Since 2014, a unique Domtar internship program has helped immigrants find work and make connections in Aneby, Sweden. The program also helps people who are reentering the workforce after a long gap. For people like Moustafa Alahmad, this 10-week internship program is a lifeline.
Alahmad is an ambitious, intelligent young man who studied finance at university. He speaks Kurdish, Arabic, Ukrainian and Russian. Forced to escape the civil war in his home country of Syria, Alahmad fled to Sweden, a nation known for its culture of inclusion and equality. Since he arrived, he has been able to earn enough money to get by, but it’s been difficult to find a steady job.
Domtar’s Personal Care manufacturing plant in Aneby plays an important role in helping newcomers like Alahmad build a new life in Sweden. Plant Manager Trevor Zieseniss explains the need: “Most immigrants can’t speak Swedish when they arrive, which is an obvious barrier to being employable. They also lack access to a social network, making it even more challenging to find opportunities.”
To help immigrants and other people who have been out of work for a long time, the Aneby leadership team created a 10-week internship program with support from the Swedish public employment service. Participants gain practical work experience while improving their language skills. They also have the option to work for another 10 weeks over the summer. Once the internship is complete, participants are eligible to apply for open positions at the facility and become permanent employees.
Domtar Internship Program Teaches Work Skills, Language
Alahmad was thrilled to be one of five people accepted into Aneby’s Domtar internship program this year. He received a full week of practical and theoretical training, the same as any employee joining the facility. His training included learning about safety, the environment, our products and how to operate machinery.
Our Aneby plant makes a wide range of incontinence products, largely for Domtar’s Attends brand. Alahmad works as machine operator, loading the line with raw materials and conducting quality checks on products. “The work suits me very well,” he says. “I have learned a lot of Swedish and met many new people. Everyone is helpful and I like the community here at the plant.” Alahmad hopes to join Domtar as an employee at the end of the program.
Teklit Kidane Ezgiamen participated in the Domtar internship program in 2016. He is from Eritrea, a small nation of about five million people located on the Horn of Africa. After completing his post-secondary studies in IT, he realized that he did not want to live under the severe restrictions imposed by the Eritrean government.
“The hard life, with all its limitations, made me decide to leave my beautiful country. My uncle lives in Stockholm and said that I should come to Sweden, that it was like heaven,” Ezgiamen explained. When asked what he most likes about his adoptive country, the answer is simple: “Peace.” He doesn’t even mind the colder climate.
Like Alahmad, Ezgiamen spoke multiple languages upon his arrival (Tigrinya, Arabic, English and Tigre), but Swedish wasn’t one of them. He is now a full-time employee at the plant, working as a machine operator and is quite comfortable speaking Swedish. “I love the working environment here. Everyone is pleasant and happy. I also like the fact that it’s a multicultural workplace,” he says.
Mentors Gain as Much as They Give
This unique Domtar internship program pairs participants with a plant employee for one-on-one mentoring. In addition to providing on-the-job training and overseeing day-to-day work, mentors help the newcomers navigate the social aspects of the work environment.
Magdalena Norén, who manages the program, says, “The mentors put in a lot of extra time and effort during these 10 weeks. Their hard work and dedication are the reasons why we can do this every year.”
Stefan Johansson has been a mentor in the program since its inception in 2014. This year, he is mentoring Alahmad. They work as a team with the other operators on the line. Johansson’s favorite part about the experience is learning the history of someone from another culture.
This welcoming attitude is a reflection of the plant’s overall culture. Linda Särbring, Aneby’s HR manager, says, “We see this as an important way to show consideration for our society. And having people with different backgrounds at the plant makes us a stronger team.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the cafeteria, one of the highlights of a new employee’s orientation tour. It’s a cheery space where workers from all different functions and levels mingle over coffee and homemade food. It’s a symbol of an experience that will broaden horizons and deepen connections for those who participate in this Domtar internship program.