EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Spar–Jobfabrik, Austria: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – early school-leavers


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integrating people at risk of exclusion into the labour market

Spar and Jobfabrik have jointly established ‘Spar Jobtraining’, a vocational certificate programme for young people who do not have the ability to complete an apprenticeship and hence who risk being excluded from the labour market. The programme includes job placement in a supermarket, formal training and monitoring by a mentor, who looks after the successful integration of the programme’s participants in the workplace. All participants are offered a permanent work contract with Spar following completion of the programme.

Organisational background

Spar Jobtraining is a cooperative initiative between Spar, one of Austria’s largest retail supermarket chains, and Volkshilfe Jobfabrik, a part of Volkshilfe Beschäfigung (non-profit organisation). The latter is subsidised by the Vienna regional office of the Federal Welfare Agency, the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Vienna office of the Public Employment Service.

With a market share of 27.6%, Spar has approximately 1,400 supermarkets in Austria, half of which it directly operates. Its most important competitor is the German-owned Rewe supermarket chain. In 2006, Spar employed 34,000 workers and trained about 2,700 apprentices; it is therefore Austria’s largest training company for apprentices. The retailer has a works council in place in every supermarket, and employee representatives have also established a central works council of Spar in Austria. Moreover, a youth council exists. The trade union density rate stands at 40% for the eastern Austria region. The company is a member of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber.

Volkshilfe Jobfabrik arranges jobs and placements for many young people: those who have not completed any formal education, those who come from special schools, and those who have learning difficulties. The organisation employs 17 qualified workers and organises job-based projects in the services sector, such as in catering and home repairs. It also organises first job placements and an internal apprenticeship workshop. Participants are offered tutoring, psychological support and help with social problems such as family issues. The aim of all projects is to secure entry into the labour market for every participant. Jobfabrik indicates a success rate of 91%.

Description of the initiative

In January 2002, Volkshilfe Jobfabrik contacted Spar to talk about a potential partnership; a few months later in April 2002, Spar signed a letter of intent, effectively laying the ground for such a cooperative move. The months that followed saw the two project partners develop a framework model for the job-training programme described in this case study. In August 2002, Spar and Volkshilfe Jobfabrik approached the Federal Welfare Agency looking for financial funding for the programme. That autumn, as both organisations prepared to roll out the programme, the agency agreed to subsidise the project. The programme called ‘Spar Jobtraining’ kicked off in January 2003.

Three representatives from Volkshilfe Jobfabrik and the executive manager of Spar’s vocational training centre, the Spar Academy (Spar Akademie), were primarily involved in the setting up of the programme. The Spar Academy is a publicly recognised vocational training centre and is responsible for the theoretical education of apprentices in retail trade. The social partners were not involved in the process itself, but approved the initiative.

The target group of the Spar Jobtraining initiative are young people with no formal educational certificate, who often come from special schools. These young people do not have the cognitive capability to complete a standard apprenticeship; however, neither is it appropriate for them to be included in occupational projects for disabled individuals. Therefore, they lack access to an appropriate career path and risk being excluded from the labour market. The Spar Jobtraining programme thus aims to provide a vocational certificate, which has lower occupational and educational requirements than those of an apprenticeship, but still enables young people to get their first job in the regular labour market. The Spar Jobtraining certificate is not an officially recognised diploma, but it certifies that the person has acquired a certain qualification in sales.

The Jobtraining consists of:

  • a placement in a supermarket;
  • formal education at the Spar Academy;
  • training in the form of role plays of the different tasks in supermarkets;
  • discussion meetings with the mentor;
  • individual talks and meetings with the mentor as needed.

The executive manager of the Spar Academy selects the supermarkets where the young people will be placed. This happens in consultation with the supermarket manager, in order to make sure that the team working in the shop is open and committed to the project. Most of the young people starting the Spar Jobtraining certificate course would have already participated in one of the Volkshilfe Jobfabrik’s projects.

A mentor accompanies the entire programme. This person works full time and takes care of all practical issues in relation to the job placements, such as scheduling theoretical training sessions and setting up timetables, handing out documentation, supervising the integration of the young people in the workplace and leading the discussion meetings. The mentor’s main task, however, is to support the participants in coping with the challenges of the new work situation, for instance, in being punctual, working together with adults and coping with frustration.

The Spar Jobtraining programme is a 12-month training course and consists of four terms, each lasting three months. For the first term, participants are considered volunteer trainees at Spar, and the public employment service pays them a basic allowance. During this time, they work 24 hours a week in the Spar supermarket and get to know the shop, the products and their duties. In addition, they have to follow classes in theoretical education and vocational training at the Spar Academy. Every week, they have a discussion meeting with the mentor accompanying their job training. The first term ends with a test.

At the beginning of the second term, the participants are taken on by Spar as employees with a permanent contract, which is paid according to the collective agreement. The weekly working time amounts to 38.5 hours, of which about five hours are spent in the training centre, working on the theoretical aspects of the programme. Discussion meetings take place every fortnight. During the last two terms, the number of formal training sessions and discussion meetings decreases while working time increases. Following completion of all the four terms, the participants receive a certificate as ‘Qualified sales assistant’ (‘Qualifizierte Verkaufshilfskraft’). The mentor continues to support the participants in their working life for a further six months.

The Federal Welfare Agency’s subsidies pay the personnel costs of the mentor and a part of the personnel costs of the other two project staff at Volkshilfe Jobfabrik. The agency also funds a considerable part of the participants’ wages that are paid out by Spar: it pays 80% of each participant’s wage in the second term, 60% in the third term and 40% in the last term.

In terms of resources, Spar provides the office space for the mentor and the permanent contracts for the participants. The retailer finances all training costs at the training centre and any resulting staff costs.

Spar offers six placements every year, but not all of these places are filled. By 2005, 13 participants had successfully completed the training and a further six individuals were being trained in 2006.


Several aspects make this initiative a good practice measure. First of all, the framework of the training is beneficial as it provides for a vocational certificate which can be classified just below that of an apprenticeship. The certificate is thus accessible to those lacking the capacity to complete any other form of education. It helps those young people, who find themselves in this position, to avoid unemployment, and also it protects them from falling into the category of a disabled person; the latter would have a major impact on their employability and their chances for a self-determined life.

On-the-job learning in a rather safeguarded work environment helps these young people to get used to the problems they will face in the ‘real’ working world and to ease fears related to work. Therefore, the Spar Jobtraining programme seems to facilitate participants’ transition from school into a regular working life. This stepping stone approach, as well as the lower educational requirements, ensure a feeling of success and result in a long-term motivation for and commitment to the job.

Another important feature of the programme is the offer of a permanent work contract with Spar following the completion of the programme. In 2005, three of the four participants chose to avail of the offer, while the other participant decided to take up an apprenticeship. Former participants of the programme have the same opportunities to be promoted as other staff in Spar; for example, one former Jobtraining participant is today in charge of the dairy department, which is a demanding position.

An important factor influencing the success of the programme relates to the thorough preparation of the supermarket staff and the availability of a mentor helping and guiding the programme’s participants. Overall, participants integrate smoothly into the existing supermarket teams following individual talks with the supermarket managers and their staff.

Moreover, the cooperation between a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the social sector and a private company, co-financed by the Federal Welfare Agency, is regarded as unique in the retail trade sector.

In 2006, the initiative was awarded the ‘SozialMarie award for innovative social projects’ by the private Unruhe Foundation which supports socio-political, scientific, artistic and innovative projects.

Exemplary and contextual factors

Spar and Volkshilfe Jobfabrik have succeeded in establishing, and co-financing with the Federal Welfare Agency, a programme for a particular group of young people. Those young people are unable to complete a regular education and are likely to be seen as being disabled, and as such placed in occupational projects for disabled individuals; this situation, although well-intentioned, is not in the best interests of these young people. The Spar Jobtraining programme thus effectively protects these young people from unemployment by offering them the chance to attain a vocational certificate and a first position in the regular labour market.

Manfred Krenn, FORBA, Vienna

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