Improving labour market prospects for non-nationals

A study has been undertaken to assess the effectiveness of labour market projects targeted at non-nationals in Estonia. The projects were financed by the European Social Fund during the period 2004–2007. The objective was to analyse the projects’ measures, evaluate their effectiveness, describe positive and negative experiences, and assess their applicability to the national labour market policy.

A study entitled ‘The results of the labour market projects targeted at non-Estonians’ (Mitte-eestlastele suunatud tööturuprojektide tulemused (in Estonian, 1.04Mb, PDF)) has been conducted by the research company MindPark. The study assesses the efficacy of labour market projects financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), examining 25 projects conducted in different regions and involving more than 6,000 participants. The analysis is based on project documentation and group interviews with 40 persons, comprising 20 project managers and 20 participants. The Ministry of Social Affairs (Sotsiaalministeerium) commissioned the study.

Defining target groups

The majority of the projects were targeted at a wide range of persons and only some included specific measures for non-Estonians. According to the study, the lack of a specific target group may result in a loss of focus in some projects: for example, participants may not be fully aware of the purpose of the project and the specific measures provided in the project may not be suitable for all the participants. However, in those projects where the target group was clearly specified, fewer participants were included in the project than initially planned.

Project measures

Even though a small-scale project-based approach would have enabled the use of more innovative measures, all of the measures applied in the projects were quite traditional. Measures such as individual action plans, career counselling and labour market training, followed by either vocational or language training, were mainly used. Thus, the analysis suggests that different measures could have been more often combined – for example, by revising the individual action plan after career counselling or labour market training to make the necessary adjustments; or by combining vocational training with apprenticeship programmes and language training. A further proposal was the implementation of more innovative measures that would not overlap with those provided by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (Töötukassa).

Language training

Estonian language training is the only measure that specifically targets the non-Estonian population. In this respect, the study divided the analysed projects into three groups:

  • projects seeking to improve participants’ language skills;
  • projects where short-term language training was provided in addition to labour market or vocational training;
  • projects where no language training was provided.

The study concluded, based on its findings from the interviews, that language training motivates the participants to continue improving their language skills. It recommends that language training should be based on individual evaluation, as short-term training is not effective for those who are prevented from entering the labour market due to poor language skills. Combining vocational and language training was also proposed to improve the language skills specific to the profession studied.

Effectiveness of projects

The number of people who dropped out of the projects was small, except in those projects where no specific target group was defined. The study found through focus groups that the number of drop-outs could be further reduced by using more active and individual interaction with the participants.

Based on interviews, about half of the participants indicated that they would have entered the labour market even without participating in the projects. However, according to the participants, they would probably have taken up an unskilled job at the minimum wage. Thus, participation in such projects was deemed necessary for a sustainable job.

During the time of the survey, 70% of all participants were working and 10% were apprentices. Of those who were working, 86% indicated that they were satisfied with their work.

Study recommendations

In addition to the proposals outlined above, the study recommends that cooperation be enhanced between institutions working with unemployed people and between regions, in order to increase the effectiveness of the measures. Cooperation with employers is also important – for instance, in terms of specific professional skills provided to unemployed persons or the number of people needed in that field.

At the same time, it was proposed that when planning the projects, other issues should be taken into account – such as the current labour market situation and the specific region or economic sector. The measures could also be adjusted to cater for situations involving large redundancies, in order to support those at risk of losing their job.

In addition to measures that specifically aim to help unemployed people return to the labour market, attention should also be turned to supportive measures. This includes, for example, financial support for transport and accommodation, or temporary childcare services.


According to Statistics Estonia (Statistikaamet), the labour force participation rate in 2008 is slightly higher for non-nationals than Estonians, at 67.4% and 66.3% respectively. However, the employment rate for non-nationals is 61.8% and the unemployment rate reaches 8.2% – the latter is almost twice as high as the respective indicator for Estonians (4.2%).

Kirsti Nurmela and Marre Karu, PRAXIS Centre for Policy Studies

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