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2013 - December

Volunteers helping to solve Europe’s unemployment problems

A joint European development and research project incorporates volunteer work in efforts to combat European unemployment. The lessons learned have now been collected and are to be shared between the countries involved.

Unemployment is on the increase throughout Europe, generating a need for new, unconventional solutions. Researchers from across Europe now say that volunteers can make a valuable contribution in the battle against unemployment. The VERSO development project (Volunteers for European Employment) is supported by the EU’s development fund and has been developed by universities and regional authorities from eight different European countries.

“Youth unemployment in the EU as a whole is approaching 25 per cent, and in the countries that are worst affected (Spain and Greece) the level of youth unemployment is now well over 50 per cent. 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 Niels Rosendal Jensen, an associate professor from Aarhus University who is the project manager of the VERSO project.

He wants 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 to find jobs,” explains Jensen.

Good practices
The VERSO project runs until the autumn of 2014, but 16 good practices have already been collected and are to be published in a catalogue later in the year. 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 underlines that the new catalogue of examples has chosen 16 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 Spain, Bulgaria and Germany – but also from the Municipality of Middelfart, where the local job centre uses voluntary mentors.

The Danish volunteer coordinators went to Spain this autumn to learn from some of the volunteer initiatives that have been launched 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 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
Once the good practices have been identified, the researchers will start the process of analysing them and determining how they 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.

Read the 16 good practices

Read more about VERSO on the project homepage:


Niels Rosendal Jensen, associate professor, project manager, Department of Education, Aarhus University: tel.: 2933 2656; e-mail:  

Anette Eriksen, project coordinator, Department of Education, Aarhus University: tel.:  87163582; e-mail:

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Revised 2013.12.19