Austria’s new answer to long-term unemployment

After spending years at home bringing up her two children, electrical systems technician Sarah Sklenicka found it a “big challenge” to get back into the job market.

But now the 37-year-old is ready to take on anything thanks to an experimental Austrian scheme, which claims to be a world first in tackling long-term unemployment.

The village of Gramatneusiedl near Vienna now has a zero jobless rate after guaranteeing work to all its 129 long-term unemployed.

The project shows it is possible to eradicate this stubbornly difficult problem at a community level, said economist Oliver Picek of Vienna’s Momentum Institute.

“It is possible to give a job to everyone who needs one,” he told AFP.

The MAGMA pilot project offers training in carpentry, gardening, sewing and other work the community or local businesses need at minimum wage rates to everyone who has been out of work for more than one year.

Before starting, they get eight weeks of counselling to identify their strengths and goals, with many reporting that the project has helped rebuild their self-confidence.

Job guarantees

“I feel a lot more confident now about applying somewhere. I have the feeling that I can actually do it” and secure a job outside of the project, said Sklenicka, who has been making and renovating furniture part-time for the past year.

Organisers said all but a dozen of the village’s long-term unemployed took up the training offer, and that was because of health problems.

Economist Picek said the success of the hyper-local approach was “a proof of concept of the idea of job guarantees”.

Although Austria’s unemployment rate is below the EU average at 4.6 percent, the Alpine nation has labour shortages in many sectors, and part of the population remains marginalised.

Gramatneusiedl’s labour market was typical of Lower Austria, making it a perfect test bed for the province’s employment service.

The big challenge for the scheme was “what do you do with certain people who we cannot integrate into the primary job market?” said the service’s deputy director Sandra Kern.

The village of 4,000 also happens to be the site of a pioneering 1933 study on mass unemployment during the Great Depression.

It remains to be seen whether the four-year MAGMA project — which costs less than 30,000 euros ($32,500) per person a year, an amount comparable to unemployment benefit — will be prolonged or adopted more widely, Kern said.

But a study of the scheme by Oxford University found “strong positive impacts… on participants’ economic and non-economic well-being.”

‘Strong to start afresh’

Yasemin Yaman fell into depression and had panic attacks after being unable to get work after having children. Now she works 30 hours a week in the project doing carpentry and sewing

“I was so lonely until 3 pm (when her children came back from school)… I noticed that something was going wrong,” the 38-year-old mother-of-three told AFP.

Now, she said, she felt “strong to start afresh”.

Robert Leisser is among a third of the project’s participants who have found permanent jobs, working in a local timber business.

“I became active, I pursued plans for the future again” by spending two years in the project, said the 37-year-old father, who struggled with drug addiction in the past.

The contacts he made through MAGMA helped him secure his current job, he added.

Source: AFP