Spectra Collection, Sweden: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – long-term unemployed
Spectra Collection AB, a wood manufacturing company, initiated a training programme which was aimed at providing long-term unemployed persons with the training needed to become wood industry workers. The training course included eight weeks of theoretical training and 32 weeks of on-the-job training in companies. Five participants of the programme did their practical training at Spectra Collection, and four of these were subsequently hired by the company after completing the training programme.
Spectra Collection AB began operations in 1931 as a producer of wooden interiors for grocery shops. Following an economic crisis in 1993, the then managing director took over ownership of the company. In recent years, the company has expanded its activities; in 2005, it recorded an annual turnover of €16 million with a workforce of 103 employees.
The company produces interiors and displays for shops, banks and pharmacies, as well as office and storage solutions and cubicle systems. All products are tailor-made and thus are not produced in large quantities. Therefore, all workers and wood machine operators must be skilled in reading blueprints and product specifications. As the company had problems in finding suitably qualified staff, it decided to take part in a wood industry programme aimed at training long-term unemployed persons to work in the wood manufacturing industry.
Spectra Collection depends on a skilled workforce and has a well-developed personnel policy, including an ambitious training policy, a well-defined health and safety strategy, and a positive work environment. The company’s workforce comprises mainly men. In light of this, Spectra Collection has put in place a diversity policy in terms of sex, age and ethnical background for the recruitment of its workers.
Description of the initiative
The wood manufacturing industry in Sweden is mostly concentrated in the Jönköping and Kronoberg regions in southern Sweden. In 2002, the regional authorities noted a shortage of trained wood workers in the region, while the region recorded a comparatively high unemployment rate. Against this background, the regional Labour Market Board (Arbetsmarknadsstyrelsen, AMS) contacted the wood industry development centre, Träcentrum Nässjö. This initial contact led to an agreement to launch a training programme targeted at training long-term unemployed persons to become wood industry workers. Following on from this agreement, the organisations applied to the regional representative of the European Social Fund (ESF) looking for financial support for the project. The ESF representative agreed to partly subsidise the project, which aimed to recruit 25 long-term unemployed persons and train them to become wood industry workers. It was decided that one of the project’s objectives was to ensure that at least half of the participants would be those people who are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to finding a job, such as immigrants and women.
A 40-week training programme was designed, comprising eight weeks of theoretical education at a training centre and 32 weeks on-the-job training in companies. The idea was to offer a training programme which would be strongly influenced by the needs of companies in the industry. It was also hoped that the companies which took part in the training programme would be interested in hiring some of the participants once they had successfully completed the programme.
The training programme covers four specific aspects of the wood manufacturing industry: material knowledge; the reading of blueprints; the operation of computer numerical controlled (CNC) machines; and surface treatment. Each of these aspects is covered in its own specific module. Each module is composed of a theoretical part in the training centre and a number of weeks of practical training in a company. The programme was designed for persons without prior knowledge of the woodworking industry; moreover, some scope was given for individual adjustment in order to take the individual background of the participants into account.
The theoretical part of the programme was organised in three training centres in the southern Swedish towns of Nässjö, Växjö and Ljungby. The local offices of the AMS organised the recruitment of the participants. In all, 350 long-term unemployed persons were informed about the programme; 36 of these expressed an interest in the training programme and took part in the introductory phase. Some 22 participants completed the training programme, 17 of whom got a job after completing the training course. Ten out of these 17 persons got a job in the company where they completed their training and half of these were women or immigrants with no prior exposure to the woodworking industry.
Spectra Collection was one of the companies which decided to take part in the project and offered to take six students, one of whom fell ill and had to leave the training course. The other five students completed the training programme and four of these participants were offered a job with the company once they had completed the training. In line with the company’s diversity strategy, three of the recruits were women and one was a migrant worker.
No formal obligation existed for the companies to hire the participants following the completion of the training course. Spectra Collection, however, regarded the undertaking as an opportunity for recruitment and went through the normal selection procedures before accepting the students.
The managing director of Spectra Collection is of the opinion that the training programme was a success. The company had looked for skilled persons to hire for some time without success. The workers they got from the training programme were sufficiently skilled to work in the company following the 40 weeks of training. However, it would have been preferable if the students had been given a further year of training since 40 weeks is not sufficient to become a skilled wood machine operator.
The local representative of the Swedish Forest and Wood Trade Union is very pleased with the training programme. The union had assisted Spectra Collection when it was expanding its operations.
The companies participating in the project did not receive any compensation for taking on the participants. At the same time, they had to allocate workers to the task of teaching the participants. During busy production periods, the companies felt that it was relatively difficult to meet the participants’ requirements; and some participants claimed that they did not receive the amount of instruction they needed despite a large number of production workers present. Spectra Collection’s managing director suggested that it would have been easier to meet the participants’ expectations if the companies had been offered some form of financial support for providing instructors.
On-the-job training appears to be an effective way of getting long-term unemployed people back to work. This case study illustrates how an industry development centre, in cooperation with the respective labour market authorities and interested companies, can develop a comprehensive training programme for long-term unemployed people. Both management and trade union representatives at Spectra Collection recommended that the training period should be longer than the 40 weeks of this project.
Very often, it is difficult to reintegrate into the labour market individuals who have been unemployed for a long time – for one year or more. A long period of unemployment frequently leads to negative behavioural attitudes and loss of self-esteem which can result in problems when it comes to finding a job. Although this was the case for some of the participants in this training programme, none of those who were employed by Spectra Collection belonged to this category of long-term unemployed people. Moreover, special counselling efforts by officers of the local AMS helped to solve a number of problems that occurred during the training period.
Exemplary and contextual factors
An important feature of this programme is the amount of training time spent on-site in the industry’s companies. Prior to the training programme, the programme’s development team had to make a particular effort to visit companies and to convince them to take on participants on training courses, thus allocating workers and their time to manage and help out with the participants’ instruction.
Some of the programme’s participants had personal problems which made it difficult for them to get back into the labour market. It was only possible to successfully roll out the training programme due to a fairly long and arduous recruitment process with regard to the participants. In this respect, the continuous support of AMS officers throughout the programme was invaluable.
Olle Hammarström, National Institute for Working Life, Stockholm