When it comes to jobs, cities ensure no one is left behind

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

EUROCITIES intends to address the high unemployment afflicting Europe. [Barcelona.cat]

Unemployment levels remain critically high in many European countries. EUROCITIES has launched a holistic approach to finding citizens work, writes Thomas Fabian.

Thomas Fabian is Deputy Mayor of Leipzig and chair of the EUROCITIES Social Affairs Forum.

The impact of exclusion from the labour market is far-reaching. Not only economic, it has serious social consequences, like poverty, homelessness and health implications.

Job creation and stimulating economic development are crucial factors to meet this challenge. At the same time, there is an urgent need to engage those furthest from the labour market: people with mental health issues and disabilities, the over ’50s, young people with low qualifications, and the long term unemployed. And with large numbers of refugees arriving in our cities right now, their integration into the labour market is another major concern.   

Cities are home to 75% of Europe’s population, so they are where unemployment is most concentrated. But they are also key sources of inclusive economic growth. They know their populations and labour markets well. They have the knowledge and experience to design tailor made policies that work at local level and they engage strategic partners to ensure that initiatives to address unemployment are tackled together with all responsible actors.

We want our cities to be places of opportunity for everybody. For this purpose, services need to be inclusive and accessible, ensuring that those who have difficulty finding employment get the help they need. Efforts need to be made to engage different groups in society and ensure that skills match the jobs on the market, and vice versa. Making sure that we reach those that need our help most will not only help our local economic development, but our societies in general.

Given the urgency of the challenge, EUROCITIES has made ‘work’ a key priority for this year and next. EUROCITIES launched its political declaration on work in February. It advocates a holistic approach to solve the employment crisis. This means finding the right mix of measures on the demand and supply side in a way that makes sense at local level. We also want stronger partnerships between European, national and local level authorities so that we see results for our citizens. After all, experience shows that the most successful initiatives are those that are rooted in the local community and that show a strong understanding of the local labour market.

We use many approaches to help vulnerable groups find the right jobs. We might use ‘upskilling’ measures, which help people learn new skills to improve their employability. Or we might work with intermediaries and mentors to help people, like refugees and migrants, navigate local employment services.

EUROCITIES has been collecting evidence of what cities are doing in a new publication launched this month. ‘Promoting an inclusive labour market’ presents examples from cities like Gothenburg, where the unemployment rate for people with disabilities has increased by about 10% over the past ten years. Gothenburg’s ‘The Puzzle’ project arranges flexible employment for beneficiaries and supports both employees and employers.

The challenges associated with some of these groups can be complex. Cities must facilitate and broker partnerships with different organisations, like trade unions, employment agencies, educational institutions and private companies. Look, for example, at Newcastle, which works with private and public sector partners in a programme for former young offenders. They complete six months’ work experience at a social enterprise, and then are offered a job at one of the participating private companies. Meanwhile, academic partners are researching the value of such programmes for reducing reoffending rates and improving public service delivery.

We also need coordination between different city departments so that no one falls through the net. Local employment services might work with social or welfare departments to identify those most in need. This can happen through one-stop-shops, like in Barcelona, where the LABORA initiative supports those most at risk of social exclusion with their social and employability needs.

It is also important to involve different governance levels, including national employment agencies and ministries, so that policies developed at national level translate into results for our citizens. This works in Helsinki, which cooperates with its national employment and economic development office to engage migrants, whose employment rate is much lower than the city average.

Our vision is of a city where no one is left behind and where opportunities are open to everybody. Together with our partners at city, national and European level we have the will and the expertise to make it happen.

My colleagues and I met in Brussels this month to share ideas and experiences of creating inclusive labour markets. Our meeting was part of the ongoing implementation of the EUROCITIES declaration on work, which will culminate in a high level roundtable next February.

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