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Causes of long-term enrolment with Arbetsförmedlingen (2013:15)

The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has been commissioned by the Swedish Government to investigate the reasons for why people find themselves in the Job and Development Guarantee's employment phase. Statskontoret's investigation is qualitative and is based on interviews with participants in the employment phase. We have also conducted group interview with employment office clerks. The aim of the investigation is to learn more about why people are enrolled with the Swedish national employment agency (Arbetsförmedlingen) for long periods, so that the government can develop interventions for these people.

Enrolled for nearly seven years

The Job and Development Guarantee is a labour market policy programme for people who have been unemployed for a long time. Those who are in the employment phase have been enrolled with Arbetsförmedlingen for nearly seven years on average. The majority of participants in the employment phases are on a work placement with an organisation outside of Arbetsförmedlingen. Those who were interviewed performed work such as food preparation, working in shops as sales people or shelf-stackers, caretaker-like roles, selling lottery tickets, digitising images or clearing brushwood in the forest.

Several interacting causes

Statskontoret's conclusion is that there are often several causes working together to lead to the situation whereby job-seekers find themselves in the Job and Development Guarantee's employment phase. It could be because of a lack of upper secondary school education, physical or mental ill health, perhaps combined with getting closer to retirement age. Because the total number of unemployed and long-term unemployed in Sweden is currently high, it is even harder for these people to find work.

Research shows that the long-term unemployment in itself is a hindrance the individual's chances of finding work. Our investigation supports this picture and deepens the understanding of how the individual conditions are affected by the length of time out of work. The value of the individual's education declines, their network becomes less current and the motivation to look for a job decreases when they have been unemployed for a long time. They also have poorer finances, which reduces their opportunity to commute, move or get more education.

Job-seeking varies

Our investigation shows that job-seeking activity varies over time and is affected by how the individual assesses their chances of finding work. Certain people state that they are actively looking, while others that they have given up. The latter are mainly those who are getting close to retirement age.

Statskontoret has ascertained that the professional and geographical mobility of the people we have interviewed is low. In order to change profession, the individual often feels they need education or training. However, the interviewees felt that the opportunities for education and training were limited. The majority would prefer not to move. They have put down roots in their home town and perhaps have a family. However, some of them state that they would be prepared to move if they were able to find work.

The circumstances of participants in the employment phase vary

Statskontoret's investigation shows that participants in the employment phase may come from very different backgrounds and circumstances. Some have previously held down careers, while others more or less lack prior work experience. Despite this, it is still possible to see patterns in which certain causes of long-term enrolment more often appear concurrently with others. We have divided people with similar circumstances into groups based on these patterns. The aim of these groups is to demonstrate the wide range of people involved in the employment phase. The following is a brief summary of the groups that Statskontoret has identified:

  • People with physical ill health who are only able to accept certain jobs.
  • Older people who are close to pension age.
  • Younger people who have not yet entered the labour market.
  • People born abroad who have not yet entered the labour market.
  • Seasonal workers and temps who have not yet found permanent employment.
  • People with a generally troubled background.
  • People who are mentally ill.
  • People whose circumstances are good, but who are still finding it hard to get back into the labour market.

The employment phase does not help everyone

Statskontoret has been able to establish that the employment phase works well for some of the people we have interviewed. They increase the amount of contact they have with the labour market and perform tasks at their place of work that they consider meaningful. Some have gained employment, with or without subsidies. However, Statskontoret's conclusion is that the interventions in the employment phase are not capable of helping all participants get closer to the labour market. For certain people, the employment phase has become a day-to-day reality, rather than a temporary initiative that pushes them closer to the labour market.

Not enough individual support

The interviews and focus groups indicate that the employment office clerks do not get to know the long-term enrolled, which reduces the likelihood of them providing the right support. Statskontoret's conclusion is that one cause of long-term enrolment is that the participants in the employment phase receive and have received too little individual support that is related to their specific needs. This applies both in the employment phase and earlier. In addition, there is a lack of monitoring of interventions outside of Arbetsförmedlingen, for example, with complementary actors or those who arrange work placements. Statskontoret makes the assessment that more individually adapted support would increase the chances of the long-term enrolled finding work.

Hidden ill health is a problem

Arbetsförmedlingen's statistics show that about a third of the people in the employment phase have classifiable disabilities that result in a reduced work capability. However, Statskontoret's investigation indicates that both physical and mental ill health is probably a greater problem that is shown in Arbetsförmedlingen's statistics. Employment office clerks may not always know which problems the job-seeker has, and the job-seeker is sometimes reluctant to contact the Swedish Social Insurance Agency or the health services. There are people in the employment phase who do not have their problems assessed and registered and therefore do not get the help they need. Sometimes the problems are not discovered before the person reaches the employment phase and is expected to function in a workplace.

Educational needs that are not met

Statskontoret makes the assessement that an important cause of long-term enrolment is that the job-seekers do not have the expertise that is sought after in the labour market. The long-term enrolled are in great need of education and training, but this is not always provided.

Furthermore, Statskontoret has ascertained that Arbetsförmedlingen's labour market training programmes are sometimes used in a way that does not increase the participants' chances of finding work. Our investigation shows that labour market training programmes are sometimes offered to people, despite them not being motivated or not having a reasonable chance of finding work following the training.

Another barrier is that few of those interviewed would consider taking out a student loan in order to, for example, study at a municipal adult education centre (Komvux) or university. This picture is confirmed by the employment office clerks that we have interviewed. For older people, the practical opportunities to take out student loans are also limited. Statskontoret is of the opinion that there needs to be a widespread reconsideration that, for example, takes into account the structure of the rest of the education system in order to solve the problem of education and training requirements that are not provided for.