Helping long-term unemployed people back into work

Employment boosting interventions are being rolled out across Austria after a successful job-guarantee scheme pilot in the Austrian town of Marienthal.

Being out of work for long periods of time not only puts pressure on a person’s finances, but also affects their health, wellbeing and social inclusion.

University of Oxford doctoral researcher Lukas Lehner collaborated with the Austrian Public Employment Service to design and pilot a universal job guarantee scheme.

The scheme brought more than 100 people who had been unemployed for a year or more back into work by guaranteeing a job that paid at least the minimum wage. Importantly, there was an emphasis on meaningful employment where participants were helped to find suitable private sector work or supported to create a job based on their skills and knowledge of their community’s needs.

An evaluation of the programme revealed multiple benefits. It showed the programme eliminated long-term unemployment in the area and helped participants feel happier, more financially secure and more involved in their community.

Video credit: ESRC
Video transcript and on-screen captions are available by watching on YouTube.

About the project

There is growing interest in job guarantee schemes to tackle unemployment. As part of his Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded doctoral studies, Lehner worked with the Austrian Public Employment Service to design and implement a pilot of a universal job guarantee scheme. The effectiveness of this was tested through a randomised control trial.

Launched in 2020 in the Austrian town of Marienthal in the municipality of Gramatneusiedl, the scheme invited residents who had been unemployed for more than a year to take part.

Lehner explains:

There were three important aspects to the scheme. The first aspect was that participation had to be entirely voluntary. Second, they were paid a minimum wage, which is more than they would receive in unemployment benefits. Finally, it was crucial that specific tasks were not imposed on them, but instead participants were given a voice and asked what challenges their communities faced and where they thought they could contribute based on their skills, interests and experience. This enabled meaningful jobs to be identified or created.

To ensure the pilot could deliver evidence of the economic and social impact for policymakers, Lehner worked with Professor Maximilian Kasy, University of Oxford, to design an evaluation of the scheme. This showed that participants were happier, more satisfied, and felt more in control of their lives.

The research also revealed job seekers often have a negative perception of the training courses offered by job centres. This perception reduces their willingness to take part, despite the fact that training can help re-entry into the labour market. Based on those insights, Lehner designed information campaigns about training opportunities in non-stigmatising to raise interest and motivation.

Impact of the project

The pilot scheme demonstrated how job guarantee programmes can reduce long-term unemployment, as well as the additional benefits they can bring to participants and their communities.

Economic and social benefits to the long-term unemployed

By the end of the scheme, long-term unemployment in the municipality was eliminated. Participants’ incomes rose and they gained greater financial security. They also reported feeling happier, more valued and had more meaningful interactions with others.

Marienthal resident and participant Werner V, age 60, says:

After more than 600 job applications over three years, my wish for employment proved hopeless. Too old, too expensive, over-qualified, without long-term prospects due to my age, with multiple university degrees seemingly over-qualified for service jobs… many obstacles seemed to exist. The job guarantee proved extremely valuable and useful for me. In cooperation with the municipality and the local museum, I am now archiving and documenting the cultural, scientific and economic value of the historical site of Marienthal.

Benefits to the wider community

The evaluation of the pilot guaranteed job scheme showed that the community of Marienthal benefited from the research project. Scheme participants had the opportunity to create their own projects and several supported communal public services, including:

  • installing a public food garden
  • animal therapy services for children
  • repairing used furniture in a carpentry workshop

Boosting the motivation for training

Lehner’s low-cost information campaign improved the motivation of job seekers to participate and complete training, increasing enrolment by 20%. Austrian job centres are now implementing the intervention on a permanent basis.

Sven Hergovich, former Managing Director of the job centre agency for Lower Austria (AMS), says:

Lukas proposed an innovative way to spur interest in taking up our training by jobseekers – providing vouchers to be redeemed for training courses increased motivation to complete training offered by AMS, improving the skills of jobseekers and helping them re-enter the labour market. Lukas’ idea has benefited around 50,000 jobseekers since 2021.

Generating global attention

Lehner has advised policymakers in Austria on plans for a state-wide roll-out of the job guarantee programme. The research has also drawn the attention of international organisations and several European governments are considering similar initiatives.

Lehner says:

I have briefed international organisations, such as the European Union, United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Labour Organisation, on my research findings. I have also been engaging with European governments to help inform their development and implementation of support for jobseekers.

Find out more

Evaluation of the job guarantee programme (PDF, 6.9MB)

Top image:  Credit: Alamy

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