Why is the integration of vulnerable individuals into the labor market important?

Deniza Cristian 13/06/2023 | 13:02

Increasing the employment rate and reducing the number of individuals exposed to the risk of poverty and social exclusion are just two of the challenges discussed at the conference “Local Measures and Tools to Respond to the Professional Integration Needs of Vulnerable Workers,” organized by Ateliere Fără Frontiere Association in partnership with the Romanian Social Enterprise Integration Network (RISE Romania) and HR Club, under the patronage of the Bucharest City Hall, at ARCUB.

 

“This is the first time that the City Hall supports such an initiative, and we believe in any endeavor that can improve the lives of the most vulnerable among us. The transition to an independent life for vulnerable groups is a goal pursued by both the Bucharest City Hall and the General Directorate of Social Assistance of Bucharest Municipality in their local policies. The efforts need to be collaboratively and integratively supported among social services, employment services, social economy organizations providing social and professional support, and employers who hire individuals from vulnerable categories in the labor market. We would be delighted to see more social enterprises and social integration enterprises developed in Bucharest, in order to more efficiently develop the local workforce,” says Cosmina Simiean, Director of DGASMB.

Bucharest is a city of social contrasts, where for certain categories of people, the possibility of community involvement and socio-economic opportunities is limited. At the local level, the share of economically inactive individuals in the working-age population (15-64 years) is approximately 27%, according to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INS). In 2021 alone, the Bucharest-Ilfov region had a poverty or social exclusion rate of 16.4% among its population, according to the latest information provided by Eurostat. While in other countries, the integration of disadvantaged workers into the workforce is supported by authorities through direct subsidies to cover the salaries of vulnerable workers and even support staff, reserved contracts, or social inclusion clauses in public contracts for social integration enterprises, in Romania, these tools are not widely used. Regarding subsidies, over the past three years, more than 90% of the state aid provided for employees from vulnerable categories according to Law 76/2002 has predominantly gone to unemployed individuals aged over 45 and very little to other vulnerable groups, as shown by the most recent data provided by ANOFM.

“In 2022, the state incurred four times more expenses to support vulnerable individuals through social assistance, in order to provide the Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) in Bucharest, compared to the situation where GMI would not have been granted and individuals would have been integrated into the labor market, thereby generating taxes for each employed or vulnerable worker,” argued Beatrice Manole, Advocacy Coordinator at Ateliere Fără Frontiere Association, during the event.

Ateliere Fără Frontiere is among the few organizations in Romania that have a socio-professional integration program for individuals who are hard to employ, with the goal of placing them in the labor market. Specifically, the association provides adults with a pilot job where they acquire essential work skills, learn a trade, become accustomed to teamwork and daily schedules. Additionally, they receive counseling for the future and assistance in resolving personal, social, and administrative issues, along with encouragement to build confidence in their own abilities.

Vulnerable categories are the most exposed to the risk of poverty and social exclusion, and many of these individuals’ families rely on social assistance, which is insufficient to ensure a decent standard of living. During the event, experts highlighted that employment is the best way to ensure their exit from poverty, independence, financial security, and a sense of belonging. They also appreciated that although integration in Romania is still in its early stages, local policies at the level of Bucharest Municipality can become more ambitious in providing solutions for social and professional support through integrated services and strategies. This includes the development of tools such as social integration enterprises and protected authorized units that provide protected job opportunities and social and professional support measures for the transition to the conventional labor market for all categories of vulnerable individuals.

“People with disabilities represent one of the under-promoted resources in the labor market. Individuals are afraid of the occupational environment, and employers are concerned about their ability to adapt the workplace to their needs. However, when an employer sits down at the table with a person with disabilities, accompanied by a specialist in the field, the result is exceptional: an efficient and loyal human resource that feels included, and an employer who understands equal opportunities and diversity. The inclusion of people with disabilities in the labor market is not just about a job; it is about paradigm shifts, the chance for a life of equality with others, and, most importantly, it is about making the world a slightly better place,” stated Adela Crăciun, Vice President of ANPDPD.

Experts have highlighted that among the main problems faced by vulnerable individuals and the categories that are in greatest need of support are: difficulty in obtaining employment, socio-medical issues, lack of housing, closely followed by the absence of family or one or both parents, difficulties in caring for children, criminal records, substance abuse problems, lack of access to education/training, and domestic violence. However, the fact that vulnerable individuals can become active members of society is evidenced by the activities of Ateliere Fără Frontiere Association.

“The experience of Ateliere Fără Frontiere Association, spanning over 15 years, demonstrates that we have managed to integrate over 450 individuals facing difficult employment situations into our workshops. These individuals include those with very low educational levels, serious health issues, or major social challenges such as domestic violence, homelessness, single parenthood, individuals deprived of liberty, or undergoing substance abuse treatment, among others. This experience reveals that a significant portion of these individuals can become autonomous and active members of society,” confesses Damien Thiery, CEO of Ateliere Fără Frontiere Association.

The conference “Measures and Local Tools for Responding to the Professional Integration Needs of Vulnerable Workers” addressed the current challenges regarding the need for policies and actions in Bucharest Municipality to support disadvantaged workers. It identified the roles of all the actors involved and explored possibilities for collaboration among local public authorities, public and private service providers, social economy organizations, and employers to increase the employment rate of individuals facing the most challenging situations in the labor market. Additionally, during the event, a public policy document was launched with the aim of enabling the proposals put forth by experts at the Bucharest Municipality level to contribute to the development of a better socio-professional integration framework for disadvantaged groups.

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