If we agree that integration is a shared responsibility, why are employers and business still sitting this one out?

THE theme of this year’s EUROCITIES integrating Cities conference (Milan 7th/8th November 2018) was ‘CITIES GROW – Cities integrating refugees and migrants through work,’ but one aspect of integration and economic growth – the role of business and employers – remains conspicuously absent.

In her introduction to the conference, the Secretary General of EUROCITIES, Anna Lisa Boni, rightly identified building public narratives of consent on migration as a vital component of building cohesive and integrated cities.

However, whilst the economic impact of immigration in driving inclusive economic growth is evident, the voice of business in the debate and the role of employers in practice, at both the national and the city level, is surprisingly absent.

One session dedicated to labour market integration identified some of the ways that municipalities are working around this absence.

NewCo Helsinki and the Migrant Entrepreneurship Growth Agenda of the Milan Chamber of Commerce both promote entrepreneurship and self-employment as an alternative to employment in response to the difficulties for migrants in getting into employment with established companies.

However, whilst these programmes provide strong support for entrepreneurship, they do not address the systemic gaps which perhaps disproportionately skew migrants towards self-employment.

Some of these are particular to the barriers that migrants face (such as, lack of adequate employer orientated language provision, or the capacity to translate qualifications obtained overseas).

There are also more general barriers which affect all disadvantaged groups, related to systemic biases within recruitment processes which prevent many groups from entering the workplace and progressing.

Indeed, the Chamber of Commerce has deliberately built their programme around the idea that the market of entrepreneurship may act as a more level playing field than the often biased experience of the labour market which migrants might otherwise experience.

Whilst this may seem a sensible policy response (and is successful for some), setting up your own business is tough, with an inherent level of risk which may not be right for everyone.

Whilst promoting entrepreneurship for those enterprising individuals who make a strong contribution to the local economy – including showcasing those migrant businesses who become local employers – we should not lose sight of the prize of integration into the wider labour market and the role that employers could play in changing their practice.


Some cities are trying to engage with employers or find alternative solutions.

The Integrating Cities ‘CITIES GROW’ programme has, unusually, focused on the buying power of local government to try to shift employer practice through procurement and the tools of social value.

Birmingham is using the council’s Commissioning Strategy and Social Value Charter to try to embed social value within its buying programmes, to ensure that this important aspect of local authority leverage is maximized to meet the strategic aims of the city.

Similarly, its USE-IT project (a UIA initiative) is working with local employers to get local residents into employment through identification of skills gaps for employers and working with local businesses to tender for these contracts.

Milan’s Centre for Job Orientation and Placement (CELAV) has worked hard to build relationships with employers.

Their training programme provides language provision and support, in line with traditional job search.

However, it is their relationships with employers which marks out the approach.

They pay a stipend for internships, which then converts into employment. One partnership with a popular Milan pizza chain trained 20 young formerly unaccompanied asylum seekers – 15 of whom ultimately went into paid employment following the placement.

Importantly for an inclusive approach, the programme is not solely migrant focussed, but is open to all those who meet the municipalities’ criteria for the programme.


At the European level, there is a similar sense that better employer links are needed and the recently launched Employers Together for Integration is working with a number of large corporations on initiatives which promote labour market integration (though with a skew towards those initiatives which can be defined as ‘corporate social responsibility’ and which predominantly focus on refugees rather than wider groups.)

These initiatives demonstrate some of the ways that local government could use the power that it has both as an employer itself and through its buying power alongside the softer role it can play as a leader and a convenor to bring employers and others to the table.

The Global Exchange on Migration and Diversity’s Inclusive Cities programme is working with six UK cities to develop a local Taskforce for inclusion in each city bringing together key partners – including employers – though the convening power of the local authority to create a step change to the inclusion of newcomers at the local level.

However, the responsibility does not only lie with city administrations.

There is a strong case for business and employers to take a greater leadership role.

Businesses who rely on external investment, either financially or of talent, need to be involved in making the business case for well managed migration but also to acknowledge the challenges and opportunities which exist and to take responsibility for getting involved in integration and inclusion at the local level.

Employer embedded language provision, initiatives which encourage contact both in the workplace and in the local community could help to mitigate the polarization and division we see in relation to migration and inclusion and help to form the partnerships and planning which will lead to genuinely inclusive economic growth shared by all.

If, as London’s Social Integration Strategy says, inclusion is a matter for ‘All of Us,’ isn’t it time that employers stepped up and cities welcomed them to the table?


This blog originally appeared on The Social Change Initiative on 21 November 2018.