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How to effectively fight unemployment and increase job placement among women?

Challanges for the Polish labour market

Among the most frequent reasons for women to remain without work include: caring for other members of the family, a lower self-esteem and fewer opportunities on the labour market. The family reasons are the most frequent for women to give up seeking employment. Women are much more prone to poverty – the probability of falling into the category of the poor members of society is three times the rate as for men. Employers are less inclined to employ women. Though women are required to be better educated and have higher skills, they are offered fewer opportunities of getting a job. Women from the rural areas are in the worst situation. The low development of social infrastructure in the rural areas, the lack of nurseries, kindergartens, day centres for children or care-take facilities for the elderly are frequent hindrances on the way to women’s employment. The dilemma of whether one finds a paid-for job or stays at home and takes care of those requiring attention to is often resolved by resigning from employment.

The above situation is, among other things, caused by the lack of systemic solutions in Poland, which could effectively help women and/or other unemployed groups back into seeking employment and reinstatement to the job market.

The current challenges that Poland faces in terms of employment, but also in terms of social care, require a shift in policy. What is needed is not just ensuring social care for only those who need it the most but, most of all, to more effectively help in returning to work those who are at risk of social exclusion. The level of professional activity of people before the age of 25 is dropping, the employment rate of persons over the age of fifty is low, the time it takes to find a job for those over fifty is becoming longer, the group of long-term unemployed who had already registered themselves out of the welfare offices is growing (despite the fact that these people have not found employment), and the number of the unemployed with disability is also going up. Either resorting to activating means or spending public money do not offer any permanent solutions to the problem of finding employment for those having been out of the job market for a long time and benefiting from welfare. On the basis of the data available, it can be supposed that such measures are addressed to mainly those who have been unemployed for only a short time and, therefore, who are still motivated to look for work and who need limited support in this effort. The remaining groups, namely the long-term unemployed, take advantage of these measures to a very limited degree and, furthermore, their participation in activation programmes does not end with finding permanent employment. In many of the job centres there are sometimes as many as several hundred unemployed per one job councillor, thus it is impossible to provide individual and tailor–made support to everyone.

Considering the limitations in place, the effectiveness of activating measures addressed to the long-term unemployed and requiring individual intensive support is small. The interesting fact is that most of the funds allocated to professional activation is spent on training those whose effectiveness is assessed at a very low level. On the basis of the experience of other countries, it is apparent that training is only one of the elements in programmes of returning the long-term unemployed to the labour market. Training courses will not result in people finding jobs. The most effective programmes conducted by specialized companies are based on a holistic approach to an unemployed person, taking into consideration all of the person’s strengths but also having recognized all of the personal barriers to employment and needs. On that basis, a programme is then implemented by an individually
selected councillor, which results in finding stable employment for the given person.

The course of reforms in other countries

The labour market policy has changed profoundly since the fuel crisis in the 1970’s, leading to the first substantial increase in global unemployment. Most of the countries then concentrated on regular payment of welfare benefits from governmental funds or trilateral insurances instead of undertaking any measures so as to link the payment of unemployment money with actively seeking work – the rights of the unemployed were not linked with their duties so as to arrive at a more effective solution to the problem.

Due to the high level of structural unemployment which had been caused by the recession in the mid-1980’s and early-1990’s, the governments have begun to finally introduce lists of rights and duties: the right to unemployment compensation was conditioned by the duty to seek employment. As a result, the labour market began to witness more effective tools encompassing activation programmes. Public employment services have accepted responsibility for both controlling and managing the welfare system (duties), as well as ensuring the existence of elementary programmes of retraining the unemployed and supporting them in their efforts of seeking employment (rights). These institutions often autonomously offered means of support in the active search for work, e.g. helped in writing CV’s.

The high level of structural unemployment which lasted for a long period during the 1990’s was for many governments a stimulus to perform a substantial reform of social care systems and – what is very important – introduce changes to how public employment services operated. This was, for example, the case with the United States, United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. The above mentioned reforms stemmed from the political awareness that in order to combat unemployment there is a need for novel methods of returning people to the labour market and a more flexible approach in doing so. Moreover, there was also the conviction that the unemployed, who are often prone to social exclusion, can be effectively helped not by increasing the welfare money but by providing support in seeking work which not only ensured financial independence, but which also restored one’s dignity and self-esteem.

Such a philosophy is in part reflected by the European Employment Strategy – a collection of principle rules and priorities steering the activities of the state to appropriate objectives in the field of employment policy. It has been underlined in the strategy that the labour market policy is increasingly more subject to new factors, such as globalization, the aging of societies, as well as an imbalance of social care and the retirement pension system. The critical goal prescribed in the strategy is the increase in employment to 70%. The requirement has become an important stimulus for modifying the employment policy, departing from combating unemployment in lieu of increasing employment and
professional activation.

In order to effectively address the challenge of increasing employment, it was necessary for the public employment services to reach out to those groups that had not been traditionally seen as professionally active (e.g. persons collecting welfare for the ill and disabled, women who have not returned to work ever since beginning to care for children or elderly persons). Effective professional activation of these people required a new model, which would respond to the specific needs of the different groups (such as the longterm unemployed, people with disabilities, mature persons remaining outside of the labour market, unemployed single parents, unqualified youth, former prisoners, refugees, immigrants, etc.), taking into consideration their diverse experiences with the labour market and the need to apply a more extensive and individualized support in helping them return to work. The model was to help people more effectively than before in overcoming barriers they have faced. Though the measures undertaken by public employment services were often times successful in the cases of those who were the closest to the labour market, in other words, who did not require intensive support in seeking work, the “standard solution for all” offered by these services was ineffective in the most difficult groups of clients requiring a more individualized approach.

Drawing on the experience of the USA and, in particular, Australia, some European states (such as the Netherlands, UK or Denmark) have become the vanguard in commissioning and contracting the more complex and innovative methods of professional activation to the private and nonprofit sectors. In 2005, other countries joined in, including France, Germany and Sweden. Though the mechanisms of providing services remain similar to each other in principle, each country has adopted a model of public-private partnership that is adapted to their own solutions in terms of the policy, economy, and labour markets. In some countries (e.g. Great Britain), the main procurer of services is the central government (Job Centre), while in others (e.g. Denmark and the Netherlands) it is the insurance companies and local governments who are the important buyers.

The public employment services in these countries have created a model of cooperation in the interest of effective professional activation. This cooperation involves partners from the private and non-profit sectors, who provide support in the execution of the tasks posed before the public office. Their services are thus supplementary and not mutually competitive. Referring clients from the public services to private service providers usually takes place at a given moment (e.g. when the unemployed person remains jobless for 12 months and is addressed only to those who present a weak position in the labour market and, therefore, require non-standard and personalized support. While it has been observed in the influential British Freud’s Report that public employment services constitute the core of the system enabling those on welfare to return to work – the so called welfare to work delivery – the private and non-profit sectors create an added value by supporting those clients whom it is the most difficult to help, who need individual assistance calling for more intense efforts and the application of more innovative methods of returning them to the job market – something that public employment services are unable to offer.

As governments worldwide are looking for ways of limiting their budget deficits, they are becoming increasingly more interested in the effective use of welfare allowances and available funds, and are more inclined to accept the services of professional activation offered by external companies. Cooperation with the private sector and non-governmental organizations is always a supplement to the services provided by public institutions. There is an increasingly common conviction that it is possible to create additional services for specific groups without increasing the burden on the public budget. It does not matter whether the private sector provides services at prices lower than the public provider (as a side note: no international survey has been able to objectively compare the expenses and results of the two sectors), but that the governments are aware that paying for results, or effective placement of an unemployed person back on the job market, makes it possible to determine the maximum level of budgetary means paid out to the service provider – being fully aware that it is the results that are paid for. Moreover, countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, with functioning public-private partnerships and a flexible approach focusing on ensuring attractive employment (work-first plus), spend a significantly lower percentage of their GDP’s on the active systemic measures on the labour market (OECD).

If governments are to most fully take advantage of public-private partnership for effective professional activation, it is necessary for them to also carry out a wise policy of contract awarding and management. Many solutions have been tested over the past twenty years; some of them brought better results, some worse. It has become increasingly apparent that bigger and longer contracts under stricter supervision and control are better if higher investment outlays in better quality employment services are planned. Furthermore, linking payments with results motivates contractors to concentrate on results of a long-term nature.

International trends clearly show that employment services are now evolving towards combining the public, private, and non-profit forms, capable of fulfilling the needs of the different clients most fully. The challenges faced by government are now much less about providing direct services by public sector agencies but about delegating tasks to many interested firms and organizations which are paid for their results hence focusing on long-term results.

What is individualized support for the long-term unemployed in returning to employment?

The approach is based on highly individualised work of councillors and personal coaches with each unemployed client with the aim of finding a job. The essence of the approach is, therefore, not limited to the development of competences, but first and foremost, on developing those which help find employment. The application of innovative methods for that purpose, which take into consideration the exceptional character of each client, their aspirations, needs, experiences, strengths, but also weaknesses, assists in a speedy return to employment and social reintegration.

When working with the long-term unemployed, including women, the challenges that are most frequently encountered by councillors and their clients include: a false feeling of security resulting from living on welfare, the need to strengthen one’s self-esteem and motivation to change one’s lifestyle, difficulties with adapting again to the rhythm of the job, in particular after having been unemployed for a long time, as well as a lack of interpersonal and social skills caused by social exclusion and living in isolation. The extended periods of collecting welfare result in losing selfconfidence and motivation, leading to diminished social and professional skills as well as frequent cases of social isolation.

The basic rules of working with the long-term unemployed as part of individual support programmes are: respect, individual adjustment of the programme, support aimed at finding employment, reinforcement of self-esteem and providing inspiration to seek empowerment, confidence, consistency of action, building respect and self-confidence, being attentive to objectives and intentions, and, most importantly – the belief that there are no unemployable people.

Anna Karaszewska
sociologist with a PhD in public and political promotion of women. Worked as a consultant and program director of the Center for the Development of Managerial Staff ABB, then as a manager of human resources in Achieve Global Learning Systems; co-created, with the support of USAID, the first Polish network of businesswomen and a system of support for the further development of business initiatives; director for Strategic Development in PKPP
Lewiatan; member of the Executive Committee Business Europe; participant of the international mentoring program for women leaders. Active in promoting gender parity in public elections in Poland.


Added: 27 października 2011 Category: General
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