A recent change in the law axed a programme that helps fresh graduates get into working life.

ANYONE who has been unemployed knows that those days of labour-free time aren’t easy. Money is sparse, but bills and rent don’t pay themselves and keeping your head together with all of the free time while sending job applications only to receive responses such as, “We regret to inform that we didn’t select you”, can be challenging.

With the current monetary crisis, open vacancies are scarce, but the situation is especially difficult for new graduates as most jobs require years of actual work experience. This creates challenges for both the government to fix the issue and for people struck by unemployment as they try to keep up with life, even without a job.

Since 2002, one method the Ministry of Labour has had to enhance work rates and ease job-hunting for new graduates is a programme called preparation for working life.

The programme was meant for those who are under 25 and have a vocational education, as well as new graduates and long-term unemployed over 25. Its goal was to support the unemployed in returning to work and increase their vocational skills and experience. Those who participated in the programme got a job as an apprentice for three to six months, and were entitled to increased unemployment money. The employer who took the person in as a trainee didn’t pay a salary or any other expenses. Now, however, a new bill has put an end to the programme.
The bill HE 133/2012 or, proposal for a law for public labour and entrepreneur service and changes to some laws related to it – which relates to Finland’s budget for 2013 – decided that the preparation for working life programme, and other similar programmes, be dismantled and combined into one programme called työkokeilu, trial work.

The change is not only rhetorical, because the bill also states that trial work would only be meant for those who are either changing careers or deciding what to study, as a trial period for the unemployed to figure whether they like the job or not. The trial work would not be used in gaining work experience, like the current preparation programme.

Official perspective
The shutting of the programme down is depressing from the point of view of the unemployed, but this opinion is also shared by the Employment and Economic Development Office (TE).

“It’s really unfortunate that the programme is shutting down, as it has been extremely successful,” says Riitta Ylitalo, a representative of the Kluuvi office.

“The programme has been a win-win-win situation. It’s a win for the unemployed who get experience from a job of their interest, the employer gets a trainee with the freshest knowledge and right attitude and we at the office get our job done by locating our customers,” she says when asked about their experience of the programme.

However, according to the bill itself, some unemployed people saw the programme as a forced middle stage before full-time work, instead of gaining work experience.

There have also been some accusations that employers may misuse the programme by enrolling trainees without any intention of hiring them. In 2011, for instance, YLE reported that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has about 60 trainees per year, and some of them may even do official level work. However, Ylitalo doesn’t consider the misuse as a problem: “We listen to our customers very carefully and whenever we hear of misuse, such as bad working hours or duties that don’t belong to trainees, we put the company on boycott and don’t send any more trainees to the company in question. It is easy to prevent misuse just by listening to the feedback we get.”
She also says that the preparation for working life programming is voluntary and that usually people with the right attitude participate: “One of my customers once said that it is not about doing work for free, but investing in themselves and their life.” Anyone unemployed can probably relate to this, knowing that without experience it is practically impossible to find any job these days and that new graduates rarely hold any real working experience in their field.

The programme’s success
But has the programme really helped the participants to find a job? According to statistics, yes. Statistics gathered by the Kluuvi employment office claim that 31.9 per cent of all the Helsinki-based unemployed participating in the programme found a job.

■■ Since 2002, the Ministry of Labour enhanced work
rates and eased job-hunting for new graduates with
a programme called preparation for working life. This
was ended at the start of the year.
■■ 31.9 per cent of all the Helsinki-based unemployed
participating in the programme found a job.
■■ This change in the law should reduce bureaucracy in
the employment services and cut the government’s
unemployment expenses by a mere 600,000 euros.

Those with higher education had a 37.3 per cent employment rate. It is reasonable to assume that those who ended their unemployment without noting a reason also found a job or another solution for their lives. When they are included, the success rate goes up to 67.5 per cent among those with higher education and 46.4 per cent among all people. The programme could thus be considered a triumph.

With the programme closing, the TE officials are worried about how successfully they can provide services in the future. The situation is also worsened by the fact that the employment offices are also going through a major organisational change, which Ylitalo fears will decentralise the knowledge that the officials hold. For instance, the office at Kluuvi is specialised in the high-skilled unemployed and is now going to be split around other offices in Helsinki.

The employment rate in September 2012 was 7.1 per cent and the fastest growing group of unemployed is those with higher education. The number of unemployed with Master’s degrees was 13,000, which is almost 20 per cent more than the last year. The number of those with Bachelor’s degrees was 14,900, which is 15 per cent more.

Approximately 3,000 of these were new graduates. But how does Ylitalo see the situation for those who graduate next spring and don’t have a job, with the preparation for working life programme gone?

“The future looks very bleak for them. Unless they have gained work experience from their field during studies, it will be extremely hard if not even impossible for them to find a job relevant to their education. I’m usually a positive person, but the future looks grim for them, as without experience it’s hard to find a job in their profession and with over-schooling they won’t be taken into blue-collar jobs as the employers fear they will change jobs as soon as they find something better.”

Ville Koski