28.1 Short description
The municipality of Brescia has been managing for two decades an Employment Insertion Service (Servizio per l’Inserimento Lavorativo, or SAL). It is a “second-level” service that only takes on persons signalled by either public social services or by services run by third sector bodies with long-lasting collaborative relations with the municipality. Like a few other municipal services (e.g. in Milan), the SAL was first created at the end of the 1980s to support the employment of disabled persons. For this purpose, the service used to work with a specific methodology: assessment of competencies; individualised follow-up, training and placement; traineeships or internships (i.e. subsidised work experience), with a relationship between the service and the firm; and mediation between the beneficiary and the labour market.
Since the half of the 1990s, this methodology has been applied to other target groups, too: first to beneficiaries with severe social vulnerabilities (i.e. homeless people), and later also to applicants and beneficiaries of the municipal social services, like people with addiction, former convicts, single mothers, long-term unemployed, people aged over 50 years, etc. Generally, all basic and specialised social services, and also third sector ones (such as Caritas), can present to SAL their users with employment potential.
The number of users of the SAL service has tripled in the last decade, even more so since the impact of the financial crisis on the real economy and the labour market. In 2010, the service dealt with 421 persons; 69 per cent of them were Italians; more than half are disabled, including seventy-two psychiatric patients previously in the charge of the Local Health Agency. Since the current economic crisis has worsened, municipal social services are confronted daily with desperate persons in need of income support, whose utilities (gas and electricity) have been cut, and whose main request is “a job”. Both social workers and municipal council members define the income need as “an emergency” that goes beyond the possibility of local authorities to tackle it with its resources.
A specific voucher (dote is the Italian term used to indicate this kind of measures in the framework of the Lombardy region social interventions3) has been managed by the SAL in the last 3 years. The “Dote Investing in Expertise” (the official name of the voucher is in English; from now on we shall refer to it as “IiE”), was introduced and financed by the province of Brescia and reserved for two groups of unemployed people with particular difficulties in finding a job:
- persons aged over 45 years;
- single women with family charges.
The social innovation character here lies in the definition of a measure with the aim to work with the municipal SAL and to facilitate the (re)insertion into the labour market of particularly fragile groups of jobless people.
28.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users
The employment insertion activity of the SAL is based on personalised paths that are organised around three main phases:
- preliminary actions (CV drafting, competence assessment and guidance in the active research of jobs);
- training (professional training groups, on-the-job training, apprenticeship);
- support in hiring (subsidised jobs in cooperatives or firms, extraordinary post-hiring interventions, in order to mediate conflicts or strengthen skills if necessary).
A traineeship compensation payment is foreseen. In cases where the trainee received a municipal monetary benefit, the compensation payment substitutes it (see Costa and Sabatinelli 2012a).
For beneficiaries/applicants whose personal situations do not allow for professional training, “social traineeships” are developed. They are a sort of voluntary activity with educational content, aimed at giving them (back) a social role, enhancing their self-esteem and “justifying” the monetary benefit they receive on the basis of an informal social contract. These social insertion experiences may be a first step that – after a positive conclusion – leads to a real labour-market insertion project, following the same steps described above.
Since the beginning of the current economic crisis, the personal fragility of applicants has increased, as well as the duration of the insertion period. SAL officers therefore tend to develop longer traineeships, also due to the augmented difficulty in (re)inserting the applicants into the labour market.
First of all, it should be considered that the genesis of the voucher “Investing in Expertise” is rather typical for the Italian context: some funds were available since 2007 from the Lombardy Regional Agency for Education, Training and Employment (ARIFL); a project was drafted and a target identified on the basis of the accessible money, i.e. 350,000 euros from regional funds plus a 20,000 euro contribution by the Province of Brescia4, rather than the other way round. This contributed to limit the process of programming. The objective was to cover unprotected segments of the population, particularly at risk of unemployment in general terms, and even more so in these years of crisis.
The general framework was given by the regional voucher system (Sabatinelli and Villa 2011). The specific model of functioning was inspired by the provincial voucher system for the targeted employment-insertion of the disabled5. The measure, operating since 2010, was introduced to all municipalities in the province, but it was defined in its details in strict collaboration between the province and the municipality of Brescia (and particularly with the SAL office). The distribution of resources concentrated in the provincial capital: thirty vouchers were reserved for the city of Brescia, while forty-seven vouchers were available to the other 205 municipalities of the province. All applicants were selected by the municipalities (and by Caritas in Brescia, as explained below), and were already beneficiaries of local social services. This helped to further qualify the target group of this measure as cases with a particularly high level of fragility.
Each of the smaller municipalities of the province could apply only for one voucher. The municipal services were in charge of the selection of the candidate, then vouchers were attributed to municipalities on a “first come first served” basis. Beneficiaries of this voucher were persons signalled by basic social services (in the case of single mothers the municipal Children’s Office or third sector bodies, such as Caritas). Selected persons applied in agreement with SAL for a voucher to pay for a package of training and employment services and tutoring. The aim of the measure was to give beneficiaries tools to be more able to deal with the labour market (again). Besides basic transversal skills, as CV-drafting and active job-research techniques, the objective was to give the beneficiaries the opportunity to achieve specific educational and/or training results, and to enhance their competences. Examples are getting a driving licence or completing professional courses to become carers for the elderly with basic socio-health qualifications.
The quota of vouchers reserved to provide income support for the beneficiaries was considered too low by the Municipality of Brescia to allow them to sustain the (re)insertion path with dignity. An additional difficulty arose from the fact that the voucher system foresaw that the benefit was only paid at the end of the whole period, once it was certified that the project had been accomplished in all its parts (municipal report on IiE voucher).
In order to tackle these shortcomings, the municipality of Brescia signed an agreement with the local Caritas, to collaborate on the management of this measure. Caritas selected a third of the applicants for Brescia city, and contributed to finance an extra income benefit for all the Brescia beneficiaries, granting 600 euros per month income support for 6 months (of which 400 euros were paid by the municipality and 200 euros by Caritas). As far as the provincial coordination knows, no other municipality found additional resources to complement the IiE measure. Involved firms were not obliged to hire the inserted person at the end of the apprenticeship period. The project foresaw a rather generous bonus in case of hiring: 500 euros for a 6-month contract and 1,000 euros for a 1-year contract. Even though this bonus was doubled with municipal resources in Brescia, it proved to be rather ineffective. The firms involved opted for rather shorter contracts, all the more so in this time of recession, even though this meant losing the extra payment. The beneficiaries of IiE vouchers in Brescia municipality were fifteen men aged over 45 years and fifteen women with family charges (mostly immigrant single mothers). Half of the beneficiaries were Italian and half foreigners.
A vast majority (90 per cent) of participants were involved in training courses. More than half (seventeen out of thirty) were involved in a job experience in a firm or cooperative (traineeship). Twenty-one persons were hired after the traineeship, but most of them (sixteen) with a short-term contract (less than 6 months). Only four persons were hired with a contract lasting between 6 and 24 months, and one beneficiary was hired on a permanent basis. The province management defines employment outcomes as “not exciting, but interesting”. Municipal social services underline, though, that short-term contracts, although useful in principle as an enrichment of individual CVs, are nevertheless tricky, as they might in fact imply a worsening of personal weaknesses, because fragile cases find it particularly difficult to manage insecurity and anxiety.
Because most available jobs have atypical working hours, the municipal Children’s Office has organised case-by-case baby-sitting services, involving a relative, a neighbour, or another mother in the charge of the Children’s Office, with the payment of a reimbursement. As a result, most vouchers given to single mothers actually activated two women at a time. This is an important result that draws on the role of child care solutions as a lever to increase female employment. It is even more important as a possibility for municipal social services to offer a job to women who otherwise would be hard to place, especially in times of crisis.
28.3. Internal organisation and modes of working
The municipal SAL staff are made up of two municipal employees (civil servants) who work in cooperation with the other sectors of the municipal social services. The collaboration does not only consist of the signalling of potentially employable users, but also in the overall identification of their personal resources and needs (see for instance the consideration of, and answer to, child care needs mentioned above). A reorganisation was carried out recently in order for the municipality to only keep direct responsibility for the coordination of activities, while all other tasks, including case-management, were outsourced to an accredited private employment agency.
The service traditionally works in partnership with social cooperatives linked to the municipality by an agreement; one of them is specialised in employment services for the disabled, the other one for persons with social disadvantages. Since the mid-1980s the municipality has an agreement with local social cooperatives that they can obtain contracts to develop outsourced activities for the municipality, such as maintenance of green areas, cleaning services, data-entry, etc., under the condition that they hire persons signalled by the social services. This allowed SAL to include work experience in the individualised path developed for each user, making a stock of protected job experience placements (around fifty per year) available. However, this agreement has been contested in the last years, as it goes against the possibility to sign outsourcing contracts at the lowest price possible, which has been difficult to defend in a period of heavy budget constraints.
To manage the IiE vouchers, partnerships with accredited private job centres needed to be developed further. Interestingly, the evaluation of SAL is that not all private job centres are ready to support paths of integration for persons with fragile profiles at present, and municipal services had to provide strong tutoring of the individual cases even when these were in charge of the private bodies. The smaller municipalities of the province who do not have an internal employment service comparable to SAL needed to establish partnerships with (mostly private) employment agencies.
28.4. Interaction with the local welfare system
The measure originates in a project developed by the Province of Brescia, in close connection with the employment insertion service of the Brescia Municipality (SAL). The aim was to manage most of the available resources in the provincial capital, due to the concentration of province population there and to the relatively higher weight of the labour market. As we have seen above, the other municipalities of the province did have the possibility to participate, but only forty-seven vouchers were available for them; thus less than a quarter of the remaining municipalities were able to benefit from the measure, obtaining only one voucher for one selected beneficiary each. This means that the measure was basically an “urban” policy, specifically implemented in the Municipality of Brescia, where it could count on particular municipal services with specific experience in the field, on trained staff and consolidated routines in order to be implemented. The smaller municipalities had to externalise the case management to private accredited bodies and, despite the province claims to have kept the application procedure as simple as possible, many of the municipalities that did apply had severe difficulties in approaching the instrument, characterised by rigid online procedures. This calls for some caution in applying the same standardised procedures to different, albeit close, or even neighbouring, contexts.
Although the project is virtually still in place (a few vouchers have not been closed yet, since some of the individual activities are still running), it has in fact expired, as the fund has been used up, and no other resources have been destined to this purpose. This makes the whole measure a sort of an unintended experiment that would certainly need more resources and more continuity in order to have a real impact in terms of:
- long-term social and professional (re)integration of beneficiaries;
- institutional learning by the involved public and private bodies.
The “accidental” experimental feature would have also gained much more value in presence of a systematic monitoring of the implementation. On the contrary, evaluation was not officially and compulsorily required in the procedure. Brescia was the only municipality to produce a synthetic report on the results, and there was no systematic collection of feedbacks from the smaller municipalities, where the space for institutional learning was in principle wider, since in many contexts this was the first and only case, or one of the rare cases, in which a measure with such contents, objectives and procedures was ever implemented.