Let’s get back to work

Across Europe, over 40% of unemployed people have been out of work and looking for a job for more than a year, increasing their risk of poverty, social exclusion and inequalities.

In big cities such as Madrid, however, statistics like these take on a different meaning.

Research carried out by Eurocities, and published earlier this year, shows that employment rates are on the rise in Europe’s big cities, but the situation of the long term unemployed, people with disabilities, older people and those living in deprived areas remains much worse than the average.

Much of this can be linked to the boost in new forms of employment with atypical, part-time and temporary contracts.

Moreover, the picture between cities also varies greatly. According to the network, the percentage of long term unemployed (those out of work and looking for a job for more than 12 months) ranges from ‘a low of 3% in Vienna to a high of 53.2% in Antwerp.’

For its part, Madrid provides valuable workforce development programmes and training services promoting the reintegration of the long term unemployed, particularly senior talent and experienced workers, into the labour market.

Marta Higueras, a city councillor and former deputy mayor, commented “in Madrid, we invest over €20 million annually in training and work experience programmes that reach more than 3,000 long term unemployed people, aiming to bring them back into the labour market.”

Moreover, Madrid plans to spend an additional €20 million to reach another 3,000 beneficiaries with particular focus on senior talent and experienced workers, in order to drive down its long term unemployment rates even further.

Madrid’s philosophy? To “ensure people are at the centre of it,” says Higueras.

People matter

Ever since the economic crisis, Spain has been one of the countries with the highest rates of unemployment in Europe. In Madrid this figure rose to nearly 50% of all unemployed people experiencing long term unemployment, and this disproportionately effects particular neighbourhoods.

This is also why successive administrations in Madrid have been implementing specific neighbourhood employment plans.

“Studies show that unemployed people have low levels of trust towards public services,” says Belén García Díaz, a manager at the Madrid Employment Agency. Consequently, one of the major points of focus for the Employment Agency is to “try to bring these services closer to the people and work on that trust,” says García Díaz.

Madrid focusses on different plans locally through its Employment Agency

Providing active support to employment, (giving tailored support to those furthest away from the labour market through job search, coaching, counselling and guidance), is one of the main ways that city administrations can impact the local labour market.

However, as EUROCITIES highlights in its policy paper on ‘equal opportunities and access to the labour market in cities in Europe,’ this is not always recognised in national or European level policy making and more needs to be done to highlight this.

Not long ago Madrid did just that when it became the first city to pledge its support to the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights as part of a political initiative coordinated by EUROCITIES.

Although the city has undergone a political change in the running of its city administration since then, the focus on employment remains high, with the new administration introducing 8 employment initiatives in its first 100 days.

Some of these include:

  • €1.5 million to encourage the hiring of young people under 30 who do not have prior work experience or are long term unemployed. The scheme, which is co-financed by the Youth Employment Initiative and the European Social Fund, offers direct monthly €1,000 subsidies to private employers that hire young people for a minimum period of six months. In addition, an extra €500 per month is offered for the hiring of women and transgender people. And €3,000 is offered to those employers that convert the initial contract of at least 6 months into a full-time indefinite one.
  • €8 million to expand the national level incentives for indefinite recruitment that facilitate the stable inclusion of unemployed people into the labour market, with a special focus on older workers, and the conversion of temporary or training contracts. The first €2 million of this will be allocated through €4,000 grants to companies and the self-employed for the hiring of unemployed people. This will increase to €5,500 for hiring someone over 45 and €7,500 for hiring someone over 45 who counts as long term unemployed. The remaining €6 million will be spent on grants for the conversion of training or temporary contracts into indefinite contracts.
  • From January 2020, ‘blue guides’ – employees identified with clothing and elements of that colour – will have a small counter in each of Madrid’s employment offices. Equipped with smartphones and tablets, they will be a quick reference point for job seekers, and help smooth the process of searching and applying for jobs and benefits, especially when competencies for those different services often lie between different levels of government and are not all situated within the city’s services.
Madrid employment plans tackling long term unemployment at local level

Clearly, Madrid is very active at both the local and European level – political initiatives like the one Madrid has joined alongside many other cities on the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, can play a role to bring evidence of local realities and the measures taken by local administrations, such as those outlined above, to European eyes.

In its position paper EUROCITIES points out that, as the level of government closest to people and the local economy, cities are the first to see that labour markets are changing. And most administrations are going beyond their competency level to deal with the needs they face – a reason why the network says it is time to ‘involve cities as partners in social policy-making at national and EU level.’

Statistics cannot tell a story, but they certainly can help point us towards the truth – for Europe’s people the most telling truth will be action.

Alex Godson Eurocities Writer