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Here Come the JobTowns

26 January 2017

JobTown 2 is about youth employment in Europe.

More specifically, it’s a mutual support network of local authorities, across Europe, who are all committed to implementing local strategies in support of youth employment and opportunity. In all the participating JobTowns, these efforts are part of a broader integrated approach to local development and inclusion.

Unsurprisingly, the idea for something called ‘JobTown 2’ stems from a previous something called ‘JobTown’ — an URBACT Action Planning Network. The first JobTown developed a set of Local Action Plans that enjoyed a particularly high degree of implementation and follow up.

So much so that when URBACT proposed a new type of network, based not on planning, but on implementing (labelled ‘Implementation Networks’) a group of JobTown partners said ‘that was good for us, let’s do more’.

The JobTowns:

Thurrock, is a borough in Essex, UK, and one of the original partners. They are working to help their young people get the new types of jobs that are being created in what is a fast changing local labour market; too many young people in Thurrock have low levels of educational attainment and lack the skills they need to get the jobs that are available in the area.

Thurrock has done a lot to build public-private partnerships feeding into education and training to avoid mismatch between labour market supply and demand locally, and they are committed to doing more. So they’ve taken the helm as Lead Partner, and together with the Lead Expert, Ian Goldring, put together a new partnership.

Wanting to build on what had already been achieved while also keeping things fresh, we put together a like-minded partnership, that’s a mix of old and new:

Alba Iulia, in the Romanian region of Transylvania. Alba Iulia is going to become an ERDF Managing Authority and an Integrated Strategy for Urban Development (ISUD) Intermediate Body Managing Authority. So they need to gear up their capacity to manage integrated urban strategies.

Too many young people are leaving Alba Iulia, where young people endure high levels of unemployment, Not in Education, Employement or Training (NEET) situations and poverty, or risk thereof.

The city wants to be better at supporting local business creation and at attracting businesses to the city.

– The Bologna Metropolitan administration, in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy is an ESF Intermediate Body whose Strategic Metropolitan Plan emphasises the importance of tackling youth unemployment. The holistic approach includes reducing early school leaving, improving the attractiveness of Vocational and Technical education streams, and better coordinating employers, public services and providers of education and training to reduce mismatch of skills supply and demand on a local labour market striving to re-launch itself from a context of austerity and shrinkage.

Kielce, capital city of the Świętokrzyskie region, in south central Poland and partner in the first JobTown, is also a city where too many young people feel the need to leave to seek better opportunities elsewhere.

The city is an intermediary Institution implementing large-scale Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI). Strategic objectives include improving the quality and variety of educational offer, better matching said offer to labour market demand, building better systems of local labour market needs analysis on top of strengthened public-private partnership, better supporting young entrepreneurs and start ups and better attracting business to set up and invest in the city.

Leoben, in central Austria’s Styrian region, is strong on metal, so to speak. The town has a long tradition and built up know how in extracting the resources that make metal and steel and designing and making things out of the stuff (industrial engineering etc.). Young people who want to do something else leave.

Leoben is committed to a long-term strategy of diversification of labour market and educational offer, of stimulating entrepreneurship and creativity, of improving liveability, quality of life and environmental standards – all with a view to increasing Leoben’s capacity to attract and retain young people.

Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city, is using this network to support the implementation of its 2016-2025 Strategy for Youth.  This integrated strategy includes the rolling out of the ‘Cool Job’ job placement programmes and the upskilling of trainers, NGOs and employment services to better attend to the specific needs of young job seekers. The strategy aims to strengthen local Youth Work and the administration’s partnerships with private sector employers, as two keys to better implementation of youth employment policy.

Nagykálló, in eastern Hungary, was also a partner in the first JobTown. Nagykálló too is a community losing its young people – who leave seeking employment in Hungarian cities with more dynamic job markets or emigrate abroad – such that demographic aging is putting the long-term viability of the community in question. Nagykálló is developing dual education and apprenticeship programmes nut needs to develop public-private partnerships to implement these initiatives successfully. Likewise labour market analysis and cooperation with local employers needs to be greatly improved, to better understand real labour market requirements and to provide better career guidance to young people about their options. The town is complementing these employment-centric efforts with a drive to improve liveability, quality of life and environmental characteristics of the town, to enhance its capacity to retain young people and attract young families.

The above partnership was assembled through a careful vetting process; we wanted local administrations for whom youth employment and opportunity was a significant issue and who had all developed strategies and policy tools addressing this issue in both the long and short-term. In some cases cities were first approached via existing informal contacts, in others we were helped to reach out to potential partners by the URBACT National Points.

So now what?

URBACT Implementation networks have 2 phases, a 6-month Development Phase and a 24-month Implementation Phase. We will use the rest of the first Phase to agree and prioritise the main policy challenges we will tackle together and lay out plans for a series of Capacity Building Workshops themed around each of the shared priorities. While not finalised, these priorities can be expected to include things like:

– Strengthening public-private partnerships. This comes as something of a no brainer for a network about employment; obviously private sector employers are key, both to employment and to gathering information to reduce mismatch between labour market skills demand and supply.

– Moving from strategy to operational action-plan, is emerging as a key challenge, as together we look at how we are actually going to carry out these things we have committed to doing.

Involvement and consultation of stakeholders brings up specific challenges for a youth employment project, as unlike more institutional actors (e.g. employers associations, universities etc.) young people who are lacking opportunity, unemployed or at risk of unemployment rarely have any existing means or developed skills or inclination to represent and lobby public administrations and advocate their collective interests – all the less so when considering disengaged and NEET-situation youth.

Over the rest of Phase 1, the Lead Expert will conduct a series of investigative visits in each partner locality to prepare a Baseline study, setting out the initial situation of each partner and their main challenges in implementing the youth employment strategies they are each committed to. This phase will wrap up in a final meeting where the partners will together agree, among the issues and challenges identified, which are most important for them.

Those issues that are agreed as key shared challenges to the group will become sub-themes to the larger issue of local approaches to tackling youth unemployment. Intensive capacity building workshops will be planned around each theme, spaced out over Phase 2. These transnational events will be followed up by ‘Knowledge Transfer Workshops’ (KTW) in each locality, whereby Workshop participants will experiment with approaches to embedding this learning into their organization as a whole.

The effectiveness of these KTWs will be monitored to understand better what works in what context, to achieve the kind of broader organisational learning being sought. The resultant learning regarding the effectiveness and how to of knowledge transfer from European-funded projects is built into JobTown 2 as an additional added value.

In parallel to the agreement of shared capacity building priorities, the partners will articulate concretely what they expect to achieve and when, over the project lifecycle. A set of indicators will be derived for each partner, and for the project as a whole, with which to monitor success and completion of expected results.

Stay tuned!