De Schalm, the Netherlands: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – long-term unemployed
De Schalm is a recycling company, consisting of two shops selling recycled products and various repair workshops. The company hires long-term unemployed people, most of whom have psychosocial problems, offering them work experience and counselling to facilitate future integration into the regular labour market. Within the project’s scope, 100 jobs are available for these people, and workers have the possibility of staying in the job for a maximum of two years. On an annual basis, about 30% of the people leaving the project find paid employment in the labour market.
De Schalm is a recycling company and currently has two shops selling recycled products, various repair workshops and a sewing workshop producing new garments and furnishing fabrics. Workers collect used goods, repair them if possible or necessary, and then sell them in the second-hand shops. Among the company’s work sites are a garage for repairing antique cars, a sewing workshop where clothes are repaired or altered to look more modern, a furniture workshop and a workshop for electronic goods. The company has been operating for more than 25 years. It started up as a project initiated by an organisation working with volunteers. The objective was to offer some form of temporary work to people with a drug addiction.
De Schalm receives financial support from the European Social Fund (ESF) and from institutes that refer their clients to them. The company’s revenue reaches almost €2 million, consisting of income from the sale of its second-hand products, allowances paid by the local authority amounting to €1.4 million for recycling activities, and a subsidy of €450,000. The subsidy is used to finance new projects, for example to set up new workshops and to develop their methodology.
The De Schalm management team consists of two persons, one of whom is the general manager. About 50 employees work for the company in administrative, counselling or other jobs. In addition, 19 employees work in so-called ID-jobs. These jobs are created with the government’s support to offer long-term unemployed people a chance to acquire work experience. This group of people seem to face fewer problems than the target group; thus, they will not receive extra training or counselling. About 100 jobs are available within the scope of the project for long-term unemployed people. Of the regular workforce, about 35% of the workers are women. Trade union density is low, most likely amounting to less than 20%; however, no exact density figures exist thus far.
Description of the initiative
De Schalm’s policy is to welcome everyone to the project, irrespective of their abilities. The company does not require workers to have a specific education or work experience; in this regard, their empowerment strategy is to use people’s own competences. The organisation’s goal is to activate people with psychosocial problems, and to reintegrate them into society by recruiting them into the company. New participants must be willing to work, must have the motivation to develop skills for future job opportunities, and must be willing to communicate.
About 100 long-term unemployed people are hired every year by De Schalm. Each year, about 50 new people enter the project, and about the same number of people leaves the project. Overall, more men than women enter the project, with current numbers representing about 80% men compared with 20% women. Even though participants are allowed to stay in the job for a maximum of two years, most of them stay for one year. Half of the participants are younger than 35 years of age and about one quarter of them are older than 45 years of age. Most of the workers (90%) live on social security benefits. In the last five years, about 30% of the people who left the project found a paid job in the labour market; however, this figure varies every year. In 2005, the results were disappointing, for unknown reasons, as the percentage of workers who found a paid job in the regular labour market declined, amounting to only 14% on average. Another 12% of the workers started to work in voluntary jobs, and 22% of them enrolled in a course or pursued further training. Another 24% of the participants left for health reasons and the remainder of the workers left the project for different or unknown reasons.
Participants receive an expense allowance, while keeping their unemployment benefit, and also get discount in the shops. Moreover, they receive counselling, training and education aimed at a future job in the general labour market outside the realms of De Schalm. At the start of their working time at De Schalm, participants attend an interview with one of the counsellors. After about six weeks, an agreement is made on when the participant will join the project and possible goals that could be reached during this time. Subsequently, the counsellor meets with the participant on several occasions during the course of the project to evaluate progress.
In their daily routine of working for De Schalm, participants are supported by supervisors acting as mentors. These mentors have expertise in the areas of work carried out by the participants, as well as relevant skills and knowledge in the field of social welfare.
De Schalm promotes the discussion, development and evaluation of the methods used to teach the project participants and to help them integrate into the labour market. Much of the subsidy received by the organisation is used for this purpose. Some of the teaching methods used by De Schalm receive much attention such as the following:
- familiarising workers with all aspects of the job, including discipline and hierarchy;
- introducing workers to the free market system;
- communication techniques;
- promoting the idea that ‘to survive, you have to earn money’;
- encouraging workers to be creative, inventive and to come up with their own ideas.
During their time at De Schalm, the participants are very enthusiastic about their work and the daily routine involved with it. However, the continuation of the project, which means activating participants and integrating them into the labour market, does not always succeed. It should be taken into account the difficulties encountered by trying to integrate all of the participants into employment. Almost everyone can enter the project as it is easily accessible, but still some long-term unemployed people will have serious psychosocial problems. Nevertheless, a large number of people with limited opportunities to enter the labour market were able to find a suitable job with De Schalm’s assistance.
Although De Schalm has received a considerable amount of financial support to carry out their programmes, the organisation plans to make a profitable company. The subsidy received by the company is not structural but is used for investment purposes – for example, in the case of the new workshops that will be profitable within two years. However, some discussion has taken place about the objective of being profitable. Some people may think that this is an unfeasible goal, as the company works with a highly vulnerable group of people who require protection. According to this view, structural financial support would be a more obvious solution. Furthermore, as De Schalm’s activities save the society money, the company should be entitled to some form of compensation.
In their annual reports, the company presents a calculation of the cost savings to society due to the activities of De Schalm. In 2005, this figure amounted to €634,099. Savings have been made in relation to the recycling activities as a result of lower costs for garbage collection and disposal. Savings in relation to future social security are not included in this calculation.
As part of their efforts, De Schalm tries to create a follow-on effect. The support provided by the ESF is also meant to be used to transfer knowledge acquired by De Schalm to regular trade and industry companies. Many companies encounter difficulties in handling people with certain social difficulties and are usually not inclined to hire people with psychosocial problems. Therefore, De Schalm assists other companies in working with these people by means of informative workshops. However, the success of these workshops has been limited so far.
Exemplary and contextual factors
De Schalm is noteworthy for its efforts in offering long-term unemployed people with psychosocial problems easy access to work experience and counselling within a normal working environment. A distinct aspect of the project is its orientation towards the regular labour market. From the moment long-term unemployed people enter the company, they begin to prepare for future employment prospects.
Swenneke van den Heuvel, TNO, Hoofdorp