The effects of the 2008 economic crisis were felt in countries across Europe to varying degrees. Spain emerged as one of the countries most impacted by this, in particularly in terms of employment. In 2018, people within Spain are still experiencing the consequences of the crisis. What this means is that in terms of business creation and entrepreneurship, is that people have turned to self-employment as a route to more personal economic stability. Amidst the continuing impact of the 2008 economic crisis, València Activa are working with the Universitat Politècnica de València (UPV) to co-design and pilot a new business creation and development scheme to support unemployed people to become more active participants in the local labour market. The focus of the scheme will be to provide support provision that is bespoke to the needs of unemployed people in the region and seeks to provide a sustainable way of creating companies. Working with these partners as part of the CoSIE project - a pan-European scheme looking at the co-creation of public services -  the Community Reporter movement gathered people's experiences of getting back into employment and what support is available to them. This feature article, present a short analysis of the findings from these stories.

Barriers to Employment

Redundancy was a key reason why people were experiencing unemployment and in some instances, turning to self-employment to overcome this. A woman who was made redundantexplains how prior to this she used to work in the communications industries for 15 years. As she describes, she went from doing a “well-paid paid job to starting from zero” and has had to reinvent herself after the economic crisis by doing small jobs for the Deaf Association. Yet this isn’t the case for all age groups, a younger woman identified in her story that when she entered into the labour market she didn’t feel that her or her peers were well-trained enough and for her it has been necessary to develop other skills as part of her role and access other training. The sentiment in these stories is that starting over and starting out in the labour market are both difficult experiences.

Other demotivating factors that were mentioned in the stories included support provision focusing on the presentation of business ideas without any assistance for people to develop them further, services not connecting with people who need their support, unstable employment offers (i.e. non-regular working hours) and a lack of support in certain key areas of business. Describing her experiences of entering into the labour market and balancing starting her career with finishing her studies, a lady explains how “working occasionally doesn’t give stability”. Furthermore, another young woman describes how when entering into the labour market people aren’t “given the opportunity to show their value” and that people are “very grateful when you can show your skills” as lack of opportunities to do this can be demotivating. 

Current Support Provision and Job-Hunting Environment 

Within the stories gathered, the various services and organisations that support people into employment present various perspectives to their role in this process. A worker in the public employment service describes how “job searches must come from the person themselves, nobody is going to call them.” This viewpoint is echoed by one person who has experienced unemployment who describes how “finding a job is competition” and that people are the key to their own success. From these two stories, the onus is clearly on the individual experiencing unemployment to be the key driving force in gaining employment and overcoming any barriers in their way. However, perhaps representing a more nuanced understanding of how people, particularly the long term unemployed can be supported back into working life, man working for an NGO that provides support to people getting back to work describes how he views his role as a “resource” for unemployed people. For him it is important that he is there to “empower” them which implies a more supportive role than the previously discussed perspective.  

Another issue with current service provision identified by one entrepreneur is the bureaucracy of the system. She explains how there is a lot of information online it doesn’t feel helpful to her, and that she is “stuck at the moment due to bureaucracy”. For this individual, she feels there is a problem in service provision in the sense that it doesn’t seem to have much “empathy or connection” with the people accessing the service, and the result of this is that she personally feels her dream of running a successful enterprise may be unachievable.

A trend that emerged across the stories is that people are keen to help one another – whether they are unemployed or working within employment services – and this is a key motivator for them. Talking about this, one man explains how helping others has been a way to help himself on his employment journey. Furthermore, the lady who now works with the Deaf Association finds it satisfying to help others integrate into society.  

Enhancing support for unemployed people   

The stories gathered contained a number of suggestions for how support for promotion labour market inclusion for unemployed people could look. Firstly, when looking at people’s ideas for employment support provision, it is clear that “training” in its more traditional implementation is only part of the answer. As one man explains, whilst training is important to get back into the labour market is important, “motivation and a supporting environment are needed to achieve the goal”. Secondly, a number of the stories highlighted that the support – regardless of what form it takes – needs to be relevant to the individual. As one person simply puts it, people need their “own itinerary”. There are various approaches to this represented in the stories by professionals working in the field. A worker in the public employment service highlights how they help users with a personalised itinerary based on the competencies of the person”, whereas a man working for an NGO explains that “the long term unemployed have an emotional backpack and it is important to work on their capabilities and skills”. As one lady explains, when supporting people into employment it is important to understand that “[e]very person is a different world so you have to focus on the needs and on what each person asks you for.” From these stories, we can ascertain that when it comes to the personalisation of support services the definition and application of personalisation differs between the various services and professionals working in them. It is therefore perhaps best to conceive personalisation as being based on a cross-spectrum based on high/low levels of user engagement in the design of the service offer and high/low levels of empathy and understanding between user and service.

Conclusion: Designing a Business Creation and Development Scheme

Based on the insights identified from the stories gathered the following ‘suggestions for consideration’ when designing the business creation and development scheme can be given:

  • Embracing person-centred practice:Many of the stories indicate that service provision tailored to people’s need is the most effective way to support people back into the labour market.
  • Adopting an asset-based development approach: Taking this approach to working with people and developing the existing employment support infrastructure in the areas moves the ethos away from a deficit approach that seeks to fill a void or lack, into a way of working that focuses on developing what is already there. 
  • Promoting peer support: The stories highlight the value and rewards people experiencing from helping others. Through integrating peer support into the scheme, it provides people with the opportunity to share their expertise with others and creates social support structures that have the potential to make society and the people in it more resilient to take on the challenges they face, and thus less reliant on services. 

Watch a short film (in Spanish) summarising the insights from these stories here.

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