A man in his forties, dressed smart casual. A man with a purpose in life. Learning & development is his steel. ‘I feel alive when I am at work conducting trainings and presentations.’ He shows me a file that presents a meticulous overview of his achievements over the past three years in the Netherlands. Courses, acknowledgements, certificates. Presentations, guest lectures and conducted trainings for universities, municipalities, ngo’s and companies. Lists of attended meetings in the field of culture, heritage and business. A man in action throughout almost all provinces in the Netherlands after a long career in the Emirates and Syria. A man who’s education was partly British, who visited 27 countries and worked with many Europeans. Despite all efforts and dedication this international professional is still unemployed.
Over the past years he started out setting up his own company. The municipality didn’t like his idea from the beginning. ‘This will never work starting your own business as a freelance trainer’, has been their motivational advice ever since. It is a long and exhausting journey through the Dutch jungle of paper and regulations. Hope is the master of all doubts so the journey continues. Like many new talented citizens this open and motivated professional didn’t come to the Netherlands for a small dream.
His dreams are big and he is not settling for less. Efforts to obtain a fulltime fixed job are explored. While being busy at the job market, raising a family, at the same time writing a work of literature, preparing a PhD at Leiden University. An overview of poetry from the early times in the Middle East till now, focussing on poetry from Aleppo. ‘I have to pursue finishing this work before my parents will pass away.’
Living in a small village in the Netherlands his observations are: ‘Sometimes I feel like I am living in a museum. Everything is well organized yet there is no life in the streets. Where to meet people? The villagers are friendly but as it is a small community here I get the feeling that I have to stay in my own territory and it seems not appropriate to come close. I have written over a hundred job applications. Often I never heard anything or I received a letter of refusal. Slowly by slowly I start to feel like a stranger. A stranger within me. Even my own name doesn’t feel right in this context.’
‘It seems strange to me that, although I only have changed my context, nothing seems to work. I have a lot of experience, capacities and skills and although I hear on the news that there are many jobs available somehow I don’t find any options. You would think that my expertise as a professional trainer in a commercial environment would be of international value. Although the principles are the same it is still difficult to get access to the Dutch labour market. Let alone that people working in this field appreciate that a trainer with a different background can be of added value. ‘I have recently started to doubt if I should change my name. I wonder if this will give me a better starting point?’
It is known that Jewish people who left Europe during the Second World War flying to the United States have changed their names. ‘A well-worn joke in American Jewish culture goes like this. A Jewish immigrant landed at Ellis Island in New York. The procedures were confusing, and he was overwhelmed by the commotion. When one of the officials asked him “What is your name?” he replied, “Shayn fergessen,” which in Yiddish means “I’ve already forgotten.” The official then recorded his name as Sean Ferguson.’ ‘The explanation of this joke is more than a simple joke. It illustrates the ways that Jewish people have struggled, and continue to struggle, with their identity in America,’ explains associate professor Kirsten Fermaglich. ‘Jewish Americans changed their names, but not at Ellis Island. Her research suggests they changed their names in disproportionate numbers compared with other groups in response to American anti-Semitism.’ Being called Sean Ferguson it turned out much easier to find a job.
The training professional continues: ‘I have some recent experiences that strongly gave me the impression that my name is working against me. I am a business man, so I look at it in a practical way. I cannot change the situation, yet I can change my name. I already found out that it will cost 800 euro to make this happen. Changing my name will give me a better future.’ What’s in a name?
When in Toronto the government and businesses are in agreement: Diversity our strength. This mantra is inscribed on the city’s coat of arms. Toronto is one of the most successful innovative urban economies in North America. An open attitude towards innovation and diversity. At the Toronto University celebrated economists like David Wolfe have now even scientifically proven that diversity is indeed of value.
The story of the training professional doesn’t stand on its own. Many skilled professionals, new citizens, find little or no work. Is there any reason why the principle of diversity would not apply to the businesses in the Netherlands?