War on Ukraine: How to help refugees find roles in marketing

As brands state their intention to open roles up to Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK, offering apprenticeships and access to remote roles are crucial ways to make a real difference.

Ukraine flag
Source: Shutterstock

As the war in Ukraine rages into its fourth week, brands are rallying to show solidarity with the almost 3 million refugees displaced across Europe following Russia’s invasion.

After making strides to pull out of Russia, companies are now opening up applications for current job vacancies to Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK.

Marks & Spencer is one of more than 45 businesses in talks with government to open up 10,000 jobs to Ukrainian refugees. The retailer claims to be “absolutely committed” to supporting Ukrainian refugees through jobs.

M&S is joined by fashion giant Asos, which is exploring offering Ukrainian refugees IT engineering roles in the UK, as well as opportunities in its distribution centres in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The fashion retailer has said it expects the number of positions available in the UK to be in double digits.

Supermarket Aldi is working with the government to help “as many people as possible” access its 8,000 open roles in the UK, saying it stands with the people of Ukraine. Mostly across its 950 stores, including roles as assistant store managers, store assistants and logistics assistants, there are office-based administration positions available.

Elsewhere, the Co-op says it will open applications to refugees for 3,300 vacancies across its food business, while Sainsbury’s intends to offer jobs in its tech and online grocery teams. Tesco made 1,400 roles available to refugees across its central European business last week and Morrisons is in contact with the Home Office about providing “hundreds of jobs” as butchers, fishmongers, shop floor staff or in warehouse-based roles.

When your co-worker on Slack has not been online in three weeks because they’ve picked up arms and are defending their country, that’s a whole new level of human connection.

Samuel Claassen, SafetyWing

Meanwhile, ethical beauty brand Lush has been working with the Refugee Council to gain more information on how to bring refugees into the workplace, including roles usually advertised for internal candidates only.

Pret has launched a Ukrainian Employment Programme to help fast-track Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK in search of work, with the coffee chain also offering what it describes as “emotional and financial support”.

Pub chain Greene King is also in contact with the government about offering employment opportunities to Ukrainian refugees when they arrive in the UK, while Vodafone has pledged to fast-track roles to Ukrainians throughout Europe.

While the commitment from business is apparent, there are other opportunities brands might not have considered. Ritchie Mehta, the founder of social enterprise the School of Marketing, explains Ukrainians with refugee status are eligible to immediately take part in an apprenticeship.

Refugee status means aspiring marketers don’t have to wait three years before they are eligible for funding, as with standard immigration rules, enabling them to commence a job in marketing and upskill within weeks of coming to the UK.

“It’s rare someone can come over and immediately be eligible for this funding, but it just happens that refugee status is one of those exceptions,” says Mehta.

He points out that if an employer wants to take on a Ukrainian refugee, access to Apprenticeship Levy funding means they can upskill at the same time. The process is identical to taking on a non-refugee.

“A lot of companies will be thinking about this already. They’ll be thinking about how they can be most helpful, particularly for people coming and trying to find new lives, and this is one way they can truly harness the power of education and work, earn and learn at the same time. It’s an invaluable opportunity,” Mehta adds.

There are two scenarios for brands looking to access marketing apprenticeships for a Ukrainian refugee. In the first instance, the employer may already know the individual they want to put on the apprenticeship. Alternatively, they might need help finding that individual and will work with an apprenticeship provider to locate interested candidates.

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Mehta explains the lead time in the first scenario could be a matter of weeks once the provider completes the due diligence and opens for the next cohort to join the apprenticeship. In the case of the School of Marketing’s Level 3 Digital Marketing course, new cohorts join monthly. In the second scenario, the process would depend on finding the relevant individual and matching them up with a brand.

Given the visa scheme is offering Ukrainian refugees leave to remain in the UK for at least three years, this would give them enough time to complete a degree level apprenticeship, while a Level 3 qualification would take closer to 15 months.

Another way into marketing is through the School of Marketing’s free Mentoring Gen Z programme. The initiative has already reached more than 1,000 young people hoping to kickstart their careers in marketing, offering free group mentoring with leaders such as Boots CMO Pete Markey and Nando’s chief customer officer Sarah Warby.

Mehta explains that, on many occasions, young people find their way onto an apprenticeship programme via Mentoring Gen Z, after discovering more about a career in marketing.

“We recognise so many people today are looking for ways to be helpful and often we don’t realise the power we have in our hands to apply a macro context,” he adds.

Pointing to recent Marketing Week 2022 Career and Salary Survey statistics showing more than half (57.9%) of marketers work for a brand with no marketing apprenticeship, Mehta sees this as opportunity for a rethink and urges brands to use the Apprenticeship Levy to open doors for someone in need.

The power of remote

Elsewhere, insurer for the remote working community, SafetyWing has compiled a list of companies offering remote roles with fast-tracked lanes for Ukrainian talent.

Head of growth Samuel Claassen explains SafetyWing has been reaching out to companies asking them to provide a unique route for applications from Ukraine. For SafetyWing that means emailing Claassen directly, instead of going through a standard form. The insurer is currently recruiting for a chief revenue officer to sit within the marketing team.

Other companies have set up a unique email address, or special forms people can use to apply. Green cities business Culdesac is currently looking for a marketing operations lead, while open-source error tracking tool Sentry.io is recruiting for senior marketing manager roles.

SafetyWing updates its list each week, putting those with a fast-track option for Ukrainian talent at the top.

“It doesn’t put the candidate at an advantage, it just gives them a fast-track,” Claassen explains. “It’s not like companies are hiring underqualified people than they otherwise would have been. It’s more like a highlighting system that these people are going to be at the forefront, because they’re under extraordinary circumstances.”

This is one way they can truly harness the power of education and work, earn and learn at the same time. It’s an invaluable opportunity.

Ritchie Mehta, School of Marketing

One such brand on the list is Grammarly. The tech company, which provides grammar checking software, was founded in Ukraine and has many team members who call the country home. The brand has committed to continue building its team in Ukraine under its remote-first hybrid model.

Claassen explains the remote working community has mobilised to show solidarity with people in Ukraine and Russia who are experiencing extreme suffering due to the war. For people with colleagues working remotely worldwide, this crisis is truly personal and has triggered an emotional response.

“When your co-worker on Slack has not been online in three weeks because they’ve picked up arms and are defending their country, and you’re checking in on them every day to make sure they’re ok, that’s a whole new level of human connection and empathy that frankly I have never felt in my life before,” he explains.

Once the immediate emergency response is over, Claassen believes the remote community can step in to help an entire population of people who have had their lives disrupted.

He is clear that beyond offering jobs, brands should look at what is inherent in their product or service that can help Ukrainian talent. He references freelancing platform Upwork, for example, which is refunding all fees for Ukrainian workers.

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Grammarly has created a dedicated webpage and added an in-product suggestion users see when writing about Ukraine, with linked resources containing facts about the war. Having already updated its logo to reflect the Ukrainian national colours of blue and yellow, the company has made its premium service free to trusted media organisations in Ukraine reporting facts about the war in English.

Describing itself as “deeply troubled by the Russian war against Ukraine”, Grammarly is also donating all net revenue earned from Russia and Belarus since the war started in 2014 until 2022 – when the business pulled out of both countries – to causes supporting Ukraine. This sum is more than $5m (£3.8m).

The response of remote working companies to the Ukraine crisis has moved past any discussions of the future of work, says Claassen, who describes this as the second global crisis remote work has solved within two years.

“It’s quite fascinating how even the people who predicted the best of remote work so far in terms of accuracy, almost no one saw the impact this was going to have on the wider world. It’s surpassed work so far that it’s literally changing lives,” he says.

“This is something we’ve seen on a smaller level before with people, whether it’s people using a remote job to cross the border from Venezuela to Colombia to have a better life, but now it’s happening on such a massive scale that it’s undeniable. This is no longer a one-off niche thing, it’s a mass movement.”

For more information on free mentoring via Mentoring Gen Z or apprenticeships, please visit School of Marketing. Click here for the link to SafetyWing’s list of remote roles fast-tracking Ukrainian talent.