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Anonymous job seekers defy discrimination

Young foreigners have fewer chances than the Swiss


School leavers in canton Zurich will now be able to apply anonymously for job apprenticeships using an online system designed to counter race discrimination.

Applicants with foreign names or who come from another country are less likely to be offered interviews, official data shows. The project's founders hope it will stem a "social time bomb" of youth unemployment.

The Swiss Association of Commercial Employees launched the "Smart Selection" scheme on Monday with the aim of giving everyone a fair chance of getting a foot on the first rung of the career ladder after they leave school.

It mirrors similar projects that have been introduced in other countries, including France and the Netherlands.

Official records show that companies in canton Zurich are overlooking a growing number of young people of foreign origin in the annual round of apprenticeship placements.

In 1996 the percentage of "foreign" school leavers who missed out on apprenticeships was roughly equal to the total proportion of failed applicants. However, this year far more of this minority group were left out in the cold compared to the overall total.

Ralf Margreiter, head of the Association's youth department, told a conference on Monday that discrimination was getting worse.

Canton parliament rejection

"These days anyone who has the wrong name will often not even get invited for work placements or to an interview," he said.

"Discrimination on the grounds of someone's name or country of origin is particularly bad in a liberal, performance-based education and economic system."

The next crop of school leavers will now have a chance to sidestep discrimination by leaving these details out when they apply online for apprenticeships starting next summer.

The Association took the initiative to design a website to match candidates with vacancies after the cantonal parliament recently voted against setting up such a scheme.

The pilot project will initially run for a year and organisers hope it will do as well as a similar project in canton Geneva that has been hailed a success since its inception two years ago.

About 40 companies offering around 100 apprenticeships have so far voluntarily signed up to the Smart Selection project. One of them is the Swiss branch of Swedish truck makers Scania.

Integration tool

Ursi Hug, Scania Switzerland head of personnel, said the online application procedure would save the company time and money. And she admitted that personal information on application forms was sometimes counterproductive.

"Photographs, birthplaces and names can also unwittingly influence the professionals during the selection process," she said.

The scheme comes against the backdrop of a growing debate about youth crime in Switzerland, particularly amongst young people of foreign origin. Margreiter believes that one answer is to get more youths into the workplace regardless of race.

"If you want people to integrate into society then you have to offer an equal chance of getting work," he told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

Canton Zurich statistics reveal that school leavers of foreign origin are increasingly more likely to be turned down for apprenticeships.
In 1996, 25.04% of "foreign" school leavers with good grades were overlooked compared with 21.19% of all school leavers with successful exam results.
This year the percentage of good grade "foreigners" without apprenticeships leapt to 32.38% compared with a total rate of 18.5%.

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In brief

The issue of young foreigners without work was a hot topic in France after the race related riots in 2005.

At the time, a voluntary anonymous CV scheme in Bordeaux was highlighted for showing that foreign job seekers were more likely to get interviews if employers could not see their name or address.

A scheme that began in 2006 in Nijmegen in the Netherlands has produced similar results. The initial six-month experiment was extended for the same period in May.

The Dutch branch of employment agency Manpower started a nationwide pilot project of the same nature in June.

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