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Information society, work, and the generation of new forms of social exclusion: Individualised strategies to combat social exclusion

Our research reveals that ICT-based organisational restructuring might not be a positive sum game. Besides restructuring winners, we can also find groups of workers that are threatened by social exclusion risks.

Various approaches have been developed to prevent or combat social exclusion. They are based on a concept of social justice different from the one underlying the postwar social consensus, which simply insured the population against predictable risks. We can distinguish between individualistic and general approaches. Individualistic approaches often analyse social exclusion in terms of denial - or non-realisation – of social rights.

The right to work can be seen as a key social right. The emphasis here lies on employment, not on income compensation through social welfare; integration into the work process is the aim of strategies to combat social exclusion. Therefore, the unemployed people and school leavers that have difficulties in finding a job are the main target groups. The following measures of an active labour market policy can be seen as key strategy elements: the readjustment of the unemployed to new labour market demands; the appropriation of wage subsidies for the creation of new jobs in companies; and the promotion of sheltered employment outside the official labour market.

Training to readjust the unemployed to new labour market demands cannot be reduced to only developing digital skills or some other specialised skills. Instead, it becomes more important to strengthen workers’ labour market position in general, as an increasing number of workers have to cope with the perspective of flexible and uncertain careers in the future. Therefore, soft skills and competencies such as social competencies or organisational and management skills are becoming increasingly important.

However, embracing intensive training programmes for the long-term unemployed is often not sufficient. For this group, job creation programmes also have to be financed. There is, however, always the risk that wage subsidies for companies will not create new jobs or at least no stable employment. It is therefore important to combine employment strategies based on wage subsidies with a qualification element. In addition, programmes which have a high growth potential to create jobs for the unskilled in the community and personal services must be included. The promotion of employment in sheltered areas outside the labour market which can be combined with a policy to guarantee employment for the long-term unemployed dissociates work from employment. This means that people become socially integrated, although they are not occupationally integrated. Furthermore, such a policy helps people to manage 'non-employment'.

We know from various evaluation studies that employed people can acquire new skills and competencies more easily than people without employment. Therefore, protective training and competence development within companies becomes increasingly important. The realisation of the concept of lifelong learning may be helpful in avoiding precarious employment and may even support people in starting a new career in a more promising work environment. For workers in precarious employment and in the case of skills mismatch, training referred to as 'adaptive training' can be seen as a possible measure to avoid unemployment.

As for older people, acquiring knowledge through continuous learning becomes a heavy burden and other measures have to be taken as well. In their case, it is possible to protect them from being made redundant and becoming unemployed through social protection schemes on the basis of collective agreements or legal regulations. The problem here is that protective regulations for specific groups increase the risk of other groups becoming unemployed. Such regulations have in effect proved to be an obstacle to the recruitment of job seekers or of new entrance to the labour market.

In the following we present a five-stage model of social exclusion and suggest intervention strategies. The process runs from full integration (stable employment), through forms of precarious, intermittent or seasonal employment, to unemployment and long-term unemployment and results in the total exclusion from the labour market, when people become unemployable and have to live on social welfare.

The process of social exclusion and options for political intervention:
Stage 1: Stable and long-term employment.
Intervention options: e.g., continuous further training.

Stage 2: Precarious, fragile employment.
Intervention options: protection agreements, training to overcome mismatches between needed skills and existing qualifications.

Stage 3: Unemployment.
Intervention options: wage subsidies, adjustment training.

Stage 4: Long-term unemployment.
Intervention options: job guarantees, promotion of employment outside the labour market, further training and wage subsidies for firms to create new jobs.

Stage 5: Final exclusion from the labour market.
Intervention options: training to keep workers employable, social aid.

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University of Tampere
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