It is no longer possible to conceive of everyday work without computers, internet, email, or mobile phones. There are few, if any, areas that have not been affected by the digital era. Media skills have evolved into an interdisciplinary complex in virtually all occupational and working fields and so must be communicated and integrated accordingly in everyday operative routines including initial and further training.
Besides learning to use new applications, the participants are taught to understand the functional principles, to modify applications within their own occupational context, and to share in the planning and organisation of how media are used in operative training and activities.
This digital evolution does not stop either at social firms in Europe that are committed to the qualification, employment, occupational rehabilitation and integration of persons whose health prevents them from taking on or continuing a job and who are therefore in need of special help.
Digitisation therefore poses a central challenge for everyone in Europe. It is therefore only logical that social firms are getting together in European partnerships to meet this challenge and learn from each other.
Social firms are not geared to economic, but to social gains. They work either close to or on the market towards the temporary or permanent qualification and employment of underprivileged persons on the labour market (e.g. persons without school leaving or vocational certificates, the chronically ill, the disabled, etc.). This includes e.g. qualification and employment programmes for the long term unemployed, inclusion programmes, and workshops for the disabled.
Social firms endeavour constantly to create or reinstate employability, to create jobs for their target groups, and to promote their permanent and sustainable integration in the labour market. At the same time, social firms must apply technological developments specifically to the occupational promotion and training of the target groups. These can then link easily to the digital evolution, improve their employability, and increase their chances on the labour market. In other words, also underprivileged persons and people with health issues must be promoted by qualified offers on the labour market, made fit for the digital era, and hence shielded from the danger of digital exclusion.
The project activities we are planning on the European level focus on persons with disabilities, health problems, mental problems, or addiction issues participating in social firms. In many cases, their participation was preceded by more or less longterm unemployment. Beyond employment, social firms are also a place of learning for these persons. Here they are promoted in a partially protected environment that yet offers conditions as close to reality as possible, and here they work close to or directly on the market.
Persons with disabilities or health issues are a high-risk group on the labour market. Their unemployment lies far above the average in all European countries. The causes of this are shared equally between trenchant changes on the labour markets, higher requirements for professional competence and qualifications, and a clear increase of mental illness and addiction in the population. According to studies, more than one out of three Europeans (38%) develop a mental disorder at least once a year.
This situation poses a challenge not only to the affected persons and their families, but also to the experts and executives in occupational rehabilitation. These latter are specifically responsible for maintaining the skills underlying the concepts for improving this heterogeneous group’s participation in working life and their validity on each of the latest social scientific and technological levels.
The strategic partnership centers on the professional exchange of information on digital training issues in the context of social firms and on the familiarization with good working practices in the participating European countries. To this end, a cross border dialogue is to be set up and specific relationships initiated throughout the cooperation.
The partnership pursues the objective of communicating new, definite findings and ideas to the involved organisations on how to deal with the opportunities provided and the challenges posed by digitisation in their social firms. In this respect, the emphasis is placed on two aspects:
a) the opportunities that digitisation can provide specifically for training work with the underprivileged on the labour market, with respect to both vocational and personnel qualifications (e.g. by means of technical aids, standardisation of work routines, social learning, game based learning);
b) the risks that digitisation may entail in each of the partner countries for employees and specifically for the underprivileged on the labour market (e.g. privatisation of labour, displacement of low grade jobs, etc.).
The partnership is geared to the three steps “See – Decide – Act”.
Visits and seminars in the partner countries present and summarize the extant knowledge and practice on the subject of digitisation. The key requirements for this are a good presenter and clear action guidelines.
The partners share ideas and rate separately or together those ideas that are to be adopted and, if necessary, refined in their own practices; also, the need for action they see for training work and how they can explore this separately or together in the originating countries and on the EU level.
During or at the end of the strategic partnership, the knowledge gained is preserved and transferred in the form of a paper listing best practice examples from successful technology and media use to successful digitisation strategies at social firms in Europe. These examples may, therefore, be integrated afterwards in the actual training practice of further funding bodies and lead to definite improvements in onsite practice as a result of the learning partnership (= both strategic “added value” of the partnership and verification of the project activities’ effectiveness).
Also possible would be a small scale political campaign promoting the subject of “e-inclusion”, for instance a joint contribution by the partners to the diverse position papers we are expecting for the 2019 Elections to the European Parliament or towards programmes for the future European structural fund and the funding programmes for 2021 to 2028.
Besides this clear focus on the use of digital media in vocational and personnel training work, the strategic partnership will also be committed to a second theme, the participation of persons with health issues in political opinion forming and representation of interests. In this connection, we intend to keep an eye specifically on European concerns and issues, and this from two perspectives:
a) from the perspective of the target group participants in the Social Firms of the partner organisations involved;
b) from the perspective of the experts and executives.
One idea is to cooperate in a workshop on the subjects under Chapter I “Equal opportunities and access to the labour market” of the European Pillar of Social Rights by discussing these contents, criticizing any of their aspects, and elaborating how they should be developed further or whether they will affect the occupational measures and the practice of training work at the partner organisations. It would be particularly interesting to link this activity to method learning and to see which of these methods are suitable for including in the discussions also the underprivileged from various European countries who are interested in and enjoy these European projects. These possibilities can then be analyzed for their potential suitability, if any, of applying digital media towards the improvement of political participation by the underprivileged as well. During or at the end of the strategic partnership, these may serve to derive a “methods manual” or even a joint, creative campaign on the European Pillar of Social Rights (e.g. collage, audio play), etc., which may then of course also be transmitted over the partners’ diverse media channels into their (political) PR work.