A happy ending

Habibollah Hashemi, a young migrant from Afghanistan, has an inspirational story to tell. He describes his journey from a young boy abandoned to fend for himself in his adopted home of Tehran to the winner of the SwissSkills competition.

SwissSkills winner Habibollah Hashemi

And the winner is: Habibollah Hashemi, an apprentice from Winterthur and gold medallist for his parquet installation.

His path to success was difficult, and lasted more than ten years. “I fled to live with my uncle in Tehran when I was 11 years old,” he begins, somewhat hesitantly. He had to learn Persian very quickly when his uncle left the Iranian capital just five months later – and abandoned Habibollah to fend for himself. He worked on building sites around the city until he was about 15 years old.

In 2016, he made the decision to leave for Europe, travelling for more than three weeks to get there. Habibollah recalls the harrowing journey: “I first went to Turkey, and from there took a dinghy to Greece with 48 other migrants. We were lucky to survive.” He eventually came to Switzerland via Germany. “Other Afghanis were always telling me how I should go to Switzerland because it is such a beautiful, safe place.”

Arriving at the federal asylum centre in Kreuzlingen without travel documents, Habibollah ended up in Embrach. Today the 20-year-old lives in Winterthur. “The hardest thing was learning the language,” he recalls. “I went to a school for migrants, and I knew right away that I would need to master the language if I wanted to become part of society.” It was also at the language school that Habibollah met Meriton, a young man from Albania. “He took me along to my current host company and introduced me there.” This marked the beginning of an impressive period of self-development.

For trainer Fabian Mathis, Habibollah measured up to the job

Habibollah had arrived at Brunner Sewi, the company that would become his employer and the host company for his apprenticeship. “We saw straightaway that he was very talented. But after he completed his internship, we told him that he first had to speak the language better,” as parquet project manager Fabian Mathis recalls. So Habibollah went on to do an additional year of schooling and then attended INVOL, a pre-apprenticeship programme designed to help migrants enter the job market. In 2020, he finally began his apprenticeship as a flooring and parquet installer, a qualification he will complete this summer.

Habibollah made great strides during his apprenticeship, as well as steadily improving his language skills, which prompted his trainer to sign him up for the SwissSkills competition. Making it to the final and then winning the event demonstrate his remarkable talent and enormous will to succeed. “I was really motivated and saw this event as a huge opportunity,” he says. Habibollah won the jury over with a parquet design that he created himself. “I also want to take this opportunity to thank my trainer, Fabian Mathis. He supported me through the whole process, he was always willing to discuss ideas and always stood by me.”

Habibollah has reached a new high point in his young career, but he is already looking to the future. “The next thing I would like to do is see my family over the summer. My mother travelled to Kabul recently, and she was able to see a video of my appearance at SwissSkills. Now I would like to meet up with my whole family to share my happiness.”

For Fabian and his crew, Habibollah’s is a classic success story: “Everything just came together perfectly. It’s a great feeling to see someone realise their potential.”

Habibollah won the SwissSkills final with this parquet design

INVOL – tapping the potential of the domestic labour force Pfeil nach unten

The federal government, cantons and interested trade associations have jointly set up INVOL, a pre-apprenticeship programme which prepares migrants for vocational and educational training.

Results after four cycles Pfeil nach unten

More than 3,000 refugees and migrants have attended the pilot programme in one of the 18 participating cantons. After their year in INVOL, around two thirds of participants successfully went on to a traditional vocational education and training programme.

Programme becomes permanent Pfeil nach unten

The Swiss parliament has decided that INVOL will become a permanent programme starting in 2024. There will also be some changes, especially with regard to improving access for people outside of the asylum system.

For example, migrants in need of additional education are to be consistently identified by civil registry offices or the migration authorities as soon as they arrive, and then registered for careers advice when appropriate. Suitable candidates will be selected for enrolment in the INVOL programme in preparation for vocational and educational training.

Further information on the programme is available at www.sem.admin.ch/invol (de/fr/it)