18. Job Explorer
18.1. Short description
The “Job Explorer” project aims to create new ways of job orientation for youngsters by paving personal links between pupils and employers instead of between schools and companies. Hence, the project claims to establish a lasting, trust-based dialogue between tomorrow’s jobseekers and potential employers that could be regarded as innovative. A multiphase concept introduces pupils aged 13-17 years step by step to the working world, starting 3 years before they finish school, aiming to replace the currently common obligatory internships that quite often represent merely a desultory attempt to bring pupils closer to the job market. Instead, “Job Explorer” invites young people to discover a certain job in practical terms, while local companies have the opportunity to voice their specific demands to career starters. Thereby, the project avoids explicit references to stigmatising issues such as “precariousness” and/or ”underclass”. Youngsters are not a priori perceived as “the jobless of the future”. Instead, mutual prejudices should be eliminated, e.g. those youngsters might have towards employment in general and those employers might have against young people from less educated or long-term unemployed backgrounds. Participating pupils need a gentle introduction to possible fields of work and labour virtues; otherwise they may end up as lifelong clients of job agencies.
18.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
Job Explorer addresses pupils aged 13-17 years in secondary schools. Core of the project is an early introduction of youngsters to different jobs, vocational training schemes and the labour market. Thereby participants pass a multi-stage programme starting from scratch. In the first phase, Job Explorer teams ask pupils which jobs they know and where they want to work in the future. This “reality check” takes place in a playful manner that encourages participants to discover job opportunities in their local environment. By exploring “real jobs”, e.g. bus driver, baker or car mechanic, helps pupils to uncover partly unrealistic expectations (e.g. concerning potential earnings). In short, the first phase serves as an introductory course to the working world – a new territory for many pupils due to the lack of employment of their parents.
The second phase addresses participants more directly as “future workers”. Employers visit schools and brief youngsters on what they ask from their trainees (e.g. reliability and persistence) and give them the opportunity to get to know a job in practice. Due to this strategy of “sticks and carrots” pupils feel taken seriously and may develop a “post-school” perspective. In the third phase things become even more concrete: during so-called “experience days” participants visit different companies for 2 hours after school once a week. According to a local car dealer who supports the Job Explorer project this phase is indicative for companies searching for trainees: “Whether somebody shows commitment and fits for a job becomes obvious very quickly.” Finally, pupils in tenth grade pass a final phase: they complete a 4-day traineeship at a chosen company during their vacations. All in all, the Job Explorer project attempts to reduce pupil’s distance from the labour market due to consecutive phases of discovering and learning. Thereby, local employers play a pivotal role by co-addressing youngsters as future employees.
18.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The Job Explorer team consists of three people responsible for the “Job Explorer Academy”, “Job Explorer activities” and “public relations”. Three guiding principles make up the core of the project’s work philosophy: generating trust and mutual understanding as well as sustainable relationships between youngsters, schools and local companies. The Job Explorer team started their work with an extended assessment of needs by profiling a good amount of local schools and companies in advance. Based on this groundwork, cooperation with nine (out of 17) schools and the local association of entrepreneurs were established – something that has not existed before in the district. “Every school and every company is different”, states Michaela Westphal from Job Explorer, describing her own job as “translation work” and “match-making” between schools and the local economy. Particularly companies searching for trainees but lacking resources to acquire them appreciate support to improve their relationships with schools. In this respect, support provided by the Job Explorer is much welcomed. Services comprise the coordination of contact between schools and employers and of precise recommendations how to treat pupils with respect and effectively strengthen their self-esteem – an issue to which the Job Explorer approach is in particular sensitive. Participating schools, obliged to offer courses for job orientation, value Job Explorer’s support free of charge. However, the project’s key partners, playing a decisive role for its success or failure, are the pupils themselves. Therefore, modes of working concern also pedagogical and didactical aspects. Here, finding a sound balance between an attractive format and the much needed teaching of competences turned out to be the main challenge – even more in face of competing offers such as “speed dating events” for applicants and providers of vocational training.
18.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
Since its start in 2010, Job Explorer has been embedded in the local welfare system in two different phases. Within the first phase (2010-12), the project team enjoyed the privilege of being relatively autonomous due to its pilot character. Sponsored by a special funding instrument of the job agency, Job Explorer was seen as an experimental investment in new ways of vocational orientation. The project’s impression on local stakeholders during this test phase was extraordinarily strong, precisely because Job Explorer was born out not by authorities but in cooperation with the local economy that voiced their demands on future employers while the project was conceptualised. Hence, support for maintaining the project came from all sides and across parties. As a result, the district council was forced to take action. Since July 2012, the project is financed as an “economically beneficial measure” by the Economic Development Agency (Wirtschaftsförderung) of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg. However, Job Explorer has to pay a price for its survival. Owing to the new sponsor, a much tighter cooperation with district authorities concerning project aims and ways of achieving them has become necessary. Nowadays, the project competes with other vocational programmes sponsored by public money. Hence, the question concerning “measurable outputs”, e.g. numbers of mediated trainees, and the “scale of the project” (e.g. number of involved schools) is gaining importance. However, so far Job Explorer is in a good position: the project takes advantage of its solid cooperation with the local association of entrepreneurs. “There is a constant demand for trainees among our members”, says a speaker of the association, adding that in many cases it has been Job Explorer’s merit “helping to find the one right person (for an apprenticeship) out of the masses”. Nevertheless, the District Council for Labour and Economy wants to extend Job Explorer’s range of action. In the mid-term, a toolkit promoting apprenticeships provided by the local economy should be developed.