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Exploring the vocational skills and career aspirations of Syrian refugees.

Updated: Feb 16

The labour market integration of Syrian refugees in Norway. A Master thesis part of the MAVI Project written by Josh Dickstein.

Josh Dickstein with his supervisor Norma Wong



Blogpost written by Josh Dickstein, University Lecturer at VID Specialized University and member of MIGREL research group.


The journey began in 2019 with a request to intern at The Centre for Intercultural Communication (SIK) through the European Master in Migration and Intercultural Relations (EMMIR). Prof. Dr. Gunhild Odden took me under her wing and introduced me to a fascinating avenue of research: MAVI (Mellom Ambisjoner og Virkelighet), focusing on a potential gap between refugee dreams/ambitions/aspirations and the ‘reality’ they face related to the process of integrating into the Norwegian labour market.


Read more about the MAVI project https://www.maviproject.no/


During my internship, I was invited to write my master’s thesis within the greater research project of MAVI and I was welcomed to participate in meetings related to the project during the process of writing my thesis. Although I had already begun to develop working relationships with Oleksandr Ryndyk and Norma Wong from SIK, it was through the regular meetings that I became familiar with the rest of the MAVI team. Although I was in many ways the newest MAVI member, I was encouraged by the team to share ownership over the project. My main contribution to MAVI involved considering the vocational skill levels of refugees and the influence that may have had on their experience integrating into the Norwegian labour market.


I contributed to the design of the interview guide in cooperation with members of MAVI and in conjunction with the approval by my supervisor at the time, Norma, as well as Gunhild. It was stimulating to pilot interview questions, often reformulating them in the test phase to elicit more candid responses.


During the data collection phase, an interpreter was present for the participants who felt most comfortable speaking Arabic during the interview. This was both a challenging and rewarding experience. It was special to observe participants feel empowered to express themselves freely in their own language, instead of struggle to articulate their feelings in Norwegian (or English). Furthermore, all the participants knew enough Norwegian to frequently confirm the interpreter’s translations. This was not only reassuring for the participants emotionally, as they understood their responses were being accurately conveyed, but also for the reliability of the data. I specifically employed feminist methodologies, because it permits the opportunity to display empathy during the interviews and allows for a ‘human connection’ that is often stereotyped as missing during academic research on vulnerable groups. This felt especially appropriate given that the data collection phase took place during a global pandemic, which only increased the sense of isolation already experienced by many refugees.


The research topic explores in what ways do the vocational skills and career aspirations of Syrian refugees determine how their integration into the Norwegian labour market is experienced. Syrians represent the largest group of people with a refugee background in Norway. However, there is limited literature that takes into account skill levels when comparing experiences for refugees of the same nationality, recently attempting to integrate into the Norwegian labour market. Four core findings were:


1. Asylum centre attendance is perceived as a demotivating and emotionally exhausting experience.

2. Repeating qualifications and degrees were considered as opportunity to better match labour market aspirations.

3. Language proficiency often led to an inaccurate assessment of professional competency.

4. Responsibility for a family may represent obstacles to labour market integration.


This master thesis called How Do the Vocational Skills and Career Aspirations of Newly Arrived Refugees Shape Their Experience Integrating into the Norwegian Labour Market? was completed and delivered in February 2021 and accepted in April 2021 with grade A.


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