Purpose: Refugees face multiple barriers to employment, such as previous work experience and qualifications not recognized. The Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences offers a higher vocational education and training (VET) dual program for highly-skilled refugees, in which education and work is combined. After completion of the two-year program, participants have gained new skills, learned (vocational) language, have work experience in the Netherlands and have a Dutch diploma. These are the factors that are decisive for successful employment integration. Design/methodology/approach: This explorative study aimed to get insights into the participants’ views and experiences with the dual program. A qualitative design has, therefore, been chosen. This article is based on 20 in-depth interviews with refugee-students. The transcribed qualitative data were systematically analyzed using ATLAS.ti 8 qualitative data analysis software. Findings: Overall, students were positive about the opportunity to study further and to work simultaneously. They valued the close connection with employers, learned new skills, improved their (vocational) language, and it gave them professional prospects that fit their ambitions. Based on the experiences of students, it seems that the dual program enhances work-related capabilities. However, the University should make more use of existing professional knowledge and experiences. Recognition of prior learning is crucial for employment integration but also contributes to a sense of inclusion. Originality/value: Higher VET dual programs for highly-skilled refugees are innovative and can contribute to their integration into the labor market. The associate degree is a recognized diploma between higher education and secondary vocational education.

DOI: 10.1108/JARHE-09-2020-0328
ISSN: 2050-7003