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Government aims to expand work experience scheme

For the young and unemployed, it's a familiar conundrum: you can't get a job without experience – which you can't get without a job. To tackle this vicious circle, the Finnish government wants to expand what it calls the 'work try-out' scheme, which allows unemployed people to work unpaid for up to a month while receiving full benefits.

A few weeks' unpaid trial period can give a prospective employee a chance to show off skills. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

In the next few months, the government will ask Parliament to approve opening up the scope of the so-called work try-out programme, which has so far only been available to certain types of job-seekers. The system has been available for several years, but has not led to the improvement in employment that was hoped for.

If the plan goes through, as of the beginning of next year, any unemployed person would be able to arrange to work without pay – without losing their unemployment benefits – for up to a month. The idea is to allow those with limited work experience to make an impression, in the hope of landing a real job.

Trial workers welcome

Many employers welcome a planned expansion of the scheme.

Antero Levänen, the human resources director of HOK-Elanto, which owns hundreds of shops and restaurants, believes the expanded scheme could make it easier for those without experience to find jobs. He says that a try-out would help employers overcome their reluctance to hire someone without a proven track record.

He says, however, that a try-out need not last a month.

"Many recruitment situations are linked to schedule pressures. We need someone new to replace someone who's left. Therefore a month may sometimes be too long, because even a week can be enough to see how someone works," Levänen says.

Modest showing so far

So far, the scheme has had underwhelming success.

"Some 44,000 people annually use the current work try-out plan, but follow-up studies have shown that only about 12-13 percent of participants have found jobs on the open market within three months of their try-out," says Merja Kauhanen, research coordinator at the Labour Institute for Economic Research.

She notes that long-term job-seekers – who are one of the groups already eligible for the scheme – make up about 37 percent of the unemployed, a figure she calls "extremely worrying".

Kauhanen believes that an expansion of the system could bring a benefit, but that it won't solve Finland's unemployment problem.

"In order to get the unemployed into real paid work, the most important factor is that economic growth creates new jobs. Therefore more should be put into boosting demand," she says.

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