Company A, France: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – long-term unemployed
‘Company A’, a private association financed by public funds, has implemented a new innovative process aimed at integrating people who are at risk of exclusion from the labour market into employment. The measure targets those receiving income support, long-term unemployed people and people with low or no qualifications. It is based on an ‘intervention on offer and demand’ method, aimed at both eliminating the company’s interest in the workers’ personal characteristics during the recruitment process and at supporting companies in identifying their real internal needs.
‘Company A’ is an association founded in 2001 and located in an area with major problems in terms of employment levels and social inclusion. The association works in conjunction with 15 other organisations, all of which work in the field of social inclusion. In particular, Company A was set up with the aim of increasing the level of integration into the labour market of people who are clearly at risk of exclusion. Its foundation was justified by the belief that economic growth is not sufficient enough to provide jobs for people with serious social problems.
The association is managed by a board of directors, including representatives of the affiliated organisations. At present, the association has nine employees, of whom five are women. The workforce consists of one director, one assistant director, one person in charge of housekeeping and six project managers working in two different teams. Due to the company’s size, social dialogue is informal; however, in 2005, this approach resulted in an improvement of employees’ employment contracts. Company A supports people at risk of social exclusion in accessing permanent employment. It has also taken the initiative to carry out employment studies and wishes to provide further training and information in this field. As a private association, Company A has to comply with all the legal requirements applying to private companies.
Description of the initiative
In an effort to get people at risk of social exclusion into employment, Company A has implemented an innovative process initially carried out by another French association, namely Transfer. The new process is based on ‘intervention on offer and demand’ (IOD). This employment integration method does not aim to place people on the labour market by simply matching job offers and job demands but to act directly in relation to the job offer by changing companies’ recruitment practices. The starting point of this method is to consider that employability is not a universal concept. In other words, each person has the potential skills to satisfy an employer. The process is carried out by Company A’s project managers and focuses on finding companies to recruit and identifying people at risk of exclusion. The initiative focuses on the people supported by the organisations affiliated to Company A. To be accepted to the programme, a person should satisfy at least one of three criteria set by Company A:
- benefits from basic income support for more than 24 months;
- being long-term unemployed – in practice, this concerns people who are completely excluded from the labour market;
- has no or very low qualifications.
If a person selected by an affiliated association agrees to enter the programme, an interview is organised for this individual with Company A. During the interview, Company A explains the objective of the programme, which is to obtain permanent employment for the applicant in the form of an open-ended employment contract or a fixed-term contract lasting more than six months. The applicant has to express a clear desire to enter the programme, but no formal commitment is required. Thereafter, several offers of employment are presented to the applicant, who is then invited to consider them carefully. In some cases, persons with concerns often have the wrong perception of the labour market and thus cannot clearly see the various ways of being integrated into employment. The applicant is supposed to choose an offer and is informed by Company A that they will not have to compete with other applicants for their chosen job. Company A’s project managers search for companies offering low-skilled jobs. Only jobs with open-ended employment contracts or long fixed-term contracts are selected. In order to find relevant offers, the project managers contact the various companies previously selected. One fundamental aspect of this process is that Company A does not tell the client companies contacted that the association is devoted to integrating into employment people at risk of exclusion. Company A simply tell the companies selected that they can provide services to them in order to make their recruitment process easier. They also inform the companies that the services offered are free of charge and financed by public funding.
If an individual company agrees to the proposal made, project managers visit the premises to evaluate the workplace and the nature of job offered but also to negotiate better ways of integrating a worker into the job. This visit is also used as a method to try to convince the company that it should recruit someone who could fit in with the company’s needs. If this work of persuasion is successful, the association proposes to the client company that it will find a suitable applicant for the position. At this stage, the company has to accept to meet the applicant without requiring a curriculum vitae (CV). Subsequently, a meeting between the applicant, the company and one project manager is set up. If an employment contract is concluded, a support system is then offered to both the company and the worker in order to ensure a positive integration of the worker and to avoid any breach of contract. This support measure includes several weekly meetings with both the employer and the employee until the probation period ends. Thereafter, two further meetings are organised – one meeting three months after the end of the probation period and another meeting to be held six months after the probation period. If a breach of contract occurs during the probation period, new job offers are proposed to the worker.
In general, the measure is based on a three-way relationship between the company, the worker and the project manager.
The innovative aspect of the programme and the key to success is the particular method used by Company A. The process aims at eliminating all observations related to the personal features of the applicant during the recruitment process and at convincing companies to focus only on their real internal needs. It also aims at gaining an open-ended and full-time employment contract for the programme’s participants. So far, the results obtained have been good. The initiative is really focused on people with little or no possibility of entering the labour market.
Up to 80% of the people entering the programme have no diploma. Moreover, 42% of participants have never benefited from an open-ended employment contract lasting more than six months, while 42% of participants have never had a contract lasting at least two years. More than half of the persons entering the process benefit from basic income support. Up to 45% of the programme’s participants are women, and specific work is carried out to offer them jobs on account of their particular situation. Of the 118 participants who left the programme in 2005, 83 of them have obtained full-time employment. Of this number, 60 people have successfully passed the probation period in their new job. Among this group, 80% of the people have no diploma, 60% of them have benefited from basic income support for more than two years, and 43% are women. To date, companies that have participated in the programme are satisfied with the services provided by Company A, particularly with regard to the process defining the company’s internal needs and the support provided by the project managers. Participant companies are part of a sample group chosen by the association. In 2005, this ‘network’ provided 186 job offers in 111 companies. In general, companies are mostly small and medium-sized enterprises with up to 50 employees.
One important aspect of the programme’s success is the follow-up action to the placement of workers. Company A is financed by public funds – such as the European Social Fund (ESF) and the French state – hence a very rigorous follow-up procedure is based on detailed tools. This follow-up exercise is necessary to obtain public financing but also to improve the programme’s results year after year.
Exemplary and contextual factors
Researchers who studied the integration method implemented by Company A think that, to some extent, it is similar to the US Welfare-to-Work programmes. What is new in this case is that the measure is not based on the assumption, like some definitions of employability, that long-term unemployment necessarily results from individual causes; thus, the measure does not consider that long-term unemployment is the personal responsibility of the job-seeker. In this regard, the integration process highlighted in this case study is quite different from many French employment policies.
Christophe Tessier, Université européenne du travail, Paris