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Volunteers help solve Europe’s unemployment problems

Unemployment is on the increase throughout Europe, generating a need for new, unconventional solutions. Volunteers can make a valuable contribution in the battle against unemployment. The lessons learned from the VERSO research and development project have been collected and is now being shared between the countries involved in a good practice catalogue. 

“Youth unemployment in the EU as a whole is approaching 25 percent, and in the countries that are worst affected (Spain and Greece), the level of youth unemployment is now well over 50 percent. In some regions the figure is 75 per- cent. Even though there are differences from one region to the next, it is clear that the problems can’t be solved within the frameworks of the existing systems alone,” says project manager of the VERSO project, Niels Rosendal Jensen, associate professor at Aarhus University, Denmark.

Niels Rosendal  Jensen points to the need for a clear political plan for how to solve the problems, and thinks the politicians should pay more attention to all the many voluntary initiatives that have been launched around Europe.

“The VERSO project is a fresh idea showing that there is great potential in focusing on the involvement of volunteers – mentors, for instance – who can help the unemployed find job,” explains Niels Rosendal Jensen.

Good practices

The VERSO project runs until the autumn of 2014, so far 16 examples of good practices from across Europe have now been collected and are published in a good practice catalogue. VERSO will ultimately result in a range of research-based policy recommendations and implementation plans in the eight participating European regions.

These examples demonstrate that lots of good initiatives have already been launched – for instance volunteers offering their services as mentors for the unemployed with a view to reducing the level of unemployment in Europe.

Niels Rosendal Jensen explains that the catalogue comprises 16 exemplary cases which live up to a range of criteria that have been identified, including the creation of a fruitful partnership between regional political authorities and civilian volunteers in the battle against unemployment.

The good practices come from eight different regions in Europe including Catalonia, Bulgaria, Greece, UK, Netherlands, Hungary, Germany  and Denmark.

From the Municipality of Middelfart in Denmark, where the local job centre uses voluntary mentors, the Danish volunteer coordinators went to Spain this autumn on a study trip to learn from some of the volunteer initiatives that have been identified by VERSO there.

“In Catalonia, they have enjoyed success with a coaching project, with a group of volunteers from various companies helping marginalised young people to gain initial contact with the labour market. The project has generated new knowledge and new understanding of the company’s CSR policy (Corporate Social Responsibility, ed.), thereby giving something back to the company as well,” reports Niels Rosendal Jensen.

Another example comes from Detmold in Germany, where a group of volunteers have formed a mentor network and trained the members to be mentors for young people from an immigrant background.

“One of the things these projects have achieved is to strengthen the social skills and self-confidence of the young people involved. Other mentors in the network have also enjoyed success with a language café for refugees, where mentors help with administrative tasks. It’s all designed to help the young people get closer to the labour market,” explains Jensen.

Countries learning from each other

The researchers have analysed and determined how the insights can be shared by the various countries and regions taking part in the project.

“The partnership between research institutions and regional political authorities makes it possible to carry out comparative analyses and cost-benefit calculations across Europe. This will enable us to supply independent, research-based knowledge to the regional political authorities about what works in the fight against unemployment and how these good practices can be transferred from one national context to another,” concludes Niels Rosendal Jensen.

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Revised 2014.08.21