Migration history – a categorisation with consequences
Numerous studies (e.g. PIAAC etc.), which look at the issue of “immigrant background”, prove that this categorisation is often accompanied by disadvantages within the school system, on the job market and more. However, I would like to challenge the significance of this category; in Germany, it is commonly accepted that people with at least one parent born in a different country are categorised as having a history of migration or an immigration background. The group of people that this covers is thus extremely heterogeneous and it is well worth looking at individual cases.
The series of interviews that I conducted for the study “Transformational Learning Processes of Female Entrepreneurs with Migrant Backgrounds” (Laros 2015, Transformative Lernprozesse von Unternehmerinnen mit Migrationsgeschichte) look at the learning processes of women with migrant family backgrounds, who have established a place for themselves on the German labour market by founding a company. The study results show that
- that the biggest challenges for founding a company are closely related to personal development and training an entrepreneurial image of oneself;
- that in the course of becoming business owners, the women develop a reflected perception both in terms of Germany and their country of origin;
- that in becoming business owners, the women acquire an integrative behaviour, which can have a positive effect on the social participation of others.
Formal adult education should focus more on skills and expertise gained in a professional context.
Founding a business as a learning process
In particular for people with an immigrant background, founding a company represents one way of finding a place for oneself on the German job market appropriate to one’s own qualifications.
Founding a company presents the founder with numerous challenges. Business plans need to be written, assets frequently need to be obtained, and once the company has been created it is often impossible to think of long-term planning, as the top priority is to keep the company running. Clients and jobs must be acquired and turnover needs to be high enough to cover the running costs. And those are just the formal challenges.
In their interviews, the founders talk about how they become business owners and how they overcame the challenges facing them. However, the aforementioned formal aspects of being a business owner did not play a central role in these challenges. As one interviewee expressed it, “the business matters happen automatically”.
Instead, the biggest challenges reported by these women were associated with developing a perception of oneself as an entrepreneur. The interviewees repeatedly found themselves in situations in which they realised that they still had to learn how to act like a business owner. Examples of such situations include a conflict with a colleague and the related role as a boss, which had not yet been learned, or when registering imported goods with customs. It is noticeable that the women tend to relate the challenges arising in such situations to themselves, whereby themes such as “insecurity” and “lack of confidence” take centre stage.
Informal educational paths
Informal learning methods help the women to develop a more entrepreneurial self-image. Their informal learning processes exhibit a range of special characteristics:
- At the start of their entrepreneurial activities, the women experience a sharp increase in their workload and they often make mistakes. They frame this in a positive manner by ascertaining that both of these aspects are to be taken for granted as elements of founding a business.
- Once they have founded their company, they gradually acquire the business knowledge that they are lacking. They learn through their actions.
- They establish contact with people from both professional and private networks.
- They find a source of strength in remembering previous successes throughout their professional career.
It is these informal methods of learning which help the women succeed in learning relevant business knowledge, acquiring entrepreneurial skills, generating strength and recognition and having a positive outlook for the future. They do not let setbacks and obstacles get them down for long. As one interviewee said, “Stumbling, falling down, getting up again; breaking through the wall to get straight to your goal.”
Learning beyond business
Once women have learnt how to act as a business owner, they demonstrate behaviour that goes far beyond the mere act of running a company. After they have established their company on the market, making economic profit becomes less of a priority. The women begin to take on a sense of civic responsibility and support other people with a migrant background. An example of this is the owner of a language school who allowed one course participant to take a second course for free after failing to pass the German test, despite trying extremely hard. She justified her decision by saying that she felt a sense of shared responsibility for making sure the student passed the test as she had experienced for herself that language is “the key to integration”.
Another example comes from a hairdresser with a Turkish background who took on as apprentice a young mother who also had Turkish roots. She chose this trainee from many other applicants because she knew from experience how difficult it can be for young Turkish mothers to find a training position.
On the whole, it can be seen that the women have not only created work for themselves, but also create opportunities for other people to participate and integrate in society and thus contribute to social change.
How do they use their activities to tie in with other comparable informal processes of learning?
Laros, A. (2015): Transformative Lernprozesse von Unternehmerinnen mit Migrationsgeschichte. (Transformational Learning Processes of Female Entrepreneurs with Migrant Backgrounds). Wiesbaden: Springer