ConocoPhillips Norway: Helping new residents find their way
From left: Fikre Gibre, Trine Soerum, Sandhya Heide and John Oegreid
From left: Fikre Gibre, Trine Soerum, Sandhya Heide and John Oegreid
In 2017, ConocoPhillips Norway received a request from the nation’s government.
“The Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV) has a program that helps migrants who have been granted asylum in the country prepare to enter the labor force. They contacted us to see if we would be willing to host some of these individuals, provide them with an IT position for six months or longer, and help them with their Norwegian language (Norsk) skills,” said Trine Soerum, manager, IT Europe & North Africa.
Since then, ConocoPhillips Norway IT has hosted two individuals, providing them with on-the-job training, work experience, and opportunities to improve their language capabilities and learn about the country’s culture through social interaction.
Norway, with a population of 5 million, has a history of generously supporting humanitarian causes. In 2017, Norway was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ largest donor relative to population size and the seventh largest donor overall.
Since the European migrant crisis began in 2013, the country has intensified its focus on ensuring that individuals who are granted asylum integrate smoothly into the workforce and Norwegian society at large. To enhance their chances of success, migrants who apply for asylum and are granted a residence permit must attend courses to learn the language and culture.
To help cover living expenses while they adjust to their new environment, the government of Norway provides all migrants with a small monthly stipend. In return, they must accept offers for temporary employment.
“When NAV initially contacted us, they were looking for a good fit for Mustafa Jami Ali, who arrived from Ethiopia with IT experience, a Master of Science in telecommunications, and a Cisco certification,” said Soerum.
Ali joined ConocoPhillips Norway’s network support team in 2017, reporting to Sandhya Heide, supervisor, Network Services & Computing Infrastructure.
“Bringing Mustafa onboard provided a highly qualified resource a chance to use his skills to create value for ConocoPhillips,” said Heide. “In return, Mustafa had the opportunity to get experience in his field in a Norwegian work environment.” Heide and Ali have much in common. Originally from Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean west of Madagascar, Sandhya has lived most of her life abroad. While attending university in England and Scotland, she met and married her Norwegian husband. Living in the U.K. also helped her adapt to cold, windy weather, something that came in handy when she moved to Norway, first to Bergen and then Stavanger.
“Bringing Mustafa onboard provided a highly qualified resource a chance to use his skills to create value for ConocoPhillips,” said Heide. “In return, Mustafa had the opportunity to get experience in his field in a Norwegian work environment.”
Heide shares some details from Ali’s personal story. Mustafa was born and brought up in Ethiopia's Somali community. At that time single and working as a teacher, Mustafa was persecuted; he decided to seek refuge and left the country.
After moving to Norway, the only one in his family to do so, Mustafa lived in a refugee center until he was granted legal resident status and could look for a job. He married a woman from Somalia and was in the country roughly three years before starting at ConocoPhillips Norway.
“Getting the ConocoPhillips badge, a computer and his name on the door made him feel welcome. We included him in weekly team meetings so he could experience how we work together. He worked very closely with a network analyst and built excellent relationships with members of our team,” Heide said.
“To help Mustafa adjust, we encouraged him to have lunch with the team and sponsored his meals because he wasn’t earning a lot of money. It encouraged him to socialize with Norwegians, get accustomed to using the language, and better understand the culture.”
Ali completed one year at ConocoPhillips Norway in December 2018, including a paid summer position, and is currently interviewing externally for full-time positions. He has stayed in touch with his former colleagues.
“We’ve used our network within the local IT community to promote Mustafa, and he has now completed a short-term assignment with a local IT company,” Sandhya said. “We welcome the program, and IT’s positive attitude to inclusion and trying new things sets a good example for others.”
Soerum echoes Heide’s sentiments. “This experience was great for Mustafa but also for IT. The department saw value in the diversity he brought to the team, as well as his skills. Also, he has a likable personality and was eager to learn and complete his assigned tasks.”
Because of the positive experience with Ali, the IT department has also welcomed Fikre Gebre, who is working three days a week with the onsite support group. Gebre came to Norway with a Bachelor of Science in electrical and software engineering.
“HR reached out to us after being contacted by NAV to see if we had language practice space for a person working with computers. We did a short introductory interview and got a good impression,” said John Oegreid, supervisor, Onsite IT Infrastructure & Service Desk. “I’m pleased to welcome him to my team. He has done a terrific job for us, and he adds valuable resources. We have a lot of work to do and are short on staff, so having him here has been a great help.”
Gebre, who like Ali comes from Ethiopia, has been in Norway almost a year and a half and came into the country through the family reunification program. His uncle, a retired teacher, has been in Norway approximately eight years. Gebre had started his education in Ethiopia, studying computer technology.
“My main reason for coming to Norway was to get a good education,” said Gebre. “I like working at ConocoPhillips. Everyone has been really friendly and helpful in learning the language.”
On a five-year visa, he started a Norsk course last August and must pass a test before being admitted into the University of Stavanger to finish his studies in electrical and computer engineering. He hopes to complete his education, perhaps including a master’s degree, and then look for a job.
“We learned that ConocoPhillips Norway can make a difference to someone and contribute to society by helping new residents become fully integrated into Norwegian society so that they are able to find employment and support themselves.”
“We accidentally stumbled into this program,” Oegreid said. “It’s good to give something back to the community, and we are rewarded by having Fikre here.”
What does the future hold for the NAV program at ConocoPhillips?
“HR is trying to match candidates with other departments within the company,” Soerum said. “We learned that ConocoPhillips Norway can make a difference to someone and contribute to society by helping new residents become fully integrated into Norwegian society so that they are able to find employment and support themselves.”