AGE Platform Europe has responded to the European Commission’s consultation on services for the long-term unemployed on 15 May 2015. The consultation was opened to learn about the challenges to long-term unemployment in Europe. Specific questions were asked about the level of integration of services, one-stop shops, individualised support and adequate incentives for jobseekers. AGE responded to the consultation, highlighting the need for specific support to older job-seekers, as they are at the highest risk of being long-term unemployed.
Age discrimination a challenge
Older long-term unemployed often bear the burden of having more restricted access to hiring and interviews, because many employers associate their age with low performance and high demands on salary – attitudes inherited from a period where labour market policies were geared towards pushing older workers into pre-retirement schemes. At the same time, many public and private employment services have given up on providing them with support, thinking that it is not very probable that their efforts will bear fruits. The reduction of finances available to active and passive labour market policies, due to the crisis, make an effective integration of older job-seekers also more difficult
Lacking services: life-long learning and training
In terms of service provision, the services most blatantly lacking are around life-long learning and training. It is still difficult to access training opportunities for older workers and employers concentrate on-the-job training often on younger workers. Apprenticeships, for instance, are often not open to people above a certain age, and there are few offers to upgrade and update existing professional skills, rather than learning from zero.
Another service worth investing in is communication towards employers: many tax incentives or other programmes exist to create age-friendly work places, but this is often not known by employers. More means of communication and advising of employers can help to tackle age discrimination and make these already existing measures work better.
An avenue worth exploring are job-first programmes, where long-term unemployed are provided with a job, maybe part-time and not matching their qualification, in order to bring them progressively back to the labour market. It is crucial in such programmes that support services do not stop with the first employment, but that advice and counselling continue while the job-seeker refines and rebuilds his or her professional project towards a better-fitting job.
Support for specific groups
Some groups need more specific support: for example, people who have been absent from paid employment for a long time because of informal care work for family members. Many older women find themselves in the situation of having a long gap to bridge between caring responsibilities and retirement. Specific advice and training, as well as the validation of acquired formal and informal skills are needed to increase their chances of finding a job that best fits their competencies. Therefore, individualised support is important for long-term unemployed. It might be helpful to go the way of a ‘mutual responsibilities’ approach, whereby the job agency and the job-seeker sign individual engagements towards finding a job. However, it is important that this approach does not result in a punitive-only approach, but that it leaves enough space for the job-seeker to formulate her or his preferences and skills needs.
EU collaboration helpful
The EU has an important role to play to facilitate mutual learning between member states on how to deal with specific groups of job-seekers, for example coming from sectors with a similar profile. Also, the levels of support to long-term unemployed across Europe differs and exchanges of practices can create an upward convergence in this field, for the benefits of older long-term unemployed as well as for societies, who will benefit from their experience, contribution, taxes and job-creating potential.