Through a training program run by Electrolux, former guerilla soldiers from Monteria, northwest Colombia, have acquired the skills to work as appliance service technicians, allowing them to reintegrate into society and support their families. It’s a powerful example of the Group’s social responsibility agenda that truly contributes to transforming lives for the better.
After decades of armed conflict, Colombia is close to peace agreements with the two largest guerilla groups in the country. But peace has also raised the question of how thousands of former guerilla soldiers can be reintegrated into society. Many of these ex-combatants suffer trauma from the conflict and have little education. The Colombian government therefore runs a reintegration program, partnering with a number of non-governmental organizations and the private sector to ensure participants are given opportunities to take up productive roles in society. Electrolux first agreed to be a partner in the program in 2011 and recently completed a second round of training.
Jose Manuel Lopez Mestra is a 40-year-old family man and ex-combatant. He’d never heard of Electrolux before joining the training program in September 2015, designed to give former guerilla soldiers the practical skills they need to work as service technicians.
“I am grateful to Electrolux for giving us the opportunity to learn more about the brand and now I’m not scared to fix a washing machine,” he said. “I learned a lot, and the days were very special because of the great interaction between the participants and Electrolux teachers. I’ve grown in knowledge and as a person – this has been a new experience for me.”
With these newfound skills, he can follow his plan to set up an independent business, providing servicing to Electrolux customers.
Lopez Mestra is one of seven locals who completed the second run of the program that Electrolux first held in 2011 in Barranquilla. In cooperation with the government agency ACR (Colombian Reintegration Agency) Electrolux develops the curriculum and Electrolux service technicians and experts run the training, which spans over three weeks and amounts to 140 hours of intense education. The first program graduated 16 service technicians, of which 11 were engaged or hired by Electrolux afterwards.
Meeting needs with a unique opportunity
“This is a fantastic example of how we as a company and employer can make a positive difference, for these individuals, their families and Colombian society,” said Malin Ekefalk, Director, Social Responsibility, Group Sustainability Affairs. “The region is in need of service technicians and these participants, now with the necessary technical knowledge, are in need of a job. It’s a perfect match!”
Electrolux was one of the pioneers in providing ex-combatants with the opportunity to work for a living in Colombia. “These men are stigmatized by society due to their past,” said Andrea Quete, Human Resources Coordinator, Electrolux Colombia. “There are no employment or training opportunities for them and, as a consequence, they are not able to support their families by their own means, which is an additional cause for exclusion.”
Participants in the Electrolux training program go through a government-led reintegration program of three years, which includes education as well as financial and psychological support. Those selected must pass an interview process and possess a level of technical knowledge in electronics or have previously undertaken relevant vocational training.
“We as Electrolux feel proud that we are the first of a small group of companies in Colombia that offers training to ex-combatants that can lead to employment opportunities. We see results on a personal level too. They really engage in the courses; it makes them feel valued and seen and to some extent it means the possibility to lead a normal life in the future,” Andrea Quete said.
In addition to the personal gains for participants and societal benefits in general, Electrolux noted that the initiative would also provide business benefits. The training program enabled Electrolux to expand the Service Centre chain and coverage, resulting in improved customer care. Additionally, Electrolux in Colombia has attracted media coverage for its efforts in supporting reintegration, and was able to further develop important governmental relations.
Watch the film Building Peace: Everybody’s Business (YouTube) – an insight into the lives of ex-combatants in Colombia and the involvement of Electrolux in reintegration.