Benedicte Guesne, Director for Ingeus France and Anton Eckersley, Director for Global Business Development, participated in a major employment policy conference, “The Vision for Public Employment Services for EU2020”. Delegates heard how globalisation, changing labour market dynamics, demographic change and post-recession fiscal consolidation will require PES to do more for less and to do it differently. Debate crystallised around two key elements of the PES modernisation agenda: how the traditional labour matching function of PES needs to evolve by embracing more holistic approaches to increase labour market participation and how best to develop a skilled labour force which meets the needs of the market through lifelong learning.
Particular emphasis was given to the role of skills, specifically the importance of developing synergies between the worlds of training, education and employment over the lifetime of an individual. PES, it was argued, would increasingly need to devise individually tailored and flexible lifelong learning ‘pathways’ for clients to facilitate the transition between phases of work, unemployment, caring and learning. According to this view, the role of PES should be to act as a ‘route planner’ for career choices which would see the focus shift from employment service ‘delivery agent’ to become labour market ‘conductor’.
The message was clear - this shift will help all citizens to obtain labour market relevant skills to meet the needs of changing labour market demands (for example, from blue collar to green collar jobs). This will be facilitated by an operational platform which uses common tools and languages to match the competencies of an individual to the competencies required by employers. This will help individuals to move more smoothly between jobs and sectors, thereby reducing current skills bottlenecks and ensuring cyclical unemployment does not become structural unemployment. Rome III was presented as a good example of this competence-based matching interface, which virtually connects individuals with prospective employers and training opportunities. It was argued that this lifelong learning facility could be optimised by rolling out a unified skills and qualifications system - such as ESCO - to ensure national and international coherency between education and training qualifications and the needs of the labour market.
There was a general consensus that given the need to shift from simply tackling unemployment to increasing employment PES will need to become more of a ‘transitions management agency’ which plays a more comprehensive role as lifelong service provider. This will be essential if they are to reach out successfully to target groups at the margins of the labour market with which many PES have not traditionally worked – such as seniors, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. The need to provide a more holistic and personalised service in an era of fiscal consolidation will increasingly require PES to develop a business model with a dual focus. Firstly, they will need to develop more effective channelling strategies to ensure that those people in greatest need are able to access more in-depth forms of support, particularly counselling. Secondly, PES will increasingly need to ‘orchestrate’ provision from a strong network of specialist stakeholders - including private, voluntary and training organisations - to share best practice and provide bespoke and individualised services to those requiring more intensive support. By co-operating closely, the public sector, in tandem with private welfare-to-work providers and other stakeholders can develop the sort of sophisticated supply chains and partnerships that a more tailored, life-cycle employment service will require.