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How medium sized cities can generate new employment opportunities, prepare workers for jobs, and address mismatches between the supply of labour and demand for workers

As home to the vast majority of people in Europe, medium sized towns and cities have a key role to play in economic development and competitiveness. But economic recession tends to hit them harder than larger metropolitan areas. This is the case for the eight medium sized cities who formed the URBACT project ESIMeC to find innovative, people-based approaches to economic recovery, growth and resilience. Over three years, the partners explored how medium sized cities can generate new employment opportunities, prepare workers for jobs, and address mismatches between the supply of labour and demand for workers.

Main results

Policy ESIMeC’s “Cookbook” of Workforce Development Recipes for Economic Recovery

Based on their joint exploration of eight key areas of workforce development, ESIMeC’s partner cities published a set of particularly useful approaches, or “Recipes for Success”, for other cities to try. The eight themes fit in well with the Europe 2020 flagship initiative An Agenda for new skills and jobs: A European contribution towards full employment and the subsequent Employment Package (April 2012). Towns looking for ways to unlock their people’s potential through jobs and skills will particularly appreciate the recipes in ESIMeC’s Cookbook:

  • Recipe 1: Effective Partnership working;
  • Recipe 2: Municipality-University-Business cooperation for workforce development;
  • Recipe 3: Green growth and green jobs;
  • Recipe 4: Preparing young people for the world of work;
  • Recipe 5: A marinade for destination marketing;
  • Recipe 6: Cultural and creative growth and jobs;
  • Recipe 7: Integrated approaches to economic and workforce development;
  • Recipe 8: Skills forecasting at city level.
ESIMEC’s Conclusions and Policy Recommendations

ESIMeC’s partners identified a number of fundamental approaches that all medium sized towns and cities can follow to support job creation and growth. 

Understand the needs of employers and the state of labour market: ESIMeC launched a skills forecasting tool (November 2012) to help cities use quantitative and qualitative methodologies to understand employer skills needs, an essential step in any city strategy. The partnership also identified examples of good practice, such as the Job and Training House in Cherbourg, which forecasts economic development trends for job demand and supply. This informs a structured approach to adapting and using training availability in the city and helps match training and skills with employer demands. Employers are regularly asked for information on the jobs they are having trouble filling. Drawing on their answers, MEF analyses the availability of training, and develops new training where appropriate. MEF has created job data specifications for 20 occupations. These describe the roles, outline required skills, and identify any relevant training available locally. This has been collated into a booklet focusing on “industrial jobs of tomorrow”.

Foster entrepreneurship: Convinced that “entrepreneurs are made, not born”, ESIMeC says teaching entrepreneurship and developing an entrepreneurial attitude in young people is vital. An example is Gävle, which has developed a range of entrepreneurial learning initiatives and a programme of employer engagement in education at all levels. Entrepreneurship is explained to teachers, and young people are matched with employers through a mentoring programme.

Engage stakeholders from sectors with greatest potential: The 2012 EU Employment Package identifies the green, white (health and social care) and digital economy sectors as those with the greatest potential for creating jobs. ESIMeC’s partners drafted their Local Action Plans with this in mind. Here are some examples: 
  • In Albacete, where the Municipality has ambitious CO2 reduction targets for public buildings, the city plans to help unemployed construction workers to develop new green construction skills. New approaches will also be developed for vocational training in schools and companies. Albacete hopes to employ these newly trained workers on municipal energy efficiency projects, a win-win for environment and economy;
  • Besançon plans to maximise the economic potential of its cultural and creative industries by developing a skills and business support ecosystem linked to its new Art Area;
  • In Debrecen, the Municipality, university and businesses are working together to foster a business environment, which encourages innovation and knowledge-based industries. Actions include internship programmes, various cluster initiatives (ICT, Food, Pharmaceuticals) and industry-led lecture programmes in local companies.
Develop and deliver a whole system approach to employment and economic development: Here too, ESIMeC identified good practices from its partners’ experiences, including:
  • In Basingstoke, a structured but flexible strategic partnership covering all areas of urban development has helped break down “policy silos” to deliver integrated policy and action. A series of groups focuses on the town’s various issues. Each group brings together a wide range of stakeholders, including health and community agencies, local authority departments (at county and district level), employers and employer representatives, the police, education and training organisations and third sector groups; 
  • Sabadell’s municipality has outsourced its employment and economic development functions to a single, arms-length organisation. This is a way to integrate services and strengthen links with local businesses. The organisation works with employers to determine their skills needs, and helps unemployed people to develop their skills. It also works with training agencies to develop new training programmes that answer the needs of the labour market, and to match the skills needs of employers with the skills of unemployed people more effectively;
  • Bistrita has, for the first time, engaged multiple stakeholders in developing a strategic approach to skills and employment development, linked to the long term development of an industrial park.
Make more of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and European Social Fund (ESF): ESIMeC’s findings will help medium sized cities position themselves for future structural fund programmes. Medium sized cities could do more to take advantage of the resources available from ERDF and ESF. At the time of publishing these conclusions, while operational programmes for 2014-2020 were not yet confirmed, ESIMeC said towns would benefit from using Community Led Local Development (CLLD) and Integrated Territorial Investments (ITIs) to develop integrated approaches to workforce development and economic growth.  
ESIMeC’s Skills Forecasting Manual and Tool – Helping Cities on the Road to Recovery
ESIMeC’s partner cities developed a practical tool and manual to help EU cities on their path to job-rich recovery and growth. City practitioners can use the ESIMeC Skills Forecasting Manual and Tool to gain a clear, in-depth picture of skills shortages and demand in their local area. This information can help them develop and implement skills development strategies that are based on real local needs and address real local issues, as well as responding better to employer needs.

ESIMeC’s partners believe the project will help them to develop effective integrated strategies under future structural fund programmes, through CLLD or ITIs, for example. Several partners hope their Local Action Plans will provide a useful starting point for dialogue with Managing Authorities on this issue. However, the Local Action Plans were produced at a time when structural fund programmes were in a period of transition, and funding opportunities uncertain.

Although ESIMeC has ended, Sabadell, Gävle, Bistrita and Basingstoke are actively exploring opportunities to continue working together on workforce and economic development issues. Some of ESIMeC’s partners have secured funding for parts of their Local Action Plans and further international links. For example, the Lead Partner Basingstoke will develop a plan to regenerate its central business park within the INTERREG IVA Channel Programme project GreenFit. Sabadell will develop its skills forecasting with support from the European Social Fund. During the ESIMeC project, a Leonardo project funded staff exchanges between local authorities in Basingstoke and Gävle. And Sabadell and Gävle both got involved in a new INTERREG IVC project called CCIC (Complex Challenges: Innovative Cities) which explores the role of innovation and social innovation in economic recovery.

One lasting impact in all partner cities– and a major legacy of the project – is the positive change in working practices, in particular multi-agency collaboration and a joined up approach to economic development and employment.

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