, acquiring career orientation and obtaining valuable insights into the job market. In addition, it fosters the initiation of contacts with specialists and companies.

The “Future Skills Training” module helps participants acquire the competencies demanded on the job market, with a focus on digital and technological skills. It comprises a number of workshops in German and English on topics such as effective data visualization with Power BI and an introduction to Python. The “Digital Pioneers” series offers insights into the practical application of digitalization in research and industry.

The “Lighthouse Careers Rhine-Main” video interviews showcase the career paths of graduates from the Rhine-Main region who have a migration background. These videos are intended to inspire students and highlight the companies presented as attractive employers.

“I just finished my job application phase and would like to express my heartfelt thanks to ICS RM for its support, the discussions and the coaching. Without its suggestion to expand my job search to associations, I wouldn’t have found this position (and to be honest, if I had found it I wouldn’t have thought it would be so interesting)”, says Mahdad Mohammadi (PhD Material Sciences, TU Darmstadt).

Strategic advisory board and operationally oriented roundtable set the course

The pilot project is supported by a high-caliber advisory board made up of members from employers’ associations, chambers, municipal umbrella organizations, the relevant state ministries’ departments, as well as the member universities’ management. The board also acts as an interface with Hessian policy-makers.

“We are pleased to be part of this project and its contribution to overcoming the shortage of skilled workers in the Hessian economy. Our hope is that as many as possible of the foreign graduates who have studied in Hesse will choose to stay here and start their careers,” says Dirk Pollert, managing director of the Federation of Hessian Business Associations [Vereinigung der hessischen Unternehmerverbände, VhU] and ICS RM advisory board member.

The advisory board also has an operationally oriented roundtable that develops solutions for existing challenges such as inadequate networks and points of contact for graduates with a migrant background. Its inaugural meeting on March 19, 2024, brought together over 40 stakeholders from associations, industry and business, the social sector, public administration and higher education institutions. It was also attended by representatives of supporting organizations, such as the Federal Employment Agency, educational institutions and relevant advice and support centers.

“So far our program in the International Career Service Rhein-Main comprises mentoring and targeted coaching and also features events that deal with practical issues such as future skills and starting a business,” says Jens Blank, who heads the project coordinated by Goethe University.

The roundtable discussed how economic stakeholders, associations and other supporting organizations can be integrated into these services to provide tailored solutions meeting the needs of employers, start-ups and students. By summer this year, the team will have examined projects and measures at employers’ associations and chambers to see how representatives from the universities’ career services can be permanently involved. In addition, working groups will be set up to develop practical solutions for issues such as residence rights, language learning, the integration of academic experts into small and medium-sized enterprises, social integration into the Rhine-Main region, and the start-up process.

More information is available at www.ics-rm.de or by e-mail from info@ics-rm.de

Supported by the European Union and funding from the State of Hesse

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