L-R: Oleksandr Petrykov, Job Search Coordinator at LUkraine asbl & founder of LetzCompare.lu; Jazmin Campbell, journalist at Chronicle.lu; Credit: Chronicle.lu

On Friday 9 September 2022, Chronicle.lu sat down with Oleksandr Petrykov of LUkraine asbl for a video interview to learn about his role in helping Ukrainian refugees find a job in Luxembourg, as well as what he believes to be their main barriers to employment.

Oleksandr, Job Search Coordinator at LUkraine asbl and founder of the price comparison startup LetzCompare.lu, has dedicated the past few months to supporting Ukrainian refugees in their job search in Luxembourg.

Originally from Ukraine, Oleksandr left his home country twelve years ago to pursue his studies and eventually his professional career abroad. He studied business management and administration, as well as digital marketing, in the United Kingdom (UK) and later worked at various companies in the Netherlands and Belgium, before moving to Luxembourg almost five years ago. In August 2021, he founded LetzCompare, Luxembourg's first price comparison website for home internet, television, smartphones and SIM-only plans.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Oleksandr found himself experiencing an "identity crisis". He felt he had to choose between focusing all his energy on his startup or putting this to one side to support his fellow Ukrainians. Ultimately, he decided to volunteer at LUkraine asbl, initially within the media team. He quickly realised from various meetings organised by LUkraine asbl with refugees that these new arrivals needed support finding employment in Luxembourg. He noted that many of them wanted "to contribute to society". With some 5,000 refugees having arrived in Luxembourg, there was also an opportunity for Luxembourg's labour market to find new talent. Oleksandr added that "Luxembourg is really experiencing a big shortage of talent in every sector, whether it’s HORECA [hospitality], whether it’s accounting [or] the construction industry". He also felt that he could be of help to these new arrivals since he remembered what it was like to arrive in a new country and have to adapt one's mentality to the local market.

Creating CVs from scratch

One initial service offered by Oleksandr, together with his colleague, fellow volunteer Liza Lepska, was a CV workshop for refugees, many of whom did not have an up-to-date (or any) CV or had left their laptops behind in Ukraine as they fled the war. Since the launch of this service in mid-May 2022, Oleksandr and Liza have created about 80 CVs for Ukrainian refugees. Having put together a database of about 300 individuals, including details about their professional backgrounds, Oleksandr noted that several Luxembourgish businesses had also reached out to LUkraine asbl with job requests for refugees. Oleksandr estimated that his team directed 90 candidates to hiring employers, although whether the refugees secured said jobs was not always confirmed. He personally helped place five refugees in jobs, namely in restaurants and in the construction sector.

Barriers to employment

Regarding the main challenges and barriers to employment facing Ukrainian refugees in Luxembourg, Oleksandr highlighted language skills. "The biggest challenge is language", he confirmed, adding that he was disappointed that many employers in Luxembourg were not willing "to take chances". He highlighted the example of the hospitality sector, which is constantly searching for talent but also demands, in Oleksandr's experience, that staff speak several languages. "Even for the jobs working back in the kitchen, doing dishes, they were asking for French", he noted, adding that employers in Luxembourg (not just those in hospitality), were "still dreaming about an ideal candidate which doesn't exist".

"I think this is the main barrier", he elaborated. “Of course, when you're the owner of a business, you put money on the line and you need to train staff, but you need to understand they are not immigrants who decided to leave their country to start a new life somewhere else, […] they're refugees. [...] They need time. If you would [have] hired them in the beginning of the war, […] I guarantee they would be already speaking basic, conversational French".

"The industry here is too afraid to take chances", he continued, whilst recognising that there were a few exceptions to this rule.

Pilot accounting training programme

Oleksandr played a key role in setting up a new pilot accounting training programme aimed at adapting the skills of Ukrainian refugee professionals to the Luxembourg market. LUkraine asbl, together with the House of Training, launched this programme just last week, on Friday 2 September 2022, as part of what Oleksandr described as a shifting focus to "full-scale training projects". Regarding the decision to focus on accounting in this pilot phase, he referred to statistics published by STATEC earlier this year which showed that accounting was one of the professions where "there is the biggest gap in the market" in Luxembourg. The CV workshop had also revealed that there were a lot of professional accountants among Ukrainian refugees in Luxembourg. All this contributed to the decision to launch this new project.

The first training programme caters to the needs of ten selected individuals with at least conversational English skills and a professional accounting background. Together with the coaches and the House of Training, Oleksandr and Liza tailored the initial concept to the participants' backgrounds. "This group is really high level in terms of English, in terms of work experience", explained Oleksandr. "They just need a little bit of understanding of the local market [and] local regulations". In addition to guidance, the programme offers participants personalised coaching: five personal and life coaches, some of whom have over 30 years of experience in the financial sector, are involved in the project. "We have a fantastic set of coaches who will guide these ten people on how to understand the local job requirements, how to adapt yourself, how to present yourself in an interview […] and to understand the local employers", added Oleksandr, particularly highlighting the importance of soft skills in Luxembourg compared to Ukraine where such skills are "quite often overlooked".

Based on how successful this first training programme is, LUkraine asbl will consider looking for funding to open up additional places for different levels. The programme may even expand to other in-demand areas, such as ICT. "Among the refugees, we have IT specialists who are also teachers and they can teach coding classes", noted Oleksandr. "We’ll see how we can maybe utilise their expertise to […] maybe graduate […] junior IT experts for specific industries".

Early feedback from both the participants and the coaches has been overwhelmingly positive. Oleksandr recognised that it was also important to be able to match the right personalities, adding that he believed they would be "really productive" together. A few coaching sessions began this week, although the professional courses will start next week.

Finally, when asked what message he would like to give employers in Luxembourg in relation to Ukrainian refugee jobseekers, Oleksandr said: "The main message is: don’t waste this opportunity. You have a wonderful scale of talents that is currently in the country". He added that employers should not avoid hiring a Ukrainian refugee out of fear that they will return home after the war. "I reassure you the people who are looking for a job, they are likely here to stay. They will not go back home, because either their home is in a bad situation or they don’t see their life there anymore", he elaborated. "So, don't be afraid to take a chance. Don't be afraid to hire them, even if they have poor language skills, because it's either you’re losing the serving capacity […], or whatever capacity you're losing, or you just give someone a chance and […] then they will bring more benefit than you expect".

The full video interview is available below: