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Project collaborators in the fight against alienation

They’re on the front line in the fight against alienation. The demands are huge and sometimes contradictory. But they are still an unknown, little-studied group: Project collaborators.

Christer Johansson Ulrik Lögdlund

The fight against unemployment, or as it's usually termed alienation, is often conducted in groups where the long-term unemployed are motivated and prepared for the labour market. Ulrik Lögdlund, Christer Johansson, and John Boman are sociology researchers at LiU and have followed several such projects with the task of evaluating them. As they themselves say, they have discovered a new, growing occupational group: project collaborators, the ones who lead these groups.

“This is an occupational group that’s going to grow,” Johansson says. “A lot of money is being pumped into this activity, based on the EU’s goal that more and more people work. The European Social Fund (ESF) will contribute a large part of the funding.”

Johansson has followed projects run within sport where the task was to take care of people in Phase 2 (see below) and provide them with opportunities for education, experience, and community.

Groups of long-term unemployed are not homogeneous. Alienation is complex and consists of a lot more than just unemployment. It could be a question of illness, addiction, a low level of education, disability, or other social factors that make it difficult to get into the labour market. Many may have been at home for a long time and become socially isolated. The project collaborator's task is to get them going, motivate them, train them, get them to be social, and to grow in their roles as future labour power.

“The job is a combination of a job coach and a life coach,” Ulrik Lögdlund says. But it also comprises a purely informal dimension, where social relations are established. They become friends and supporters.

“Project collaborators are involved far beyond what’s expected of them.
A group of long-term unemployed can contain many different types of problems. Efforts need to be individually adapted, which isn’t so easy to do in a group of maybe 15–20 people.”

“Often two project collaborators are needed, but that still isn’t enough. They stretch themselves to live up to what the participants expect.”

They can also face a number of practical problems that don’t always have a given solution; for example poor economic conditions.

“For example in sport, a person may need to travel and it may be necessary to be able to drive there. But how many in these groups have a car, or even a license?” Johansson asks.

“Their finances may be so bad they can’t even afford a bus pass,” Lögdlund says. “Or they don’t have childcare, since they’ve been out of the labour market for so long.” Once the chance at a job turns up, succeeding can be hindered by these types of problems.

“Project collaborators must be able to solve problems we weren’t even able to imagine.”

Structures and rules can also make things difficult. Employers know that they can get SEK 225 per day (see footnote) if they take on a person in Phase 3, but not before then.

“The unemployed may hear ‘You’re welcome when you’re Phase 3, but we can’t afford it right now’,” Lögdlund says.

Project collaborators are formally educated, either as social workers or psychologists, or they may have only practical experience, like a chief operating officer. What unites them is an interest in working with people, and a deep commitment.

“Many have taken time off from their jobs to be able to devote themselves to this. And as this activity grows, we’re going to see more and more of them.”

In an upcoming scientific article, the two researchers chisel out, as they express it, the characteristics and conditions of being a project collaborator.

In the picture: Christer Johansson and Ulrik Lögdlund

Footnote 1:
In what’s called the job and development guarantee, the unemployed find themselves in three phases:

  • Phase 1: =>150 days unemployed, the person is regarded as employable with good chances at getting a new job.
  • Phase 2: 150 <=> 450 days unemployed. The person is investigated and may be the object of skill-enhancement internships, and even a certain amount of education.
  • Phase 3: 450+ days unemployed. No further skill-enhancing measures are applied. On the other hand, an employer who takes on a person in a Phase 3 internship receives 225 SEK per day.

Footnote 2:
Beginning in 1997 the EU’s fight against alienation was initiated by British PM Tony Blair and his government. In Sweden, four centre-right parties known as ‘The Alliance’ prior to the 2006 election launched the concept.
The concept of alienation is nothing new. But today it is strongly linked to the issue of work and unemployment, and this is what’s new. The following parameters were presented as markers for alienation in report No. 85 from, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth:

Abuse/dependency, poor command of language, unemployment, lacking education, economic support, illness, or disability.

The more parameters and the greater the degree, the more alienation. Over one million people were counted as being alienated in Sweden in 2010.

Footnote 3:
The European Social Fund (ESF) was founded in 1957. The ESF is designed to promote employment within the EU. According to its website, the fund helps member states to better equip European labour power and businesses to meet new global challenges.
The ESF stands behind 4,000 projects in Sweden run between 2007-2013, for a total of SEK 6.2 billion. This affects 315,000 people in all. In total, EUR 75 billion were distributed to projects in the EU during this period.

Thu Sep 15 08:55:00 CEST 2011

LiU magazine

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