Through each other’s experiences, young people and people over 50 grow together at DUO for a JOB

Spark interview with Marije Pronk, ESSB alumnus

‘I wish I had thought of it!’ was the first reaction when Marije Pronk saw the vacancy for director at DUO for a JOB. And moments later: 'Wow, my ideal project already exists!' Marije is an alumnus of Erasmus University Rotterdam, and, among other things, her knowledge of psychology and business administration made her the perfect candidate for the job. 'I didn't think of it that way, but it couldn't have gone any other way.'

DUO for a JOB is a mentoring program where young people between the ages of 18 and 33 with a migration background who are looking for work (mentees) are supported by people over 50 (mentors) to increase the young person's chances of finding a job. The experience of one is the fuel for the other. Together they explore what the young person needs to move forward in life. What are the stumbling blocks? Finance, housing, education, language? But above all, what does it take to solve it? This is done in weekly meetings for six months. 'The age difference works very well,' says Marije. 'The experience and stability of the over-50s help the younger ones enormously. But the beauty of this construction is that it cuts both ways. Because the mentors also learn a lot in this process. People recharge from contact with each other. The differences in background give inspiration and energy. That's magical and free of charge!

Golden combination

In 2012, DUO for a JOB was founded in Belgium. After a successful start, they expanded to France, and the first Dutch branch followed in 2021. The most suitable city turned out to be Rotterdam, with Marije as director. 'During my bachelor in psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, I realized that I like to help people but that the clinical side puts too much emphasis on the dark side of life. That doesn't suit me. That's why I subsequently did a master's degree in business administration. This combination of knowledge comes together very nicely at DUO for a JOB. Psychological knowledge is needed for the content of the mentoring program. And with the knowledge about entrepreneurship, I can use the opportunities in the public and private sectors that will allow DUO for a JOB to grow successfully in Rotterdam. After 6, 12 and 18 months, we measure how the young person is doing, how they are doing. That way, we get concrete, measurable results for the organisation.'

Inspiration and development

Now, in the second year of the Dutch adventure, about 55 duos have been formed, and Marije hopes that about 60 more duos will be created before the end of the year. 'We want the mentors to start the process well-informed. That is why they attend workshops on intercultural communication, the labour market and coaching, among other things. And we organise regular peer review meetings where they share their experiences and questions and learn a lot from them.’

The mentee, i.e. the young person, chooses whether he wants to follow the track with the proposed mentor. 'After all, there has to be a 'click' with the mentor. Ideally, the mentor inspires the young person and provides practical information. How to make a good resume, conduct a job interview, or network? The young person can practice an interview with the mentor, or the mentor can accompany the young person to a network interview. Small steps that make a big difference.’


'I am often very proud of the young people. Take Selamawit, for example. She hardly dared to speak Dutch when she came here. And now, six months later, she works with older people with dementia in a work-study program. It's tough, she says. But she says it with a radiating smile! “I dare to raise my hand in class, and I am proud of myself,” she says. Isn't that fantastic?'

During the weekly meetings of the mentor and young person, they make shorter- and longer-term action plans. Marije: 'One young person, for example, dreams of becoming a social worker. He then looks together with the mentor at what training is needed for that and what is involved financially. Maybe the mentor has worked in the same sector or has someone in his network who can help.' Probably the mentee will not find his dream job right away, but he will find a job. And as a result, he gains a stable income and independence. 'We have a mentee who is now moving on to his second job, which is his dream job! The cheerleader in me keeps cheering.' 

Meaningful addition

The offer of DUO for a JOB is an addition to the existing offer, such as that of the Youth Counter of the municipality of Rotterdam. 'What we offer the municipality cannot offer; friendships develop here. One of the mentors suffered a stroke a few months ago. His mentee, Rasheed, has been visiting him every day since. That indicates an important, meaningful relationship he has with his mentor.'

In the right place

'I'm in a place where all my choices logically ended up without me even knowing it,' says Marije. 'The bachelor's degree in psychology at Erasmus University Rotterdam is such a good foundation. Thanks to psychology, I have insight into the processes that take place internally with young people. And thanks to my knowledge of business administration, I can formulate measurable goals and grow the organisation. In this way, my work allows me to contribute to connecting people from different backgrounds, ages and life paths. I think that's fantastic.’

Want to become a mentor too? Check out DUO for a JOB.

More information

This interview is part of Spark. With these interviews, we aim to draw attention to the positive impact of the faculty's education and research on society. The stories in Spark give an insight into what makes ESSB students, alumni, staff and researchers tick.

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