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FEATURE STORY July 29, 2020

Unlocking the Doors to Decent Work

The ISDEP project is breaking down barriers to inclusion faced by Syrians and Turkish citizens in the formal labor market.

Aleppo-born Jamal Dahdouh and Nuriye Gülübük, a Turkish citizen, work together at a catering company in the Pendik district of Istanbul. The job has allowed Dahdouh to pay all his debts and he is now looking forward to having social security for his young family. Gülübük is back at work after a five-month layoff and is now “standing on her own feet” again. They are both grateful for their jobs and enjoy working together.

Thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Family, Labor and Social Services (MoFLSS) and İŞKUR - the Ministry-affiliated public employment agency - this encouraging pattern of Syrian refugees and Turkish citizens working side-by-side is being replicated in many other enterprises as well, from food processors to, textile manufacturers, to software development companies - and everywhere in between. This trend is not confined to Istanbul, either, but can be seen in many large provinces with sizable Syrian populations, including Adana, Gaziantep, and Şanlıurfa.

This integration has been fostered through the “Employment Support Project for Syrians under Temporary Protection and Turkish Citizens (ISDEP)” project, a €45.5 million initiative financed by the European Union, with administrative support from the World Bank.  The project is designed to bring Turkey closer to addressing an issue which it has been tackling for years: boosting inclusion among the country’s large Syrian population. 


The jobs challenge

Syrians began to flee a war in their country in 2011 and some 3.6 million are now living under temporary protection in Turkey. The government of Turkey is providing public services, while the European Union and other international organizations continue to lend support. Despite these efforts, however, employment remains a sticking point.

A first step in allowing refugees to access formal work was the Regulation on Work Permits of Foreigners under Temporary Protection, passed in 2016. However, this regulation requires certain conditions before issuing work permits to Syrians. Moreover, many Syrians and prospective employers alike remain unaware of the procedures involved.

Inadequate knowledge of the Turkish language or a lack of skills or qualifications can also make it hard for some Syrians to find jobs. At the same time, employment opportunities often remain limited for local people as well.

Strengthening access to formal work opportunities for Syrians has become a priority for the country, as many have only been able to work in tenuous, casual and often-underpaid jobs - prolonging both their marginal position in society and their reliance on social assistance.

To overcome this challenge, the ISDEP project leverages the experience of well-established national institutions, such as İŞKUR – which provides job counselling and placement services and conducts active labor market programs throughout Turkey. Its local offices have extensive knowledge of local labor markets, enabling them to reach additional groups.



How it works

The first step in the process is for job seekers to attend Turkish language courses, if necessary. If, following this, they are not placed in permanent employment positions, they are sent to local companies for “applied training” - the equivalent of İŞKUR’s regular on-the-job training. In cases where an applied training opportunity cannot be found, applicants are offered the chance to improve their prospects by participating in skills training programs aligned with local labor market needs.

For those who are placed in positions, the program pays their wages and social security premiums for six months. In return, companies pledge to permanently employ at least 20% of the trainees after the six-month period. Employers also receive help in applying for work permits, which are paid for through project funds.

This project has a special focus on young people and women and works to ensure that Syrians and Turkish citizens benefit equally. For Syrian beneficiaries, Arabic-Turkish interpreters are on hand to eliminate language barriers at the application stage.

Clearer and faster

Clear communication is central to the project. As few Syrians knew about İŞKUR and the services they provide, most would seek employment through word-of-mouth or social media. Conversely, İŞKUR job counselors had minimal experience of working with Syrians. To bridge these gaps, a communication strategy was developed in tandem with training that was provided to staff.

In addition, the IT systems of the MoFLSS General Directorate of International Labor Force were also improved to accelerate the issuance of work permits for foreigners and to facilitate the work permit process. 


Getting results

By the end of May 2020, more than 9,700 Syrians and 5,500 Turkish citizens had participated in applied training - surpassing the original target of 13,225. Meanwhile, 3,144 individuals had also taken part in language courses and 1,112 had attended skills training programs.

Of the applied training participants, 23% were women – a significant achievement, given existing barriers to affordable childcare and lower education levels among Turkish women. Women accounted for 49% of the participants in language courses and 91% in skills training programs.

Despite the substantial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on businesses, as well as the applied training programs, employers are discovering that the resilience of many who participate in this program. Given the success of the program, all parties seem eager to press on toward a future wherein the stories of people like Jamal and Nuriye become the rule and not the exception.