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Finland tweaks 'activation model', hires 200 more employment advisors

Labour Minister Jari Lindström said Thursday that the government plans to hire an additional 206 employees to interview jobseekers as it continues the roll-out of its controversial activation model.

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Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

The government’s contentious activation model for boosting employment figures by stimulating unemployed persons to find work is still in its infancy. However Labour Minister Jari Lindström announced a number of tweaks to the programme on Thursday, just three months into the programme.

To avoid cuts to their unemployment benefits, the system currently requires unemployed jobseekers to either work a total of 18 hours, earn 240 euros from entrepreneurship or participate in five days of employment-promoting activity over a three-month period.

Unemployed jobseekers who do not meet the requirements of the activation model stand to lose 4.65 percent of their monthly benefits – that translates into a 32-euro loss every month.

After a two-day session in which government ministers put their heads together to hammer out a draft budget for 2019, Lindström announced a series of modifications to the programme.

Green light for voluntary study programmes

Voluntary study programmes will now be accepted as a condition for preserving unemployment benefits. All unemployed jobseekers aged 25 and over will soon be able to study for up to six months without losing the benefit.

Lindström said the government wanted to eliminate the perception that the activation model is a kind of forced activity that jobseekers must endure to preserve their unemployment benefits.

“We hope that people are truly motivated and don’t want them to think, ‘I’ll do this to avoid something,’” he remarked.

However it’s not just any kind of study or training programme that will meet the new model’s requirements – proposed study options must prepare the individual for a profession or entrepreneurship.

More hands on deck

Finland’s activation model has been compared to a similar programme introduced in Denmark. However critics have noted that employment offices in Denmark are significantly better-staffed than in Finland. For example, each employment counsellor in Denmark works with about 12 clients, while the corresponding number in Finland is 166. The government has now acknowledged that more hands will be needed on deck to help interview unemployed people about their job-seeking activities.

To this end, Lindström revealed that 206 new employee will be hired and placed at local employment offices around the country. He said that government has earmarked nearly 11 million euros to be spent on the recruitment next year. In the interim, savings from previous years will be use for new hires this year.

Unions, NGOs, municipalities now approved training providers

Unemployed persons can stay on the right side of the new regulations by participating in job-promoting training. Trade unions, municipalities, NGOs and other non-profits will all become accredited providers of such training services. However recreational activities organised by trade unions will not qualify as approved activities in the new model.

The Union of Professional Engineers has applauded the change. The organisation currently offers training in areas such as drawing up résumés, job hunting on social media and micro-entrepreneurship.

The union has estimated that half of people participating in its programmes have been able to find work.

“We lobbied for this change. However we hoped that instead of allowing for six months of voluntary study, the period would have been two years. That would give an engineer enough time to re-train for a new field,” said union chair Samu Salo.

Minister: public info campaign coming

It’s still not clear whether the list of approved activities will be expanded to include acquiring the hygiene pass required for work in the food industry or the photo ID required on construction sites.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health told Yle it has not yet received any new instructions on this issue. However the minister said that such decisions will be made at local employment offices and added that unemployed persons should check with the office before embarking on training programmes.

On Wednesday, Lindström said that he planned to launch a campaign to inform the public about what courses and training programmes are already available to unemployed jobseekers.

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