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Joint fight against long-term unemployment
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Joint fight against long-term unemployment

| Text: Marie Preisler Photo: Poul O. Elmström

Getting the long-term unemployed back into work is hard. You need focus, determination, the will to try new things and good cooperation between companies, job centres and education, says Denmark's Minister of Labour Inger Støjberg. She is gathering inspiration for a new initiative against long-term unemployment.

Arne Olsen shudders at the thought of the nearly eight months he spent being unemployed. After ten years as an unskilled worker, jobs were hard to find. His days all merged into one. 

"I spent lots of time achieving absolutely nothing. I would have taken any job, but with no education, a few years in the army and ten years working as a builder my options were pretty slim," says Arne Olsen.

Then one day his job centre urged him to attend an information meeting at Fiberline, a company in the city of Middelfart making fibre glass parts for wind turbines, windows and bridges. The company were cooperating with the local labour market training centre (AMU Center Ribe) to help long-term unemployed get new qualifications. There was an offer of a six month course followed by one month of practical experience at the company. It became 43 year-old Arne Olsen's turning point.  

"I'd never seen myself working with fibre glass, and I said quite openly that this was not for me. I accepted the offer nevertheless, because I do quite like trying something new. I've now been doing this exciting job for three and a half years, on a permanent contract. It's great having a tidy economy and to have something to do." 

A success story

Arne Olsen now works in a key position which involves responsibility for setting up production machinery. He is one out of 32 long-term unemployed unskilled workers who have been offered practical experience to learn how to operate the company's machinery. 10 out of the 32 have been offered permanent jobs. Fiberline's head of personnel, Kirsten Bøjler Dall, doesn't hesitate to call this a success. 

"We were willing to take a chance and offer training to long-term unemployed, unskilled workers, followed by jobs on our production line. They would normally not be our target group. We have definitely not regretted it. It's been a success story. Many of them have become some of our best workers," she says.

The success was, according to the head of personnel, very much the result of working closely with job centres and the AMU centre - as well as a good deal of bravery and willingness to think outside the box. All this formed part of the advise given to Denmark's Minister of Employment, Inger Støjberg, when she recently used Fiberline as an example in one of her so-called inspiration meetings. She gathers concrete suggestions locally for measures that can limit the country's rapidly growing long-term unemployment.  

Meet prepared  

Also present at the Minister's meeting in Middelfart was Villy Markman. He leads the Lego group's so-called House of the Future, which is a company school where employees come to learn and to plan their future. The House of the Future is an effort to help employees affected by company lay-offs with further jobs or education, but it is open to all employees. 

Villy Markman's message to the Minister was that to fight long-term unemployment you need close and good cooperation between all relevant local actors, and businesses will only join projects finding work for long-term unemployed if they're sure the long-term unemployed are motivated.

"Companies will have no problems helping the long-term unemployed learn their trade, but we then demand in return that they must be engaged and stable. This is the responsibility of job centres and providers of vocational training. Through schooling they must make sure the long-term unemployed are motivated before they arrive at the companies," says Villy Markman.

The Lego group headquarters lie in Billund municipality in West Jylland. There, the largest companies, politicians, job centres and trade unions all form a close-knit network which meets regularly. In March they will meet to discuss how to fight long-term unemployment. 

Skills improvement first

The Minister of Labour has also met the parties in the labour market as well as the municipalities that run the job centres. Trade unions, employers and the municipalities all agree that they must contribute to fight the rise in long-term unemployment, and they have identified what needs to be done.

The Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) and the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) have cooperated on 23 initiatives. Two of the most important are skills improvement and education for the unemployed. The parties want skills improvement to kick in as soon as redundancy notification is issued, i.e. before the worker has left the company. Inger Støjberg has already indicated she is positive to this initiative. LO and DA also agree the labour minister should make job centres make more efficient use of active labour market policy tools. LO President Harald Børsting says municipalities tend to push many unemployed into meaningless activation programmes. 

Local Government Denmark (KL) has also drawn up a ten point municipal wish list for the labour minister to consider. Their main focus is to encourage the minister to ease the obligatory mass activation of all unemployed, regardless of their need. It is important, they say, to give municipalities the chance to concentrate their efforts on those who really need help.

"We have, for instance, a situation today where all young people must be activated for six months after only three months of unemployment. We recommend a more flexible model so we can concentrate our efforts to reach those most at risk from ending up in long-term unemployment," says consultant with KL Lone Englund Stjer. 

The Minister of Labour will present her initiative against long-term unemployment this spring.

Unemployment in Denmark

Unemployment is at its highest since 2006, and more Danes are unemployed for long periods of time. There is still a relatively low level of long-term unemployment. At the beginning of 2004 there were nearly three times as many long-term unemployed, but today's level is expected to rise because of the economic crisis.

Denmark had some 35,000 long-term unemployed in October 2009 - people who were unemployed for 80 percent of the past year. The same month saw a gross unemployment of nearly 151,000 persons (unemployed plus people on labour market activation schemes). This means less than one in five unemployed is long-term unemployed. 

Long-term unemployment has risen by more than 12,000 persons (some 50 percent) since it started growing at the beginning of 2009. Gross unemployment has risen by some 77,000 persons, or around 103 percent.

Immigrants from non-western countries are so far less affected by the rise in unemployment. Yet a relatively large number of the long-term unemployed are immigrants from non-western countries and their children. The under-30s and older people are also over-represented among the long-term unemployed. There is also a large and slowly growing group of non labour market-ready recipients of unemployment benefits who seem to be stuck in the benefit system.

Long-term unemployment is determined by gross unemployed (unemployed plus people on activation schemes) receiving benefits for 80 percent of the past year. This means the group of long-term unemployed could include people who have been in work at some stage over the past year. 

Source: The Danish Labour Market Agency

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