Labour market policies look beyond the pandemic
Trends and innovations in post-pandemic labour market interventions were the focus of this Wednesday’s LearningConnect session, which was broadcast live on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube. The discussion centred on ETF’s partner countries, a diverse group of nearly three dozen countries located near the European Union’s borders. Speakers included Dajna Sorensen, the Albanian Deputy Minister of Finance and Economy, Cristina Mereuta, a Labour Market Specialist at the European Training Foundation, and Eamonn Davern, a Senior Labour Market Expert at the Fondazione Giacomo Brodolini. The session was moderated by the ETF’s Daria Santucci. Viewers tuned in from Mexico, Palestine, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Kosovo, India, Italy, Portugal and France to hear how labour market policies and the post-pandemic economic recovery are expected to influence each other.
All three speakers emphasised how the crisis compelled labour market policies to adapt quickly. Deputy Minister Sorensen noted how the pandemic has merely highlighted the importance of reforms many countries had already begun in pre-pandemic times. She insisted that “it was not necessarily about reinventing and finding new solutions but pushing forward, at a greater speed, the pre-existing reforms that now require a new impetus”. Davern echoed Deputy Minister Sorensen’s views by stating that “pre-existing trends and policy responses have been fast tracked because of covid”. Of course, the shift to digitalisation is one of the major trends disrupting labour markets that has only been accelerated by the pandemic.
While summarising findings from two studies on innovations and effectiveness in labour market interventions during the COVID-19 crisis, Mereuta explains that “most of the ETF partner countries invested heavily in job protection, in support to businesses and in economic stabilisation”. Public employment services were also overwhelmed. Mereuta and her team “feared that the human capital development was less present in the first months of the crisis last year”. Since the upskilling dimension is crucial to digitalisation, if it had not been addressed there would have be cause for concern. However, the pandemic imposed the switch to digital as a new, socially distanced and sanitary way of working that is primed to become the new normal. We will not “go back to pre-pandemic times,’ Mereuta said.
Mereuta also revealed that the new generation of policies and measures aimed at human capital development and improved labour market performance will have to deal with a “new typology of client” and “growing vulnerabilities”. To address these issues, Deputy Minister Sorensen explained that her Ministry in Albania examined the crisis from “multiple angles” that included “retaining macroeconomic stability”, providing the private sector with the support it needs while ensuring “that all those individuals who have exited the labour market are returned to the labour market as quickly as possible”. Minimising job shedding was a priority for the Albanian government from the beginning of the pandemic. Companies were, thus, given incentives to retain as many of their workers as possible.
For Mereuta, going forward, the focus ought to be on finding the right performance measures for the right context. Soft measures such as distance travelled to place of employment can be very useful. Bridging the digital divide is also essential to ensuring that no one is left out of the labour market. The unemployed will not necessarily need more support, but perhaps a different type of support. Davern said that some countries opted to foster independence in their citizens by asking them to create their own unemployment and/or training programs that they could then tailor to their own needs instead of forcing them into a prefabricated program that may not meet their needs.
According to Davern, the digital delivery model is strong in countries like Sweden and Norway, but in Bulgaria certain, priority unemployment services remained face-to-face because of connectivity issues amongst the general population; the other services were suspended. North Macedonia and Moldova found creative solutions to stretch limited resources by determining which services would maintain face-to-face and which ones would go online. Morocco extended mobile units to rural areas. Slovenia moved online, but when face-to-face was offered again, many preferred to return to face-to-face.
Finally, training provisions need to be looked at. The post-pandemic context will witness the rise of ‘disrupted millennials.’ Companies have prioritised their own survival to hosting internships or apprenticeships and this will adversely affect young people and their entry into the labour market. Mereuta cited a UNICEF survey of 15, 000 youth from all over the world in which they were asked how the pandemic has impacted their lives. Most spoke of loss, limits and crisis; their outlook is pessimistic. A new generation of labour laws will have to address the urgent issue of youth unemployment, especially NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Fortunately, youth organisations have stepped in to help, but governments will still need to do their part. For this to happen, they need affordable solutions and optimised funding sources.
To see the full conversation: https://fb.me/e/2dwRgaH4p