Mentoring for migrants: integration of migrants into the Austrian labour market

Written by Sabine Sonja Brunner*

About 1,8 million people living in Austria have a migration background. Mobility and migratory flow are expected to increase further in the years to come, both in Europe and worldwide. Over the past years, immigration from abroad has accounted for 95 % of population growth in Austria. Against this background, the issue of integration is continuously gaining in importance.

Finding a job is one of the most essential criteria of successful integration. At the same time, a continuous dialogue between immigrants and the host society is crucial for integration to become a reality in people’s everyday lives.

The “Mentoring for Migrants” programme of the Federal Economic Chamber, the Austrian Integration Fund and the Labour Market Service combines the aspects mentioned above by establishing contacts between successful business leaders (mentors) and qualified workers with a migration background (mentees). The objective of the mentoring programme is to support mentees in their endeavours to participate in the Austrian labour market and to promote the internationalisation of the Austrian economy.

The Mentoring for Migrants” programme was established in 2008 at the initiative of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (WKO) in cooperation with its project partners, the Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF) and the Labour Market Service (AMS). Within the framework of this programme, well-connected members of the business community support qualified people with a migration background in their efforts to participate in the Austrian labour market. “Mentoring for Migrants” is a unique project in the German-speaking region. To date, nearly 1.800 mentoring pairs have been formed, and numerous mentees have already gained a foothold on the Austrian labour market, not least thanks to support from their mentors.

Many people with a migration background living in Austria would be qualified enough to find employment in this country, but they do not have the necessary contacts and are not familiar with the Austrian labour market. Mentors can help them fill these gaps and make it easier for them to obtain a job in Austria. The fact that 78% of all job-seekers in Austria rely on personal networks clearly illustrates the great importance of informal knowledge for success in the labour market.

For many companies, especially those with international operations, language skills, experience gained abroad and mobility are important recruitment criteria. Immigrants meet many of these criteria and therefore have the potential to contribute resources of great value to corporate development. It is, above all, their familiarity with the specific situation of their country of origin, including the legal framework, the mentality of the people and the local culture that makes them attractive for potential employers. Having employees with a migration background may also help companies to gain acceptance in their target countries. “Mentoring for Migrants” enables Austrian companies to derive a competitive advantage from cultural diversity.

The “Mentoring for Migrants” project is targeted at people with a migration background who meet the minimum requirement of a completed apprenticeship or have undergone higher-level training, have a sufficient command of German and are permitted to access the Austrian labour market. The mentors are members of the business community with sufficient experience and social skills.

Matching of mentors and mentees as a factor of success

The central element of the programme is the matching process, i.e. the action of bringing together mentors and mentees; this is the responsibility of the project sponsors. Finding well-suited mentoring pairs is essential for the successful development of the mentoring relationship and therefore demands particular attention and sensitivity.

To obtain a good match, special attention is paid to occupational (e.g. sector, type of training) and regional factors (e.g. target markets of the company, region of origin of the mentee) as well as language skills. The objective of the project is to ensure a mutually enriching exchange.

Two examples of successful matching:

  • A project participant with IT training finds a mentor working in the IT sector.
  • An executive of a company with intensive business relations with Serbia finds a mentee of Serbian origin.

About five hours per month are dedicated to the mentoring partnership, which is intended to last for six months. Among other things, mentors support their mentees when applying for a job, e.g. by simulating job interviews or referring them to people they know. Moreover, they can offer valuable feedback in the form of a reality check, informing mentees about realistic possibilities of putting their qualifications and their work experience gained abroad to good use in Austria.


As said above, to date nearly 1.800 mentoring pairs have already been formed. After every project cycle an evaluation is performed. Here are some of the most recent results:

  • 96 % of the mentors appreciate mentoring as a very meaningful instrument for the integration of migrants into the labour market.
  • 43 % of the mentees have already been integrated into the labour market.
  • 86 % of the mentors feel that they themselves derive a benefit from the programme.
  • 98 % of the mentors believe that multilingualism and international transfer of know-how are strengthening the Austrian business location.
  • 78 % of the mentors think that the specific acknowledgement of the mentees can be used by the local companies in order to extend their activities abroad.

The “Mentoring for Migrants” programme is in a continuous process of further development. For up-to-date information on the project, please visit

*Sabine Sonja Brunner is Advisor for Migration and Integration at the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber – WKO