World Refugee Week: WeWork plans to hire 1,500 refugee workers

Amelia Heathman
WeWork is hosting English language classes for refugees at three of its London locations: WeWork

Global co-working space WeWork wants to hire 1,500 refugee workers across the globe and is partnering with the UK-based charity Breaking Barriers to do so.

In the UK alone there are 120,000 refugees with the legal right to work, yet more than 70 per cent are unemployed thanks to the cultural and language barriers in place.

This tie-up between WeWork and Breaking Barriers, a charity that provides education and employment support to the UK’s refugee population, will see the partnership offer training and professional support with the view to removing these barriers and arms refugees with the skills they need for future employment.

At three of WeWork’s London locations, Breaking Barriers will be hosting English language classes and workshops to increase access to opportunities for refugees.

The workshops will focus on different skills such as customer service, so the charity’s clients can improve their chances of employment.

How the WeWork Refugee Hiring Initiative began

The work WeWork is going to be doing with Breaking Barriers goes back to early 2017. The tech company, which is reportedly worth $35 billion, partnered with the International Rescue Committee to launch a pilot programme to employ refugees in New York.

After six months, WeWork had successfully hired 150 employees in 10 cities, including Boston and London.

It was this that made the company decide to expand out the programme to hire 1,500 refugees across the globe, as part of its Refugee Hiring Initiative.

But, the initiative isn’t just focused on growing WeWork’s staff numbers. WeWork member companies such as Starbucks, Airbnb and Dropbox have all pledged their support to recruit refugee job seekers.

Starbucks, in particular, is focusing on the recruitment aspect. Following US president Trump’s travel ban in early 2017, the company announced it would hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years.

At the time, Starbucks’ former CEO Howard Schultz said: “We are doubling down on this commitment by working with our equity market employees as well as joint venture and licensed market partners in a concerted effort to welcome and seek opportunities for those fleeing war, violence, persecution and discrimination.”

Starbucks' Howard Schulz said the company will hire 10,000 refugees over five years (AP)

Tech is increasingly trying to find ways to tackle the problems faced by refugees when settling in new countries.

The UK challenger bank Monzo recently launched a new financial inclusion initiative to expand the types of identity documents needed to get a bank account in the UK.

Monzo’s head of community and marketing, Tristan Thomas, told the Standard: “It’s about getting people onto the ladder in the first place with an account number and sort code so they can get paid.”

As well as using its platform for good, WeWork says it makes good business sense to hire refugees. It is seeing an 80 per cent retention rate amongst its refugee employees.

This is something Breaking Barriers is keen to stress too. Instead of supporting refugees solely through philanthropy, the charity is focused on creating a model that is more sustainable in the long term.

As WeWork grows globally, so does its refugee employment mission. As part of World Refugee Week this week, it has announced it is expanding the initiative to Latin America, starting with Brazil and Colombia, as these are the countries seeing high intakes of refugees from Venezuela.

The company says this initiative will include awareness and education campaigns in WeWork’s Latin America offices, as well as leveraging its space and member community to support refugee integration through job fairs.