Germany: Immigrants Wanted for Nursing Home Jobs

More skilled workers are needed in Germany in the field of care for the elderly. New projects have been set up to attract immigrants to these jobs, particularly women.

An elderly German citizen receives attention from personal carer

After spending 10 years caring for her own family, Asma Hadhri felt it was time to find a job. While searching for suitable opportunities, she came across Narges Yelaghi, who heads a project in Offenbach called “Career Entry into Care for the Elderly.” Offering training opportunities the field of geriatric care, it aims to attract immigrant women like Asma Hadhri who wish to re-enter the workforce in their 30s or 40s.

Yelaghi’s team provides advice and guidance, as well as organizing work placements. “It begins with two or three initial conversations,” explained Yelaghi. “Then I know what skills the woman has and I tell her what the requirements are.”

From interns to employees

The initial contact is followed by an internship that allows the candidate to see whether the job is suitable for her. Hadhri, who comes from Tunisia and holds a degree in French literature, also had to complete one. The 35-year-old found the first days particularly tough: “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do and how.” Everything was new to her: the team, the nursing home residents, the work. But things got better with each day and in the end she was offered a formal traineeship.

Hadhri is one of the 19 women so far who have obtained a traineeship thanks to Yelaghi’s project. Motivated by this success, Yelaghi hopes to attract more candidates – but there is one constant obstacle: she has found that there are relatively few traineeships in elderly care in Germany, despite the country’s ageing population. While 2.4 million people require nursing care today, it is estimated this will rise to 3.4 million in 2030 – and over 100,000 additional qualified carers will be needed. According to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, around 950,000 people are currently employed in geriatric care in the country.

Offenbach is not the only place where immigrants are sought for positions in nursing. Similar projects have sprung up around Germany, promoting traineeships to high school students in particular.

Serena Cerra coordinates a project like this in Mettmann near Düsseldorf. According to her, people with an immigrant background are in such high demand in the nursing field because immigrants are making up an increasing share of those needing care. A better service can often be provided to them when a carer understands their cultural background and can speak their native language. And even though the job is not an easy one, Cerra says it is a field with a certain future.

Hurdles to overcome

Asma Hadhri will finish her traineeship in 2014. She still has a lot to learn until then – and part of it is through lessons at a vocational training college. These are in German, however, which makes them somewhat challenging for her to follow – but Yelaghi’s team has found a solution to this problem.

“Some of the women have been in Germany for a short time and have intermediate-level language skills, which are not enough,” said Yelaghi. “For this reason we offer German classes for those who need them.”

Thanks to the language course, Hadhri is becoming increasingly confident in German. In her last test, she received a 1 – the top mark in the German school system.

Another challenge for many of the women is juggling work and family. “The trainees need to be at work at 6 a.m. – but there are very few facilities in Offenbach that can provide childcare from 5:30 or 6 in the morning,” said Yelaghi.

Aida Halilovic, a mother of two young boys, knows this problem all too well. She needs to start work at 5:30 a.m. and relies on her parents’ support. “The children’s grandparents come over and take care of them – and they also help with the housework,” she said, adding that with a bit of planning it all works out quite well.

The job is Halilovic’s first job in Germany. She comes from Serbia, where she used to be a cook before she had children. After a while she realized that she really missed going to work, so she is happy with the opportunity presented to her by the “Career Entry into Care for the Elderly” project and she finds working with older people enjoyable. “They are so grateful – it comes from the heart,” Halilovic said. “This feels so nice.”

– DW