6c - Cultural diversity

 Ethnic minorities
One of today's big challenges is that we have to relate more and more to other cultural backgrounds.

For example, in UK, ethnic minorities are less likely to find and sustain employment than their counterparts - and this disadvantage has persisted for more than a decade.

In general, we lack insight into the situation of young ethnic minorities, who may find themselves daily caught between two cultures and two sets of values.

This can be very difficult for the individual youth. But can also mature a girl/boy enormously, as it requires great strength: Insight, language competencies, negotiating skills, historical and geographical knowledge, the courage to be different etc.
  • Does your apprentice need support in this process?
  • Or can you actually learn something from the development and competencies of the apprentice?
Additional information about employment of ethnic minorities in UK: www.emetaskforce.gov.uk
 "We look at qualifications, not names"

A growing number of apprentices are ethnic minorities - also known as "immigrant youth" or "bilingual students". The trades will need manpower in the coming years, so attracting applicants now, despite their ethnic background, is important.

Everyone has something to offer. And companies will have more applicants to choose between. You hear more and more often, that a company "looks at qualifications, not names".

So far, unfortunately often only the 'bad' stories are told about ethnic minority apprentices. Bad stories happen and don't necessarily have anything to do with an immigration background. The good stories are seldom told. In Denmark, a collection of stories was published in 2006, told by companies, who are very pleased with their apprentices from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The collection of stories can be ordered as a free pamphlet from the Ministry of Integration: www.brugforalleunge.dk

The pamphlet is published in 6 languages, and thus readable also for the apprentices’ parents (English, French, Turkish, Bosnian, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu).

Example from Denmark: Painter Ove Laursen & Søn
Ove Laursen has 9-12 employees; 3 are apprentices. Abdel is one of them.

"If Abdel can do something for me, he does it. If it means doing overtime, as when we had a big night job for the railway - he's on the spot".

"Last year I got a Christmas greeting from a customer, whom Abdel had done a job for. It was a photo for Abdel with a thank you note for a well done job.

Some places, when a foreigner comes, they pay extra attention to how hard they work. They often have to prove their worth. I think that Abdel actually helps to counteract any prejudices my customers might have".


Most people are surprised to hear that being unilingual (having one language) is an exception! Bi- or multilingualism is found in societies, where several language or ethnic groups exist.

Denmark is an exception to the norm, along with Iceland and Japan, being the only nations in the world characterised by being "monocultural" and "unilingual.

A language teacher from Aarhus Sprogcenter, Denmark, about bilingual employees' Danish language skills in the workplace:

"The employee's objective language skills are not usually the important thing. What colleagues and the boss are willing to accept and how the employee uses his/her competencies, is often more important."

Some additional information: When you train bilingual apprentices

 Your language requirements

Make your expectations of language skills clear, before you hire the apprentice:

  • Necessary technical terms?
  • Is reading in the country's official language a necessary skill? Such as reading customer orders or internal newsletters?
  • Is writing in the country's official language necessary? If yes, how much and at what level?

In the job interview, you should clarify how the apprentice should increase language skills. Ask if he/she agrees. The apprentice will need to know his/her level of language skills and want to learn more of the country's official language.


Talking about religion doesn't have to be a taboo. It can take courage to ask about something that seems like a personal matter. But if done with respect and consideration, it can give valuable dialogue.

Employers aren't interested in work being disturbed by religious acts. So you should be clear about whether or not it is ok to pray at work, as long as it takes place during breaks and doesn't get in the way of work.

If you have a canteen, where your employees can have their lunch, be aware that in some religions, certain foods are not allowed. It would be nice to offer an alternative.

Example Baker and Confectioner Modeco, Ringsted, Denmark
Modeco has 4 employees, 2 of whom are apprentices. Samer is one of them.

"Neither of our two ethnic minority apprentices is especially religious. Samer is a Muslim, but religion doesn't interest him very much. Occasionally we discuss things like the Iraqi war and the differences between Islam and Christianity. It's interesting to hear what the young people here think about those subjects".

 Different cultural backgrounds

Some companies worry about employing several apprentices with different cultural backgrounds.

There can be hidden conflict material that can be difficult for the trainer to see through.

On the other hand, the trainer can't know whether conflicts between countries of origin actually will be important to the apprentices.

If you need advice, you can contact the municipality, for example. In a range of countries, municipalities have experienced integration consultants.

You can choose to avoid culture clashes. You can also choose to make the decision in each separate case, according to the individual apprentices, who apply.

Some larger companies say that the encounter between employees with different cultural backgrounds isn't a problem, because the ethnic minorities have teamwork around daily tasks.


6 - The apprentice's background