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More companies take responsibility in fight against youth unemployment

More companies take responsibility in fight against youth unemployment

| Text: Björn Lindahl, photo: Øens Murerfirma

What does a successful anti youth unemployment project look like? The Nordic labour ministers have asked Danish consultancy agency Damvad to map Nordic youth projects that are based on cooperation between authorities and companies.

Damvad has focused on summer jobs, internships and apprenticeships. There are many models tailored to everything from Danish construction companies to Swedish banking jobs. Sometimes contradictory advice is given, but success factors are also identified in nearly all of the 24 companies.
Damvad has divided the advice into three groups; what companies can do, what the authorities should think about and what makes the cooperation between the authorities and the companies work (see side story). 

Much is self-evident, like making sure both sides have permanent contact persons. If people need to put a lot of effort into finding a person who can take responsibility every time there is an issue, the projects are soon washed away.

It is equally important to find a common understanding among authorities for the project’s goal and to plan for how to reach it, and to have backing from top management along with a positive attitude from existing workers to allow young people to have a go.

Striking the strict/soft balance

“The young person’s contact person needs to strike the right balance between a strict and a soft approach – both in order to manage some of the problems which might arise and to be able to show understanding and empathy,” writes Damvad.

Several of the projects aim to reach groups of youths with major problems. The Danish company Øens Murerfirma, a construction firm with 200 employees, has been working with young people for a long time and take on 50 trainees every year. 

The target group mainly consists of unemployed 18-25 year olds. They are almost exclusively men who have never had any connection with the labour market. The youths usually grew up in socially challenged areas, have low education and many of them have not finished elementary school. They lack experience of how to behave in a workplace and many have a substance abuse problem.

The focus of the first four weeks of the trainee period is therefore to teach the youths how to behave.

The importance of community

“It is then gradually expanded to include various tasks. Morning meetings are also introduced, increasing the demand put on the youths. The introductory phase focuses a lot on making the young people part of the community, and on praising them so that they see that they can manage to achieve things. The youths have not had much praise so far in life,” writes Damvad.

Then follows the actual trainee period of 13 weeks on a construction site. If the youths are successful there, they could be offered a job or an apprenticeship. 

Øens Murerfirma cooperates with four different municipal job centres, each with their own permanent contact person. The construction firm has one person who coordinates the programme and five people work as mentors. The job centre contacts visit the building sites every second week to show the youths someone is looking out for them and to cement the good cooperation with the construction firm.

Several businesses highlight the goodwill effect coming out of the projects. One of them, Swedish retailing group ICA, welcomes trainees for periods of up to six months in their grocery stores.

“One important success factor which the traders themselves highlight is that this is done from a clear business perspective. The internships aren’t offered just to demonstrate social responsibility but to help run a profitable business,” one of the traders points out.

Finland’s own apprentice scheme

The apprentice system is most widespread in Denmark. Finland has its own apprenticeship model mixing theoretical training with practical work, where schools and workplaces cooperate closely. The students study 20 percent of the time, spending the rest of the time doing paid work in a workplace. The businesses receive support to cover the wages paid to the students during their apprenticeship period. The support is means tested with an upper monthly cap of €1,000. The companies supply mentors and coaches.

Damvad describes one Norwegian project from the city of Haugesund where the local football club works alongside the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Service (NAV). The project uses an interest in football and sports as a gateway to working life. Through its contact with sponsors, the football club works as a link between the youths and working life. 

“The youths have gone from being negative with low self-esteem to being positive and feeling they can manage the challenges,” says Asle Skjærstad from the football club.


What should authorities think about?

These are some of the conditions which the Damvad report says will determine whether a project is successful or not:

  1. There must be broad understanding from the authorities on what the goal for the project is and how to achieve it.
  2. Someone needs to ‘own’ the project and that person must have access to the necessary resources.
  3. The youths must remain at the centre of it all – not the system. The young people aren’t there to coordinate the efforts, that job belongs to the professionals.


What should the businesses think about?

Before a company does something to grant young people a new chance in working life, they also need to prepare themselves: 

  1. The project must have the support of top management and among existing employees.
  2. There should be a structured plan for how to introduce the youths so that they get an open and friendly reception, while also facing demands and expectations.
  3. The sooner a young person is treated like the rest of the workers, the sooner the integration into working life will succeed.
How do you optimise the cooperation between the authorities and the businesses?

The projects will not work without close cooperation between the authorities, i.e. the job centres, and the businesses.

  1. Make clear what is expected from the youths and which skills they are expected to have. Be honest about all the issues the youth might have, so that the company can prepare as best it can.
  2. There must be permanent contact people on both sides.
  3. The mentors must be talented and inclusive, allowing the young person to build trust in that person. 

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