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Podcast Length Icon 26:17 6 Dec 2020

Tackling unemployment and work-life balance

In this conversation, in which we are chatting with Giorgio Luigi Risso, we get a closer look at the activities of the Public Employment Service provider in the Piedmont Region in Italy, and why it can be important for such government organisations to focus more on work-life balance. This episode is recorded to promote the Equality for Work and Life EU project, financed by the European Commission.

As some of our podcast listeners may know, we are - the WorkLife HUB - a partner of a European project that is funded by the European Commission, by the EU Programme for Employment and Social Innovation. The project is called EQW&L, Equality for Work and Life. The goal of EQW&L is to develop and test a series of strategies, a new intervention model and Toolkit that facilitate the access of unemployed people to the labour market, who are hindered to find employment due to their work-life conflict. In one of our previous episodes, we hosted experts from both ANPAL - the coordinator of the project - and the European Commission. So we thought that it would be really interesting to also speak to somebody very knowledgeable about public employment services (PES) in the national context, who could give us some practical information in terms of the actual implementation of the project. This is why we are speaking to Giorgio in this conversation.

Giorgio Luigi Risso works at the Labour Policies Implementation Service of the Piedmont Labour Agency as Manager. He is in charge of the development and management of labour policy initiatives. He also coordinates the activities of the regional network of Employment Centers and develops European projects. Throughout his career, he managed several EU projects that focused on interventions aimed at job placement and awareness raising towards disadvantaged people, people with disabilities and youngsters. After earning a degree in Economics and a Master in Labour Policies and Training Management, he devoted himself to social and economic research with a specific focus on welfare, care work and employment public services management, earning a PhD in Labour Relations at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Furthermore, he founded and managed several editions of “Short on Work”, an international competition on short films dedicated to labour issues, organized by Marco Biagi Foundation and characterized by a scientific approach to visual research applied to contemporary labour studies.

What follows here is our conversation with Giorgio - edited for length and clarity. To know more about the work of the Piedmont Labour Agency, please visit the official website of the centre.

Agnes Uhereczky: Could we start with an introduction to the Piedmont region to the listeners who may not be that familiar with it, where is it situated, what are the main sectors and employers, resources, sources of income for people, and the role of the Employment Agency in the region?

Giorgio Luigi Risso: Piedmont is a region in the North-Western part of Italy. It has an area of about 25.000 square kilometres and a population of approximately 4.400.000. The Capital of the region is Turin, the city I am speaking from.

In terms of the different sectors, the public and private components are both strong thanks to the presence of large enterprises and private research centres as well as of very important universities in the region. We can say that there is a wide variety of stakeholders present in the region, from aerospace to automotive to manufacturing companies, from the well known University and Politecnico of Turin to prestigious research centres like the European Training Foundation, or the International Training Centre of the ILO.

Concerning the labour market, I'd like to share the last available data, referring to the second quarter of 2020 (April-June) compared to the same time frame of 2019 in Europe, where we registered -5.000.000 employed people and in Italy, where we saw 841.000 less employed people, mostly women and under 35, in our region, we had -70.000 employed people. In the same period, more than 1.300.000 people have become inactive in Italy, and 56.000 in Piedmont. This means they don't even bother to find a job anymore, as they are discouraged, even more than during the 2008 crisis; on the contrary, unemployment has not risen due to specific national laws intended to avoid dismissal procedures.

Before the pandemic, in the last 2 years, there has been a rise in male employment, especially in the manufacturing industry (self-employment and full-time working). Female employment shows a slight dip (-5.000 units), which tends to accentuate structural inequality between the genders. Considering the income levels, in Piedmont, 60% is the result of the employed population, while 40% originates from self-employed jobs. A family in 2017 gained 20.700€/year, so the income is higher than the average in Italy but lower than the average of Northern Italy. In 2018, the income has increased by 0.5% compared to the previous year.

Last but not least, here is a short introduction about our Agency, Agenzia Piemonte Lavoro (APL), and its role in the region. In Italy, there has been a real revolution in the last years which implied a complete change in the PES (public employment services). At the beginning (from 1949 till 1997) the whole system was ruled at a national level, then we had a partial change, which included both the opening of the market to the private sector and also territorial devolution. This process determined provinces first and regions afterwards, and can be considered the foundation of a strategic link between the central state and the Employment agencies. Since 2015 we are part of the national PES network, together with ANPAL – the national Agency that is the main partner of the EQW&L project – regional structures like us (one in each region) and local Employment Centres (many in each region, linked to the Agencies), research bodies, chambers of commerce, universities and other economical subjects, in the public and private sector (private employment agencies), dealing with the market labour, pensions and welfare.

APL's actions are widespread and cover the entire Piedmont region, both through the Agency offices, located in Turin, and aimed at coordinating the Public Employment Centres. These are scattered throughout the territory (31 – employment centres in our region) to reach people seeking a job or the companies asking for employees. APL also participates in the EURES policy, a European cooperation network of employment services, designed to facilitate the free movement of workers.

Research and labour market analysis is another core mission of the Agency, accompanied by a constant connection to every level of the system – from the bottom (territories) to the top (central administration in Rome and/or European level) – and some events like World Skills, a competition for young people experimenting with jobs or IOLAVORO, a job fair. In conclusion, let me share with the listeners a few data: last year APL offered almost 887.000 active labour policy services, helping approximately 270.000 people and almost 11.000 companies.

Agnes Uhereczky: Why was it important for the Piedmont Employment Agency to take part in the EQW&L EU project?

Giorgio Luigi Risso: Agenzia Piemonte Lavoro is always interested in new policies, new outcomes from a research field that can positively and actively become new ways for the PES to help people find a job. The more we study, the more we know, the best effort we can make to redefine the social and economical system of the territory.

Plus, one of our natural missions is the promotion of gender equality and the fight against every discrimination: our action is directed to remove the gender gap and any other kind of issue that can be an obstacle to the labour market or the accessibility to the PES services.

We cooperate with many projects to help the social and working inclusion of both citizens and migrants. EQW&L made us analyze a wide range of needs and single situations to help to develop a universal model or – better to say – to shape tailor-made solutions that can be replicated in similar contexts so that rearranging jobs to people can benefit equally the job seekers and the companies. We have been working in a network with prominent partners, acquiring techniques, skills and specific ways to deal with reconciliation and from our side, we contributed to creating the system, the toolkit, shaping the interviews and giving suggestions.

Agnes Uhereczky: The project is structured around a new intervention model to support the work-life balance of job-seekers and also the matching between job-seekers and employers. Could you give us an example of the innovative approach that you are testing? What makes it different from a more classic approach?

Giorgio Luigi Risso: First of all, I'd like to let the listeners know that we developed the project with the involvement of tree job centres: Asti, Chieri and Vercelli. A key of the experimental part of the project is represented by the coaching provided by CGM advisors to the operators, helping them to find a link among the cases they were working on, enabling each Employment centre to focus on different aspects that can be related with work-life balance, like disability, people who need to redesign their career, people with strong health problems. As you can see, we have gone beyond simple cooperation between partners: we've agreed a path with constant links, training and confrontations between the operators and managers of the Employment Centres and the advisors, with an innovative approach that allows a more deep analysis of needs and dedicated support to the job seekers.

Let me also strengthen the importance of the toolkit, which allows the operators to focus on what can be suggested in the specific context of each individual, to pursue the goal of tailor-made solutions, not only in terms of work-life balance but also informing the people involved about useful services, like public transports or child care structures they were not aware of. Another clear shift from a traditional approach can be surely found in the online activities: due to the pandemic, the operators had to use the technologies to the most, scheduling phone interviews and even group activities through social media or conference calls, which could also prove the ability of the candidates to organize themselves and how far they could go with devices.

Agnes Uhereczky: Besides the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdowns, what were some of the challenges for the implementation of the project?

Giorgio Luigi Risso: As you can imagine, the “online mode” I was talking about has been useful and practical in a time like this, but also a little challenging, especially when group activities were planned or considering some personal issues a candidate may have to speak about.

Moreover, the digital divide is still a problem for the interviewed job seekers and generally for unemployed people.

Talking about the different situations we had to face, I can say that, at first, some cases seemed a big challenge: for example, some of the women participating in the project were former assisted living caregivers and now they want to regain a family life, care for their children, and be reunited with their husbands. We focused on each candidate, who has been oriented and trained to re-design her career, if/when necessary.

As an example, another challenge we are proud of is the effort to find, with the help of our CGM advisors, a proper job to a young woman with little children who recently battled a serious illness, so that for all the people in the same situation finding a job allowing a work-life balance won't be a problem anymore.

Agnes Uhereczky: How will the Piedmont regional PES and also the region and its citizens benefit from the project? What will change?

Giorgio Luigi Risso: The aim is to create a pilot that can imply a real change for management. There has to be a shift in the culture, in the way we deal with the labour market so that it can affect both people seeking a job and companies looking for support or adequate employees. If more and more job seekers and employers open to this new model, clearly more people can find a suitable job and the whole regional system will be positively affected. Work-life balance policies improve the quality life of people and start a positive cycle: workers will be more satisfied with their private life, therefore more productive and bonded to their company; more flexible employers will attract a higher demand, so the idea is that the project will contribute to increasing both demand and supply in a long term period, with a plus: well-being on both sides.

Speaking of well-being, we can't forget to mention a new position with a key role in companies: the Welfare Manager. His/her mission is to raise awareness about corporate welfare, the workers' rights and needs and achieve better work conditions and equal opportunities in the company: a noticeable benefit both for employers and employees.

Agnes Uhereczky: If I could ask you, based on your experience with the project, to give a piece of advice to other public employment centres in Italy and Europe, to support the reconciliation of work, family and private lives of the clients - what would your advice be?

Giorgio Luigi Risso: The key role APL has been given in the EQW&L project, that helps to study the different personal situations examined by the Employment Centres, gives us an advantaged perspective on the strengths of the project. Without doubts, a crucial factor to accomplish our goals has been the coaching held by CGM cooperative group with its advisors. After the trial phase, they helped and still help the operators to work on the sustainability of the project, collecting the most useful solutions to set a model and disseminate the outcomes, to let the EQW&L project change the labour market for the good and be an active part in its renewal.

Another core aspect is the impact of the network system in the labour market, making it easy to learn about all the services and opportunities that could be found in the area. This aspect is underlined in the toolkit: as a tool that collects all the useful sources in terms of equal opportunities and, from the individual point of view, the Employment Centre can suggest all the available opportunities in the local area, like the city hall services, pre and after school services, kindergartens, summer camps, financial advisors in addition to the worker prerogatives of law (bonuses, part-time jobs, information about Smart Working, mentoring, coaching and so on); from the company point of view, the employers can learn about their internal work-life balance policies and improve them, shifting from a “sleep mode” to an “expert mode”, giving their contribution to the positive cycle I was talking about previously.