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The transition of young people from education to employment in Brussels: challenges for governance

BSI synopsis
Les transitions des jeunes entre l’enseignement et l’emploi à Bruxelles : défis pour la gouvernance. Note de synthèse BSI
Doorstroming van de jongeren van het onderwijs naar de arbeidsmarkt in Brussel: bestuurlijke uitdagingen. BSI synthesenota
Abraham Franssen, Donat Carlier et Anissa Benchekroun
Traduction de Jane Corrigan
Cet article est une traduction de :
Les transitions des jeunes entre l’enseignement et l’emploi à Bruxelles : défis pour la gouvernance
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Doorstroming van de jongeren van het onderwijs naar de arbeidsmarkt in Brussel: bestuurlijke uitdagingen

Résumés

Dualisation et décrochage scolaires, taux de chômage élevé des jeunes peu qualifiés, précarité chronique soulignent les difficultés des transitions des jeunes entre l’enseignement et l’emploi. Cette synthèse vise à mieux comprendre lestransitions des jeunes de l’école à l’emploi, du chômage à la formation, de la formation à l’emploi et au sein même du marché du travail. Elle s’appuie sur les travaux du « LaboJeunes », qui pendant deux ans a rassemblé, au travers d’analyses en groupe, responsables institutionnels, enseignants, employeurs, professionnels de terrain et évidemment jeunes sans emploi. Dans un premier temps, après avoir rapidement rappelé le contexte bruxellois et précisé la catégorie des « jeunes en transition », le dispositif d’action publique destiné aux jeunes en transition est caractérisé. Dans un deuxième temps, un diagnostic partagé de la mise en œuvre de cette action publique et de ses effets est établi. Il identifie, avec ceux qui en sont les acteurs, quelques-uns des enjeux de ce qui s’apparente plus à un « patchwork » tissé de relations de « coopération conflictuelle » qu’à un dispositif cohérent. Dans un troisième temps, prospectif et propositionnel, les auteurs s’interrogent sur les conditions et pistes d’amélioration d’une action publique en matière de transition des jeunes vers l’emploi.
Cette note de synthèse se base sur les enseignements du « laboratoire participatif des transitions des jeunes entre l’enseignement et l’emploi » (http://www.youthlab.eu). Cette recherche, soutenue par la DG Emploi et Affaires sociales de la Commission européenne, a été menée en partenariat entre l’Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles, Actiris et la CCFEE (Commission Consultative Formation Enseignement Emploi), ainsi qu’avec trois autres Services Publics d’Emploi : l’Arbeitsmarktservice Österreich (AMS – Autriche), la Bundesagentur für Arbeit (BA, Allemagne) et le FOREM (Wallonie). Elle a impliqué durant deux années les divers acteurs des transitions en Région bruxelloise dans la construction d’un diagnostic et de perspectives. Le contenu de cette note de synthèse n’engage toutefois que ses auteurs.

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Notes de l’auteur

This research was conducted with the collaboration of Audrey Leenaerts (Actiris), Jean-Yves Donnay (CCFEE), Audrey Grandjean (CCFEE), Raphaël Darquenne (Réseau MAG) and Stéphanie Busschaert (Centre d’études sociologiques – Université Saint-Louis).

Texte intégral

Introduction

1The policies regarding the transition of young people from education to employment in the Brussels-Capital Region constitute an emblematic example of multi-level, multi-layered and multi-stakeholder public action. In reference to the main concepts of public action analysis (stakeholders, institutions, references, instruments, professionals and evaluation), this article explores the tensions between governments, governance and governability of this transition.

2After a quick review of the situation in Brussels and a specification of the category of “young people in transition”, we begin by characterising public action aimed at young people in transition.

3Secondly, we shall try to establish a diagnosis of the implementation of this public action and its effects. With the stakeholders, we shall identify some of the challenges of what is more a patchwork of cooperation between conflict-ridden relations than a coherent plan of action.

4Thirdly, from a prospective and propositional angle, we shall explore the conditions and ways of improving public action which would allow a more positive transition from education to employment to be considered and created for low-skilled young people.

5At theoretical level, this article and the research it refers to are based on the transitional labour market approach, developed in particular by Bernard Gazier [2008]. Instead of focusing on the individual risk factors leading to underemployment, this theoretical paradigm must be understood by taking into account the primacy of the interaction between stakeholders – public, private, collective and individual – intervening in the transition of young people. Integration or non integration are not understood to be the result of the individual characteristics of those who are “excluded”, but as the product of (interpersonal) relationships and (more systemic) rapports between the different stakeholders who create the transition together.

1. Public action in the Brussels-Capital Region in favour of the transition of young people from education to employment

1.1. Transition in Brussels: difficulties and complexity

6The problem regarding the socio-professional integration of low-skilled young people is ongoing in the context of the Brussels-Capital Region, as it is in other European cities and regions. The dualisation of the education system, early school leaving, the high unemployment rate of low-skilled young people and chronic insecurity underline the difficulties involved in the transition of low-skilled young people from education to employment.

7The statistical indicators used regularly paint a discouraging picture:

  • an unemployment rate of 18.6% (BIT rate, based on the Enquêtes sur les Forces de Travail), and of 38.3% among young people under age 25, which is twice as high as the European average. At the end of October 2013, there were 111 519 unemployed job seekers registered with Actiris in Brussels, 15 149 of whom were under the age of 25, including 6 937 young people undergoing job training [Observatoire bruxellois de l’emploi, 2013a];

  • a significant dualisation of the education system. “Failure and underachievement, like the logic of relegation between streams in secondary education, reach very high levels, which exceed those in other major Belgian cities. There are many young people who leave compulsory education without the diploma required to continue their studies or to enter the workforce in the right conditions. The acquired educational skills are very unequal between individuals, as well as at school level, thus revealing a logic of differentiated recruitment between schools. In a dense urban environment, this greatly accentuates the effect of residential segregation, creating “chosen” schools and “default” schools, if not “ghetto” schools.” [Wayens et al., 2013];

  • As regards the labour market, the evolution over the past 20 years in the Brussels Region is a more pronounced reflection of the general trends observed elsewhere in Europe. From a historical perspective and compared with other European countries, Belgium is characterised by a relatively regulated and protected labour market (salary level, indexing, definition of suitable employment). This favours the stability of employees. However, there has been an emergence of insecure, temporary, interim and part-time jobs, in particular for young people (and particularly for low-skilled workers). The development of different types of subsidised employment and the different related statuses has led to the implementation of a specific labour market outside the ordinary labour market. The evolution of the labour market in Brussels is marked in particular by the almost complete disappearance of industrial jobs (secondary sector) in favour of the tertiary sector. As regards qualifications, more than half of jobs in Brussels are held by people with a higher education or university degree (53%). “Between 1989 and 2007, the number of low-skilled workers decreased in the Brussels Region by 41%, whereas the number of high-skilled workers increased by 62%” [Observatoire de l’emploi, 2010]. Contrary to popular thinking, the labour market in Brussels is characterised by the creation of a significant number of jobs – nevertheless at a lower rate than the increase in the working population – which are not necessarily held by inhabitants of Brussels [Observatoire bruxellois de l’emploi, 2013b];

  • As regards its sociology and demography, the Brussels-Capital Region – a territory of 161 km2 spread out among 19 municipalities and 1 100 000 inhabitants – is characterised by dynamic demography and migratory flows which lead to a considerably younger population and an increase in its total population and working population. The working age population has increased by more than 20% in 10 years [Observatoire bruxellois de l’emploi, 2013]. According to forecasts by the Institut Bruxellois de Statistique et d’Analyse, there will be 1 230 636 inhabitants in the Region in 2020, i.e. 141 098 more than in 2010 [IBSA, 2010]. The population of Brussels is characterised by its diversity in terms of the culture and origin of its populations, which is fuelled by constant immigration flows on top of the historical community and linguistic tensions between the Walloons and the Flemish. If we consider the broad indicator of Belgian or foreign origin (i.e. people who are either of foreign nationality, i.e. born with a foreign nationality or with a parent of foreign nationality), the percentage of people of foreign origin in Brussels is 65.9% (while the percentage of people of foreign origin in Belgium is 25.3%). “In Brussels, people from a EU-14 country represent 33.3% of the population of foreign origin, and people from the Maghreb, 26.8%, compared to 66.6% and 9.6% in Wallonia and 42.8% and 13.9% in Flanders, respectively.” [SPF Emploi, Travail et concertation sociale, Centre pour l’Egalité des chances, 2013]. In Brussels, the social issue is partly an ethnic issue, in the sense that it questions the relationships of competition, cooperation and domination between people and groups defined according to their ethnic/ cultural and linguistic attributes [Bastenier, 2004].

  • At institutional level, the complexity of the situation in Brussels is well known. The institutional complexity inherent in the multi-level governance of federalism comes in addition to community censure. While the Belgian federal state is the competent authority regarding social security and, in part, employment policy, training and support policies are regionalised and education is a community matter, whereas the social action implemented by CPAS is a municipal matter (while being the object of federal legislation as well as bi-community regional policies).

8These Belgian/Brussels characteristics test the coherence and cohesion of public action regarding the transition of young people from education to employment, and at the same time result in inventive institutional, organisational and professional practices.

1.2. “Young people in transition”, a category to be deconstructed

9The generic category of “young people” must be deconstructed, as these people are far from constituting a homogeneous category. The overall picture of the 15‑24 age group in Brussels provides an understanding of the diversity of the situations of young people.

10This picture of the 15‑24 age group in Brussels reveals the main trends which characterise the transition experienced by young people.

11An increasing majority of young people in school. The unemployment rate for young people is often presented without mentioning that the rate concerns only young people in the working population (i.e. on the labour market as job seekers or workers). In the Brussels-Capital Region, less than 30% of young people aged 15 to 24 are part of the working population.

12The effects of relegation and early school leaving. Longer studies do not mean that young people follow a straight path or that they are successful. The rate of educational underachievement and early school leaving is significant, particularly in Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles, as is the proportion of young people who leave secondary education without a diploma (CESS), particularly in Brussels.

“In 2012, the proportion of young people aged 18 to 24 with only a lower secondary education diploma and who were not in school or undergoing training was very high. In total, approximately one out of five young people in Brussels left school early” [Observatoire de la santé et du social, 2013a].

13A great diversity of paths to employment for young people. For a majority of young people, the transition from the status of student to that of worker who is well integrated in the labour market, is not a problem. Not all young people have the same chances for successful socio-professional integration. In addition to the group of “achievers” who represent about half of those who finish school, in all of the OECD countries there are young people who are “left out”. These young people are faced with several disadvantages: they have no diploma, are from an immigrant background, live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, and their parents are also unemployed (thus strongly reducing the social capital which may be mobilised to ensure the integration of their children).

14The relative significance and characteristics of unemployment among young people. Within the category of young people aged (15)18‑24 who are no longer in school and who are part of the labour market, unemployment is a more or less lasting experience for a significant number of them.

“The unemployment rate of young people is more than twice as high as the unemployment rate of people aged 18‑64, which is already very high. In the Brussels Region, more than one out of three people aged 18 to 24 are unemployed (35.5%). Generally speaking, for young people and for the general population as a whole, the chances of employment increase with the level of education. In Brussels, in December 2011, close to half (49.0%) of young unemployed job seekers had at the most a lower secondary diploma, 32.0% had an upper secondary diploma, 6.7% had a higher education degree and 12.4% had a diploma which was not recognised in Belgium.” [Observatoire de la santé et du social, 2013b]

There are also significant variations which must be considered according to origin (to the disadvantage of those from non-EU27 countries), neighbourhood and municipality of residence (from 20.6% in Woluwé-Saint-Pierre to 38.6% in Molenbeek) and gender (the employment level is lower among young women (30.4%) than among young men (42.1%).

“However, in Brussels, once they are part of the labour market, young women have a lower risk of unemployment than young men (32.5% compared with 37.9%).” [Observatoire de la santé et du social, 2013b]

Figure 1. 18‑24 year-olds in Brussels according to the Force de Travail survey (2012)

Figure 1. 18‑24 year-olds in Brussels according to the Force de Travail survey (2012)

Source: Youth lab for the transition of young people from education to employment, statistics section, processing by IWEPS and CCFEE secretariat

15Young NEETs. At European level, the acronym “NEET” (‘Not in education, employment or training’) popularised the problem of young people who are no longer at school or undergoing training and who are unemployed. There are 7.5 million NEETs in the EU, i.e. 12.9% of young people aged 15 to 24 (education is compulsory until 18). In Brussels, 24% of people aged 18 to 24 are NEETs (2010–2012 Eurostat figures, Enquête sur les Forces de travail, Eurostat and SPF Economie, DGSIE). This rate is also highly influenced by the economic situation, with a significant increase since 2008. On the one hand, these are young people who are registered as job seekers and who are either undergoing job training or who receive unemployment benefits. Some young people who are registered as job seekers also receive social assistance or social integration revenue from CPAS. On the other hand, these are young people who are not even part of the working population and who are not in school or undergoing training. In short, they are outside the labour market and are “unknown” by the public employment services and even by CPAS. These young people outside the scope of institutions are therefore unaware or do not make full use of their rights and the possibilities to benefit from support, training and job-seeking services [Van Parijs et al., 2013].

16Beyond these specific points, the definition of young people based on an arbitrary age may be questioned. While youth is defined as the period during which the attributes associated with adulthood are acquired gradually (stable employment and financial independence, residential independence and possibly conjugality and parenthood), this transitional period is extended in an indefinite and irreversible manner for some “young people” who are accused of “never growing up” [Nagels and Rea, 2007].

17The usual qualification of “low skilled” must also be questioned. It would be more accurate to speak of young people with a low level of education and formal qualification, who may have skills and qualifications which are not recognised on the labour market [Rose, 2012].

1.3. Public action

18The past twenty-five years have seen an increase in plans, measures and plans of action aimed at the integration in the labour market of young people with a low level of education, on the initiative of European, federal, regional and municipal public authorities, as well as that of social partners, community stakeholders and private commercial stakeholders. Upstream, in and around the education system, several reforms and specific plans of action have been developed in order to ensure the qualifications of those who finish school and to limit early school leaving.

19As regards the division of competences, the area of transition from education to employment is not a matter for a ministry in particular. Instead, it exists at the intersection between several competences and policies: education, training, employment, social integration and youth. The result is also that this area is not governed by just one reference value or course of action and clear evaluation criteria, even if various forms of structuring and expression by these operators have existed in recent years, with the stated objective being to ensure better coherence and efficiency of their action.

2. From plan of action to patchwork: establishing a shared diagnosis

20Drawing freely on Lascoumes and Le Galès [2007], public action may be analysed based on six complementary conceptual approaches:

  • Stakeholders may be individual or collective, public or private, and intervene upstream (placing on the agenda) or downstream (implementation) from public action. They constitute interest groups in interaction (public action network). They are equipped with resources, have a certain autonomy and follow strategies, while being guided by institutional constraints, interests and symbolic representations;

  • Institutions are standards and formal rules (legal framework, division of competences, etc.) situated at different levels, which provide a framework for stakeholders and govern their interactions; 

  • References (representations, ideologies, values, etc.) are the cognitive and normative frameworks which give meaning (generally debated) to actions, condition them and also reflect them;

  • Instruments are the concrete means and technical plans of action implemented in public action. They may be of different types (regulatory, incentive, goods and services, etc.) and materialise in objects (forms, software, administrative category, etc.);

  • Professionals, and in particular first-line agents, must also be considered as policy makers [Lipsky, 1980];

  • Results (output, impacts, outcome) are the consequences and effects (desired or involuntary) of public action. They may be the object of an evaluation.

21We shall characterise and analyse public action regarding the transition of young people from education to employment in the Brussels-Capital Region based on these different conceptual approaches. To do this, we shall base ourselves on the group analyses [Van Campenhoudt, Franssen and Chaumont, 2005], which involved the different stakeholders concerned in the establishment of a shared diagnosis derived from the concrete situations they face.

22Several images are called upon regularly by these stakeholders when characterising this public action:

  • that of the “labyrinth” when evoking the complexity of users’ pathways and their uncertain outcome;

  • that of the “lasagna” in reference to the successive layering of plans, measures and plans of action;

  • that of the “gasworks” when referring to the complexity of political and administrative arrangements and institutional pipework in a “city-region” made up of two communities and 19 municipalities.

23In order to provide a better picture of the work carried out by stakeholders to reconcile social ties, let us mention the “patchwork” metaphor, in the sense of a poorly defined whole made up of many different patches, all of them foreign to each other but fitting together more or less harmoniously. Patchwork is inter-personal. Each piece is part of an interaction, which is the theoretical and methodological perspective of the “Youth lab for the transition of young people from education to employment”.

24This patchwork has the virtue of existing and of more or less covering society. The major networking and diversity of offers and plans of action provide opportunities for the most vulnerable people to hang on. But this “patchwork” of transitions is marked by tensions and splits.

25Finally, “patch work” may also be understood as two words, in reference to the “patches”, which act as a substitute and are aimed at freeing those they are applied to of their dependency (on unemployment benefits), without guaranteeing success. The effectiveness of this approach to tackling unemployment is therefore in question. Does it really help people to come through? In which conditions? Based on which practices?

2.1. The plurality of poorly coordinated public, community and private stakeholders

26In the areas of education (school and extracurricular stakeholders), employment (small, medium and large companies from different sectors, public services and non-market sector), intermediation stakeholders (public employment services), advice on study options, (pre)-training, social action (including CPAS), socio-professional integration (local missions, organisations for socio-professional integration), youth and youth services (Maisons de la jeunesse, Services d’Action en Milieu Ouvert, etc.), in addition to young people themselves, there are many stakeholders – both Walloon and Flemish – at some level of authority, directly concerned with the problem of the transition of low-skilled young people in the Brussels-Capital Region.

27In that respect, the question concerns public action rather than public policy in order to give an account of the implication of this diversity of stakeholders, all of which are interest groups. Even if they are not organised formally as such, they constitute a de facto public action network.

28With a methodological and political objective to involve the diversity of these stakeholders in a participative, collaborative and reflective approach, the “Youth lab for the transition of young people from education to employment” provided an interesting analysis of the various positions and their unequal relationships of cooperation full of conflicts.

29While intermediation stakeholders – between completing education and entering the labour market – were actively involved in the youth lab, it was more difficult to enlist the participation of education stakeholders in this approach, apart from those on the fringes of the education system such as CEFA (Centre d’Enseignement et Formation en Alternance). But above all, it was difficult to raise the interest of those mainly concerned, i.e. young people and employers. The difficulty in involving the most vulnerable stakeholders as well as the dominant stakeholders, reveals their asymmetrical positions.

2.1.1. The difficulty in getting young people to stay in school

30Paradoxically, although they are the very target of activation policies and integration measures, the professionals who participated in the group analyses kept asking the question, “Where are the young people?” And when they are there, are they really there?

31The question regarding the “motivation” of young people was raised many times by education stakeholders, intermediaries between education and employment and employers. A gap between the world as experienced by young people and the institutional system was observed.

‘Where are the young people?” As told by an employee in the job search department at Actiris:
It is difficult to get young people to understand how we work and to come to the activities. Generally speaking, when they come and we are in contact with them on an individual or group basis, everything goes well. We are able to do a good job. The problem is that they do not come to the activities. A good example is that of the group activity which we organise for one week with 8 to 12 under-qualified young people. The problem is that it is very difficult to form big enough groups to benefit from group dynamics. The same thing occurs with our partners. We have already tried different methods to get them involved and different means of communication, and the only thing we have not tried is to oblige them to attend, as we find that this contradicts with what we propose, i.e. to enable young people to take charge of their approach and integration. It does not make sense to start by obliging them in order to achieve this, but it is something being considered. 

32The characteristics of this most out-of-reach public are well known: lack of a diploma, over-representation of young people with an immigrant background, no or very sporadic work experience, and regarding their “attitude and behaviour” (language, clothing and “social skills”), a marked inadequacy with respect to the basic criteria and requirements for employment. In addition to the obstacles related to access to employment, the vast majority of these young people are faced with other social, housing, administrative, family, etc. difficulties.

33But these observations must also lead us to question the obstacles related to the organisation of the services provided. Are young people out of the scope of services and institutions or are the institutions out of the scope of young people?

34The reports by young people indicate that the lack of participation is often due to the gaps between young people and institutions. Several factors may be underlined: the complexity of the institutional landscape which leads to the ignorance and confusion experienced by young people regarding services and their rights, the tension between the administrative character of services and the need for quality inter-personal contact in order to establish trust, the lack of concrete answers for young people who are often in urgent need as well as disadvantaged.

“Rotten luck”. Told by an unemployed young person:
They did nothing but make sure I was looking for work. It was only administrative. There is a lot of useless paperwork. I’m young and I go there to find a job, and they do nothing but paperwork. So what? 

2.1.2. Where are the employers?

35In keeping with the questions regarding young people (“Where are the young people?” “How can their interest be raised?”, etc.), the importance of “employers” is underlined as much as their absence is generally regretted. And indeed, in the very process of the “Youth lab for the transition of young people from education to employment”, employers appeared to be separate and to stand apart. The views of other agents regarding employers provide two types of representation:

  • on the one hand, that of the employer as a “client” to satisfy. This definition of the employer as a client is also one of the institutional priorities of Actiris (“the employer is the first client”);

  • on the other hand, that of the employer with little awareness of any social responsibility, or scarcely any function in terms of employability, favouring internal recruitment, taking advantage of the savings generated through traineeships and financing measures for assisted jobs, and wary of young people, in particular those with an immigrant background.

36These two representations reveal that the different agents had the same relationship to employers: a relationship of exteriority, between distrust and a desire to please, or between seduction and reproaches. These crossed and sometimes stereotypical representations show that employers are not built to be stakeholders in the integration and transition of young people, nor do they see themselves as such, apart from a few exceptions. The challenge is to go beyond a definition of employers as “clients”, or worse, as “adversaries”, and turn them into partners in the transition of young people.

2.1.3. The difficulty with partnerships

37Relationships with intermediate stakeholders are described in terms of a confusion of roles and difficulty with partnerships.

38Formally and semantically, the different operators began to collaborate in a network in partnership, based on their specific missions.

39As it is, this structuring of the public action network is ensured by different instruments and tools:

  • The role of “manager/organiser” entrusted to Actiris and Bruxelles Formation which provide support and training respectively, intended to manage and structure the system of socio-professional integration in Brussels via the establishment of partnership agreements with the different operators, whereas VDAB plays the same role for Dutch-language professional training in Brussels;

  • The formal integration of the different actions and interventions involving the concept of “pathways to integration” intended to mark out the different types of action (general, pre-skills or skills training, job search assistance, etc.) and steps for users to take;

  • Local meetings, which are organised according to area (6 areas). The implementation of Maisons de l’Emploi, a group of operators (Actiris Antenne Locale, CPAS Insertion Socioprofessionnelle (ISP) service, local mission, etc.) in view of simplifying the services provided to job seekers, is aimed at reinforcing this structuring of partnerships at municipal level (19 municipalities);

  • Information sharing between partners via the network Réseau des plates-formes pour l’emploi (RPE), aimed at improving flow management via the exchange of information between operators regarding people’s pathways.

40From the perspective of the public employment service, the structuring of partnerships leads to many “misunderstandings” and recurring tensions. The debates focus in particular on the levels and make-up of the delegation and on the status given to partners. Should global support be delegated or should the delegation concern only specific support for special types of public? Should missions be delegated with respect to certain problems or should part of the public be delegated? Should Actiris delegate control functions to partners and do they accept them?

A manager at Actiris:
Instead of competing between partners we should do complementary work. The partners never wanted to work based on notifications to attend. Job seekers will not receive the same follow-up. We are still negotiating and cannot agree. What can I expect of local missions? They refuse to give us information about job seekers.

Another manager at Actiris:
In order to enter the ISP, one must be registered as a job seeker. The local mission states clearly that it does not wish to force anyone. But at Actiris, the pathway is restricted and contractualised. People register as job seekers and a grant is thrown in at the end of it all.

41As regards the “partners”, whether they are public (CPAS, local missions) or community (some of the training, socio-professional integration and social economy organisations), a symmetrical vision prevails. They generally deplore the lack of dialogue, and collaboration is felt to be an attempt at auxiliarisation by the public employment service in favour of an “activation” and control policy whose presuppositions they do not necessarily share and whose consequences they fear, for themselves and their public.

42The delights and disappointments of partnerships are felt in particular with respect to the distribution of roles and functions between the public employment service (Actiris) and the Centres Publics d’Action Sociale (CPAS). Although historically these two institutions were part of different missions and do not target the same public – the public employment service targets “unemployed workers” and is part of the social security regime, whereas CPAS is aimed at populations outside the labour market based on an inquiry regarding their needs, and is part of the social assistance regime – the reorganisation of employment policies and social policies in the framework of the active welfare state has blurred and extended the boundaries between these two public stakeholders.

43In the framework of a group analysis involving Brussels CPAS staff dedicated to the theme of partnerships in employment, the CPAS staff mentioned some ambivalence and even some distrust resulting from what they feel is a “forced cohabitation” rather than a true partnership.

A CPAS social worker:
Thankfully, Actiris has no hold over CPAS assistance. Actiris has made some people sign a contract, but we don’t. It is an added stress. In the eyes of the public, Actiris and ONEM are all about control.

A CPAS integration staff member:
We provide follow-up for the unemployed. This is not easy, as their plan of action is defined on the production line and is not pertinent. Actiris’ orders are not adapted.

44Therefore, while denouncing what appears to be an auxiliarisation and an intrusion, CPAS staff criticise the fact that they do not have information regarding what became of their ex-users. From their point of view, Actiris is a place where those who can no longer benefit from employment under article 60 “disappear”, in other words, without the integration staff knowing the outcome of the employment support provided to former CPAS users [Degraef, 2012].

45However, in cases where partnerships are established between the different operations on a substantial basis centred on the needs of job seekers, such as in training courses in socio-professional integration (literacy teaching, specialised choice, non-specialised choice, basic training, pre-training, training through work workshop, skills training and professional development) involving distinct operators organised in a training programme, coherence and the complementarity of interventions seem more present. In his evaluation of the socio-professional integration courses in the Brussels-Capital Region, Valter Cortese concludes that “passing from one degree of qualification to another was improved by networking and the development of partnerships between operators”, while pointing out that “there is still a significant number of beneficiaries who have difficulty passing from one step to another” [Cortese, 2013: 36].

46Regarding the action coordination models of hierarchy, market and network, the area of transition in the Brussels-Capital Region is characterised by its hybrid functioning. Tension exists between a more statist conception of public action (giving primacy to the public authorities and public institutions in the definition of the common good and in imposing standards), which would be negotiated with stakeholders from civil society, and the market model based on the logic of competition between operators fighting for market shares and trying to capture segments of the most employable “clientele” within the target categories. The market as a model of coordination and allocation of resources between operators is also becoming more dominant through the growing role of private market operators (in particular interim stakeholders) in the orientation and placement in the context of the mixed management of labour markets and, above all, through the application of the rules of competition which govern private commercial stakeholders in the sector of training and integration.

2.2. The weight of compartmentalised institutions

47The absence of clarity regarding the organisation of partnerships is partly the product of governance problems at policy level, in the construction of governmental and inter-governmental action. The difficulties involved in the coordination of stakeholders are all the more significant since these stakeholders are part of a fragmented and compartmentalised institutional landscape. With local and municipal initiatives, European recommendations in the framework of the European Employment Strategy, and the different levels concerned in the Belgian federal state competent in the area of social security, although training and support policies are regionalised and education is a matter for the communities, we are faced with a paroxystic example of public action established at multiple regulatory and decision-making levels, without a true hierarchical organisation among them.

48With respect to “path dependency”, political analysts underline the weight of institutions which restrict the action of stakeholders and limit the possibilities for reforms and transversality.

49Figure 2 (in a patchwork form, of course) suggests the institutional divisions and separations which mark the area of transition in the Brussels Region:

  • Separation between federal level (ONEm) and regional level;

  • Separation between education (communities), employment (federal and regions) and training (regional community);

  • Extra-regional community and linguistic division (French-language education and Dutch-language education) and intra-regional;

  • Territorial division between the three Belgian regions and their institutions, yet the dynamics of the labour market in Brussels are obviously not confined to the region’s territory;

  • Contrary to VDAB and FOREM, institutional separation between the public employment service and the training services intended for job seekers;

  • Within the region, division between regional level and municipal level;

  • etc.

Figure 2. Education/training (employment) interconnections

Figure 2. Education/training (employment) interconnections

Acronyms: CBCES (Comité bruxellois de concertation économique et sociale), CESRBC (Conseil économique et social de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale), CCFEE (Commission Consultative Formation Emploi Enseignement in Brussels), BNCTO (Brussels Nederlandstalig Comité voor Tewerkstelling en Opleiding), CDR (Centre de référence), CVDC (Consortium de validation des compétences)

Source: CCFEE secretariat

50While these institutional divisions are partly compensated for by the increasing number of consulting bodies and cooperation protocols, they are nevertheless sources of inertia and, in the end, a shirking of responsibilities with respect to the common challenge of the transition of young people in the Brussels Region from education to employment. Admittedly, each of them “does what they can” in their area and sector, but it is precisely in the lack of interconnection that breaks occur in the transition of young people. For example, the lack of interconnection between education and employment is the reason why some technical and vocational streams do not have clear openings on the labour market, contributing to the lack of motivation and early school leaving experienced by students who will then have to be remotivated and acquire skills in the socio-professional integration circuit. The same is true regarding languages – Dutch in particular – which are not taught sufficiently in French-language education in Brussels, thus leading to costly “remedial” measures once young people have left the education system.

51Likewise, as a consequence of federal activation and control policies, the implementation of measures to exclude job seekers results in a transfer of part of the financial burden and the task of providing support to the most disadvantaged people to local CPAS level.

2.3. A common reference, yet the debates and controversies continue

52Beyond institutional fragmentation, it is perhaps in terms of ideas that a shared vision of public action can be built regarding the transition of young people from education to employment. In other words, do the stakeholders in this transition share a common reference?

53These policies, plans of action and practices lie within the framework of activation policies promoted at European and national level, not without debates and controversies.

54Although the European Union does not have any direct and binding competence regarding employment policies and social welfare, it has a determining influence on the understanding and shaping of public action regarding the transition of young people from education to employment, via the different information instruments (benchmarking, monitoring, setting up of an epistemic community of European and national experts, etc.) as well as via the integration support programmes (European Social Fund) and the mobility of young people [Conter, 2012].

55This global reference takes the form of the promotion of reforms affecting the different areas of public action:

  • social welfare system reforms in terms of a greater conditionalisation and activation of social security benefits (unemployment scheme) and social assistance;

  • labour market reforms in view of an increase in the working population and a more flexible labour market – or depending on the point of view, more “flexisecurity”;

  • training and education system reforms in view of promoting the improvement and continuous adaptation (lifelong learning) of required skills and a better interconnection between education, professional training and the labour market.

56As indicated by Jean-Michel Bonvin and Bernard Conter, “the shift from demand-related policies to supply-related policies is central in this respect: the focus must be on the supply of work, on evaluating individual job seekers and providing them with the measures considered to be best adapted to their rapid return to the labour market” [Bonvin and Conter, 2006].

57The almost consensual character of the proclaimed objectives and standards at European level does not preclude the continuation of major debates, as well as tensions between this global reference and sectoral references. This is the case in particular regarding education, between the supporters of a matching and professionalising model whereby education has the function of adapting its curriculum to the needs and expectations of the labour market, and the defenders of the autonomy of educational missions.

58Likewise, within the framework of activation, the debates continue between the more welfare-related approaches (guarantee a high level of social welfare, focus on training and high-quality jobs) and more workfare-related approaches (limit welfare payments, make the labour market more flexible). The very meaning of activation policies is based on diverging ideas according to which activation is considered to be in return for benefits, a vector of employability or a wider opportunity to participate in social life [Seynaeve et al., 2004; Mau et al., 2004].

59More fundamentally, the institutionalisation of activation policies has not put an end to the controversy regarding their basis and their effectiveness [Dumont, 2012]. If we characterise a public action reference based on its causal hypothesis (what is the cause of the problem?) and its intervention hypothesis (how can it be solved?), differences remain between the stakeholders who favour an explanation based on the supply – involving a focus on the employability of job seekers – and those who highlight the insufficiency of the demand – involving a priority given to job creation policies.

60These ideological differences are related to the positions of different stakeholders in the area of public action (unions versus employers, public stakeholders versus community stakeholders), as well as to the differences in political culture, which translate into relationships which differ from the norm between French-speaking stakeholders and Dutch-speaking stakeholders.

61These differences may also be linked to the tensions between the different strata of public action represented respectively by the “police state, which is also considered to be liberal” (individual responsibility, sanctioning power), the “welfare state” (collective regulations, benefit entitlements, category-specific approach) and the “reflective state” (individual support, rights, autonomy, networking) [Genard and Cantelli, 2007].

2.4. Various instruments and tools

62Following the works by Foucault [1975] on « dispositifs » (devices, machineries …) and those by Latour [1989] on the roles of objects as “non-human agents”, Lascousmes and Le Galès also analyse public action based on its instruments. Beyond the different types of instrument (regulatory, incentive, provision of goods and services, information, etc.) used in public action, attention must be given to concrete tools and objects: procedures, software, lists, administrative categories and statistics. Technical instruments tend to be the invisible driving forces behind the actions of professionals and the paths of users. Instruments appear to have specific normative effects and to be determining factors in interactions by guiding practices and representations [Lascoumes and Le Galès, 2004].

63Transition policies and plans of action are characterised by increasing instrumentation. In order to deal with the new flows generated by the systematic and obligatory activation policies for all job seekers, while the number of job seekers as well as CPAS users (some of whom fall into both groups) has continued to increase in recent years, the managerial response consists mainly in reinforcing orders and imposing a standardisation method via bureaucratic and IT procedures. In the framework of activation policies implemented by the public employment services and their partners, the Construction de Projet Professionnel (CPP) plan of action constitutes the central instrument in the support for young job seekers in their transition from education to employment.

64Support is organised based on a categorisation of the public and is intended to be individualised, with predetermined obligatory meetings between the job seeker and his or her “named adviser” at the public employment service. The CPP is divided into several stages of “clarification”, “diagnosis”, “follow-up interview” and “review”, which correspond to the procedure of administrative follow-up and encoding of the job seeker’s file, and materialises for each job seeker through the establishment of a “plan of action” with the different steps for the job seeker to take towards the job market: autonomous or assisted job search, training, determination of a professional project, etc.

Figure 3. The Construction de Projet Professionnel (CPP) plan of action

Figure 3. The Construction de Projet Professionnel (CPP) plan of action

Source: Actiris, Observatoire de l’emploi

65While this procedure is part of the support process, the observation of practices reveals the risk of confusion between processes and procedures. The systematic character of the support procedure in the framework of the CPP, its obligatory character, its indexing of conditions and controlled activation policy criteria of job-search behaviour have considerably increased the tension between process-based logic and procedure-based logic – and even by-the-book logic – in the support for job seekers, as illustrated by the well-named “objectification procedure” imposed by ONEM and implemented by Actiris in an attempt to ensure a greater homogeneity of professional practices and the transmission of information (not responding to notifications to attend, etc.) in accordance with the requirement for fair and impartial processing of each file, understood and interpreted as the requirement for identical treatment in reference to the fictional ideal of the ’average’ user. The entire plan of action is therefore torn between the contradictory requirements to ensure a management of flows from a distance and a management of singularity in proximity. For human operators, this in-between must be managed. Should the priority be given to the processes or should the procedures be respected?

66From this point of view, the use of computers produces ambivalent effects. It lightens the workload and favours networking, yet it tends to act as a constraint.

67In the framework of the public employment service, all of the support work – the first meeting with the job seeker, his or her first contact with job listings and the different phases along the way – is organised by IBIS software. The software determines the possible options, reduces the complexity to a code and imposes its list and predetermined course of action. The screen intervenes in the relationship between the professional and the user. The web “server” becomes the entity to be served. As the only trace of the professional’s activity as well as that of the user, it is therefore the instrument used for their evaluation and their control.

A job listings manager from the public employment service:
Encoding is organised more and more according to a control of the job seeker and the tool, which is supposed to be a work tool for the adviser, is no longer user-friendly. The software has lost its usefulness in supporting the job seeker, and for employer management, the software has made the matching function more complicated when it was supposed to make it easier.

68These effects related to the various instruments are also seen in the use of different profiling tools (review of skills, indicator of progression towards employment) and networking tools (methods of extraction and transmission of data between the different operators and institutions).

69However, despite the attempts at unity and compatibility (for example between the professional references and educational qualifications according to skills) in view of ensuring greater fluidity, mobility and traceability of pathways from education to employment, the uses of these instruments remain partial and segmented. The instruments themselves are exploited and used in a roundabout way.

70This fragmentation is seen with the instruments and tools for knowledge, piloting and evaluation of public action. While each major sub-system (education, social security, data regarding the labour market) – and even each institution and plan of action – has its own data and indicators (sometimes basic), their interlinking and comparability are still greatly lacking. The situation of young people at a given time is of course known. Yet, for the piloting of public action, it is most important – and most difficult – to describe and analyse the transitions (intra and inter-system), of which there are many during the first years of working life. Currently, for example, it is impossible to know what has become of young people who are no longer in education, or to identify precisely those who have obtained a diploma or degree. More specifically, the “student” file of the Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles, which provides researchers with information about the pathways of young people and about the number of young people per year who are no longer in education, is not linked to the “diplomas obtained” file, due to a lack of individual identifiers in the latter database, which does not allow us to know about the diplomas of the people who may be traced on the job market through data from Banque Carrefour de la Sécurité Sociale. It should be noted that this difficulty is specific to French-language education data and does not exist for Flemish education.

2.5. Tension among professionals

71It is in the front line, in the relationships between professionals and users, that institutions, “plans” and plans of action are actualised and moral and practical dilemmas are experienced. Public action takes place concretely in the most routine activities of employees and in the daily interactions between employees and the public [Lipsky, 1980], [Dubois, 1998].

72The development of intermediation was accompanied by the emergence of new professions with various names according to their institutional and organisational framework: public employment service employment advisers, CPAS integration officers, ONEM facilitators, career counsellors and trainers from training organisations, advisers and job coaches from temporary employment agencies, etc.

73The accent on the functions of “support” and “activation” of young people as the preferred answer to the difficulties of employment integration causes tensions for first-line agents in their role as intermediary. In many respects, they are sometimes as much at a loss as the young people they are supposed to help.

“I don’t know”. Told by an Actiris employment adviser working in a local office:
There was a 19-year-old in lower secondary who had stopped during his 4th year. In the framework we work in, it’s all about moving very quickly and going to the right place, without going into depth. It is enriching because if they go to the right place everything works out, but if not they let go.
He came to me with no professional project and no desires. So I suggested a “group of young people” for one week. And I told him that while he was at it he could write a CV and a letter of motivation. When he returned he had done nothing. At that point there was no longer a “group of young people”. But he told me that he wanted to take a training course in household appliances. I found a course and signed him up. And after that he didn’t even attend the course.
I tried to speak with him again, asking him, “What is it that you want to do in life in general?” He didn’t know, so I asked him if he was interested in money, and he didn’t know about that either. Then he said that he could work with his father in the family café. I asked him if he could see himself doing that, and he said that he didn’t know.
If he doesn’t keep his word, I’m at a loss too when it comes to helping him. The next appointment is in 15 days, and I’m still wondering what to do. There are limited solutions available to me.

74Many other stories tell of similar experiences, marked by frustration and a feeling of helplessness due to the scope of objective, subjective and inter-personal difficulties of young people, as well as the limited responses which the adviser can provide.

75For want of being able to provide direct substantial answers in the form of employment (in the best cases, advisers are sometimes able to propose “job listings” which the young person may apply for), these intermediation agents often redefine their minimum function: to ensure administrative compliance and establish the user’s “file”, ensure that obligations are met and/or that the user’s rights are respected according to the institutional position and professional ethos, provide moral support and give advice and instructions regarding his or her job search by sending him or her to another operator. Fundamentally, it involves ensuring the continuity of the activation.

76In this respect, the group analyses heavily underlined the bureaucratic paradox often faced by first-line agents, in charge of giving users autonomy and empowering them, while they lack autonomy in their function. In her analysis of the work of FOREM advisers, Héloise Leloup highlighted the challenges of the professionalisation of these first-line agents. This transition from piloting through procedures to piloting through professionalisation involves reinforcing the professional reference of these agents and investing in their training and concrete means of action [Leloup, 2013].

2.6. What are the results?

77In the end, the use of public action leads to the question of its evaluation.

78A profusion of studies, surveys, analyses and evaluations exists. The capitalisation, organisation and availability of these broken-up information and cognitive resources are lacking, which leads to under-use, partial use or instrumental use of information and the repetition of knowledge and stock-taking approaches.

79The comparison of the relative effectiveness of the different plans of action is just as problematic. Strictly speaking, plans of action should be compared in equal conditions, with the “right rate” of integration of a plan of action being related to a stronger selection at the outset. On a labour market where the different groups and individuals are placed in competition with each other, the effects of creaming off, substitution and change of order in the queue must also be taken into account.

80The evaluation of the implementation of the CPP carried out by the Observatoire de l’emploi, indicates that the rate of employment of young people who have finished school and who benefited from the CPP in 2010 is 10.6% higher than that of the same group of young people one year earlier. This positive observation may be attributed in part to the effects of the economy. In a context of economic recession, a second longitudinal analysis (carried out in December 2012) in terms of transition to employment established that the group of young people who registered after their studies at the beginning of 2011 experienced a slight improvement in the rate of employment (+2.1%), whereas at the same time, the control group (aged 25 to 29) experienced a slight decrease in the rate of employment (-2.3%). This indicates that “in a period of recession, the plan of action helped avoid an increase in the unemployment rate of young people” [De Villers, 2013].

81In her analysis of the determining factors of unemployment in the Brussels-Capital Region, Marion Englert concluded that the effectiveness of the Plan d’Activation du Comportement de Recherche is “questionable as regards the reduction in unemployment levels” while representing a “vector of poverty”. The effectiveness of control measures in the active search for employment is recognised as regards the number of sanctions: “The ACR plan has therefore led to an explosion in the number of sanctions, not only in the framework of the ACR, but also sanctions for other reasons (apart from article 80)” [Englert, 2013: 284].

82While certain studies seem to highlight the incentive and preventive effect of the threat of sanction [Cockx & al, 2011], they also reveal the opposite relationship between the length of the sanction and the access to employment [Heylen V. & al. 2009] and highlight the fact that the penalised job seekers are the most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged on the labour market, in particular in terms of qualifications [Cherenti, 2010].

83These authors conclude “that a control system for the search for employment is more efficient on a labour market with an abundance of job listings, as is the case in Flanders: greater efforts to find a job cannot lead to anything if there are no job listings” [Heylen & al. 2009], cited by [Englert, 2013: 291].

84As summarised by Bonvin and Conter:

“Outside the situation of full employment, the capacity of policies to increase individual opportunities by focusing on employment offers (incentives, training, etc.) remains ineffective” [Bonvin and Conter, 2006].

85As regards qualitative analysis, the group analyses carried out with intermediation professionals clarified some of the paradoxical effects of public action focused on support for job seekers.

86The first paradox is that the area of transition is tending to become an area of circulation in itself, although it is meant to favour the transition to employment. The considerable development of support functions, intra-organisational and inter-organisational complexity has logically but paradoxically led to an extension and a growing segmentation of transitions from education to employment.

87A job seeker may have to meet up to seven different people at the public employment service and may be sent to one of the partner organisations, which tends to harm the effectiveness of the service provided and confuse the job seeker who has just finished school. 

88In particular, the break between the support missions for job seekers and the “placement” and “employment” missions constitutes a true gap in the job seeker’s pathway. Organisations and/or services and the different agents ensure “support for the job seeker” as well as his or her “connection with the labour market”, either by proposing subsidised employment or by putting him or her in contact with employers. The group analysis gathering the different professionals from Actiris highlighted the different approaches by professionals, according to their function and their position in the organisation. Thus, while employment advisers base themselves on a pervading logic of activation of job seekers, the job listings managers base themselves on a logic of satisfaction and service with respect to employers:

“The reality is that the job listings manager knows that for 99% of job seekers, it is a lost battle, and therefore knows that it is better to find the best candidate in order not to get told off by the boss.”

89This results in a tendency – either implicit or explicit – towards an internal segmentation of the public within these plans of action, with the risk of favouring the “better off” instead of the “badly off”, or the most employable instead of the least employable. There is therefore the risk of being confined to a logic of “creaming off”, by rejecting the young people who are the “least motivated” and “least capable”, who “do not have a project”, etc.

90The interventions with respect to low-skilled and unemployed young people take place in a context of tension between employability and employment, circulation and integration. As underlined by Orianne, Moulaert and Maroy in the conclusions of their research on the implementation of activation measures, “The first derivative consists in totally disconnecting the subjective purpose of the work of professionals (focus on employability) from political expectations (employment), in other words, cutting the ties between the focus on employability and employment; in this case, the integration work would be reduced to psychological assistance for those who are excluded from the labour market, and the integration measures would be nothing but a user’s guide to employability.” [Orianne et al. 2004].

3. Parameters and perspectives

91Difficulties in capturing the most vulnerable young people and in involving employers as stakeholders in their transition, conflicting complexity of partnerships, institutional divisions, continuous debates and controversies regarding the public action reference, confusion between control-based procedures and empowerment processes, anomy of first-line agents, relative and selective effectiveness of an activation strategy for job seekers in the absence of sufficient perspectives for access to employment, etc.: these critical observations constitute challenges in the governance of the transition of young people with a low level of education from education to employment.

92In order to do justice to the ethical commitment of stakeholders, there must be shared reflection on the meaning of their practices and on the possible desired scenarios. Three main parameters emerged from the youth lab. They were centred on the collective responsibility regarding the transition of young people from education to employment, the clarification of the terms of the social contract and the empowerment requirements of public action.

3.1. Collective responsibility for the transition of young people from education to employment: building the social worlds of integration

93Instead of making the weakest bear the weight of their integration, there must be a collective responsibility, with the degree of responsibility of each stakeholder being proportionate to its social power in regulating this transition. There should be action with the people and on the systems (and not only on the people), by favouring inclusive and cooperative strategies at different levels and between the different stakeholders in this transition.

94In order to build the “social worlds of integration” in partnership, and not leave the responsibility to institutions and young people themselves for the situation of disadvantaged young people, there must be a restructuring of partnerships at strategic, support and operational level, as well as an involvement of stakeholders upstream from the transition, i.e. those in education, and downstream, i.e. those in the world of work and employers in particular.

95One of the missions and functions of the “labour market intermediaries” – far from being limited to a function of matching job supply and demand and providing support to job seekers – could be to identify, mobilise and build the different “worlds of integration” [Dubar, 2001] in partnership, allowing a coordination of stakeholders in business, training, education and integration in a sector-based and stream-based logic. It is in this sense that strategies take shape, combining economic, social and urban development objectives and the mobilisation of different stakeholders in and around “poles” and priority sectors, after the example of the future Pôle de compétence des métiers industriels co-financed and co-managed by the public sector (Bruxelles Formation, Actiris, VDAB, SFPME, Syntra) and the professional sectors in the form of a consortium; and also after the example of local partnerships between companies and technical and vocational schools in order to provide young people with the opportunity for immersion in companies.

96A positive approach to transition involves the establishment of specific regulations, built into the local social and economic fabric, based on the conventional and contractual commitment of institutions, companies and co-operatives.

97In this perspective, Bernard Gazier [2008: 99] lists four principles to define “positive transitions”:

  • “They must increase the power of people and groups in implementing them with respect to their careers, and widen the scope of their choices;

  • The solidarity between the different components of society must unify their collective management;

  • The practice of co-financing must be established whenever possible in order to associate each stakeholder with the success of transitions organised in this way;

  • Management according to objectives must allow the assertion of a logic of decentralisation and appropriation by the stakeholders concerned”.

3.2. Clarify the terms of the social contract: towards a “Youth Guarantee”

98The co-construction of coherent public action also involves a clarification of the terms of the “social contract” and of the public action reference with respect to the transition of young people.

99In order to avoid pseudo-activation and pseudo-contractualisation, it is important to clarify the terms of the contract proposed to young people in transition.

100In this respect, the relevance of the “Youth Guarantee” principle may be underlined, as implemented by certain public employment services (in particular in Austria and Germany), now promoted at European level and on the way to being implemented in the Brussels-Capital Region. The principle of the “Youth Guarantee” is to guarantee that all young job seekers may benefit from employment, a traineeship or training within a short period of time. This is a response to the employment crisis which affects young people in Europe in particular. The European policies in favour of young people have been reinforced through the “youth employment” package presented by the Commission in December 2012 which includes the Youth Guarantee. On 22 April 2013, a recommendation to implement it was adopted by the European Council. The first article of the recommendation states:

“Art.1: Ensure that all young people under 25 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.”

101Accompanied by recommendations regarding the methods of its implementation (partnership approach, targeting of young people who are unemployed and who have finished their education or training – and not only young people who are registered as job seekers, which is a requirement for continued assessment) and European financial support to allow its implementation in national and regional contexts, does the Youth Guarantee constitute – according to the wishes of Grégor Chapelle, general director of Actiris – the vector of a new paradigm, no longer based on a moralistic treatment of job seekers, focused on the individual and motivational factors of the access to employment?

102One may point out that the concept of “guarantee” questions the activation policies by evoking a responsibility, not only individual, but shared between the institutional stakeholders concerned and the job seekers with respect to their search for employment. In the European recommendation, reference is made to the “principle of reciprocal obligation” between young people and the institutions which implement the Youth Guarantee. This involves a compensation given to young people in exchange for their “activation”, thus avoiding the impression of a “false contract”.

103Likewise, the implementation of a Youth Guarantee in the Brussels-Capital Region is an opportunity to re-establish and revitalise the partnerships between public, private and community stakeholders, not based on institutional arrangements, but on the construction of diversified and complementary service offers. The challenge is to reverse the pyramid of public action to the benefit of young people who are the most disadvantaged with respect to employment and professionals in the field, by establishing institutional agreements which ensure that all institutions and organisations serve their needs. This involves building personalised relationships of trust with young people and ensuring support through a single source (a “one-stop shop”, or “guichet unique”) [CCFEE, 2013].

104As regards rights, obligations and statuses, young people in transition are faced with a diversity of situations and statuses depending on whether they are job seekers undergoing job training or job seekers receiving benefits, beneficiaries of social integration revenue from CPAS, enrolled in studies again or outside the social welfare system. This diversity of statuses determines the resources which these young people have access to in terms of financing, opportunities to take up their studies again and access training, traineeships, employment or alternative socialisation experiences such as those proposed by the Service Civil Citoyen and the Solidarcité network.

105Taking the “Youth Guarantee” promise seriously so that an appropriate response may be found for each young person involves:

  • filling the gaps in the social welfare of young people in a phase of transition between studies, training and employment. In recent years, there has been a strong increase in the number of young people who request or receive social integration revenue from CPAS. For some of these young people, this integration revenue is combined with a student status (which places CPAS in a position to determine the relevance of the studies, with very different ideas from one CPAS to another). Being enrolled in lengthy higher education studies is incompatible with the status of job seeker, despite the fact that ONEM and the regional support services encourage further training. As such, there has been a multiplication of pseudo-contractual forms which target youth in transition, as well as a disparity in and an arbitrary nature of the “rights and duties” of young people in a phase of transition according to their institutional status. In this sense, it should be possible to replace the various “pseudo-contracts” with a “true contract” and even a status of transition combining training, voluntary commitment, renewed studies, launching of activities, etc. There is a new generation of social, economic and cultural rights to be invented, beyond the current institutional and statutory divisions, to give shape to the principle of the “rights to autonomy” related more to people than to statutes and institutions.

  • making the transitions secure, not only from a statutory and legal point of view, but also in terms of substance. This involves ensuring the continuity, promotion and complementarity of pathways, like the partnerships established in relation to training pathways, in which several operators agree on the training profiles for each segment, the compatibility of requirements, pre-requisites and conditions for admission, as well as on the organisational calendar for the different steps in the pathway, in order to avoid temporal breaks in their sequence. In the same way, intensive plans of action and short paths to employment should be favoured. In this sense, the comparison of different transition measures has underlined the importance of characteristics such as the intensive character of the plan of action, its experiential dimension favouring real situations and actual – almost guaranteed – possibilities for integration in the job market, as well as continued support and a triangulation of the employer-trainee/employee relationship.

  • developing a true policy of information and advice on study options accessible to all young people and more readable than the current disparate plans of action. In a context in which there is a growing diversity and complexity of plans of action (training, streams of study, travel grant possibilities, employment sector, etc.), the access to information is a strategic resource which generates inequality, and the challenges of career guidance (within the education system as well as when leaving it) appear to be crucial. The problem here is not a lack of information, but rather the abundance of it, which is difficult to manage. In this respect, rather than the proliferation of “skills assessments”, “advice on study options” and “project determination” currently provided by a wide variety of agents dependent on their own institutional frameworks, level of information and the limited tools available to them, there should be some follow up on the proposal to develop a true reference centre for study options and the determination of pathways for studies, training and employment (the future Cité des Métiers?).

106Due to the many broken promises, we are careful not to have too many expectations of the “Youth Guarantee”. While it is not considered as an opportunity to re-establish public action to the benefit of young people with a low level of education who are in transition, the “new paradigm” may only turn out to be an additional occupational plan of action in the patchwork of transitions. The effectiveness of this promise will be confirmed concretely through its methods of application and its uses.

3.3. Empowering public action

107The third parameter focuses on the empowerment of public action itself.

3.3.1. Personalising support

108We live in a society of individuals. Therefore, the social question also concerns the capacity of individuals to face the challenges of social life and the labour market. The new challenge for social welfare consists in “equipping individuals so that they may access the social support necessary in life, which will allow them to become active and fulfil themselves as people without continuously giving of themselves, i.e. without always being made to feel responsible for what happens to them” [Astier, 2007].

109In that respect, the reorganisation of social action centred on people and their individual problems must be taken seriously. This leads to the need for tailor-made public action, and for the plans of action to be personalised, allowing the “self” to acquire positive social value [Genard and Cantelli, 2007].

110There are several implications involved in taking these requirements for personalised action seriously.

111Firstly, there must be the possibility for a global approach to young people, beyond the prism of the bureaucratic requirements of institutions and the functional requirements of integration in the labour market. It is therefore also necessary to consider the “non-work” dimensions of employment support work. If these are not taken into account, those who are struggling to get by will have an even harder time. The means must be available to provide a solution which is adapted to each young person, hence the importance of developing measures which are intended for young people as they are.

112The personalisation of support involves relieving the support process of too bureaucratic control procedures. The aim to empower concrete subjects involves new requirements for the ethicisation of public action and professional practices.

113It is also necessary to ensure the continuity of support by avoiding the division and overlapping of agents with compartmentalised roles. By placing the user at the centre of support, the different services and agents must actually be organised around the user rather than just passing the buck.

114In order not to be limited to psychological and moral support, the support must be substantial, actually favouring access to resources regarding study options, studies, training, traineeship and above all employment.

115In short, there must be a shift from the individualised and limited support for each job seeker to the personalised support for each young person who needs it and wants it.

3.3.2. Empowering professionals and the organisation

116The ethicisation and empowerment of support also has implications for support professionals (employment advisers, socio-professional integration agents, study options advisers, job coaches, etc.) and for the organisational frameworks in which they exercise their professions. The group analyses heavily emphasised the bureaucratic paradox in which first-line agents are often placed, in charge of empowering users and helping them to become autonomous, while they experience a lack of autonomy in their function. As indicated by Héloise Leloup [2013] in bringing out the information from the managerial reforms implemented by FOREM, the profession should be placed at the heart of public action.

“We have placed the support profession back at the heart of the strategy, which was not the case before. What used to be at the heart was the desire to establish procedures and ensure compliance with them”.

117As highlighted by research on CPAS support provided to people in Brussels, an empowering environment allows professionals to develop new skills and knowledge and widen their scope of action and their level of control of their task and the way they carry it out, i.e. their autonomy. The development of knowledge and the increase in autonomy are two key factors in the extension of the power to act. Management methods aimed at the establishment of an empowering environment should thus provide first-line agents with possibilities to extend their power to act, which presupposes an intervention in the content of their work, the methods of organisation of their work and human resources management [Degraef, 2013: 26].

3.3.3. Giving themselves the means of evaluation and piloting

118Finally, there is the need for reflective and informational piloting of transitions. In terms of governance, the area of transition in Brussels – in its components as well as in its internal and external interconnections – is a polycentric and multi-level model, marked by the plurality of bodies involved in piloting, dialogue and voicing opinions. Considered individually, each of these bodies has its own legitimacy and functionality. This plurality is partly inherent in “complex and self-reflective” contemporary societies.

119Without pleading for monopolistic piloting which would contradict with the very nature of the area of transition, we may at the very least hope for a clarification of the system of governance in the area of transition in the Brussels-Capital Region. The desired interconnections – both internal and external to the area of transition – between the worlds of education, training and employment, in a logic of regulation of transitions, requiring a wider plan of action to be imagined for the Brussels Region, allowing dialogue and reciprocal commitment on behalf of all stakeholders, in order to ensure the global and coherent piloting of the different sectors, including the operationalisation of their actions. As is, the system of action is characterised by tensions and breaks between government(s) (formal and institutional decision-making authorities), governance (network of public, private and community stakeholders) and the governability of the public and populations. In this respect, the structuring of stakeholders of transitions in “population centres” has potential, while pointing out that in Brussels this structuring is split between French-language and Dutch-language stakeholders.

120The piloting capacity is also dependent on the quality of informative, analytical and evaluative support. True piloting will also require support in terms of knowledge production (in particular statistics, especially for evaluation purposes), which the public services for education, training and employment may produce in partnership with the functionally competent services in this area.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. 18‑24 year-olds in Brussels according to the Force de Travail survey (2012)
Crédits Source: Youth lab for the transition of young people from education to employment, statistics section, processing by IWEPS and CCFEE secretariat
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/1202/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 170k
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/1202/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 979k
Titre Figure 2. Education/training (employment) interconnections
Légende Acronyms: CBCES (Comité bruxellois de concertation économique et sociale), CESRBC (Conseil économique et social de la Région de Bruxelles-Capitale), CCFEE (Commission Consultative Formation Emploi Enseignement in Brussels), BNCTO (Brussels Nederlandstalig Comité voor Tewerkstelling en Opleiding), CDR (Centre de référence), CVDC (Consortium de validation des compétences)
Crédits Source: CCFEE secretariat
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/1202/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 535k
Titre Figure 3. The Construction de Projet Professionnel (CPP) plan of action
Crédits Source: Actiris, Observatoire de l’emploi
URL http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/docannexe/image/1202/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 92k
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Abraham Franssen, Donat Carlier et Anissa Benchekroun, « The transition of young people from education to employment in Brussels: challenges for governance », Brussels Studies [En ligne], Notes de synthèse, n° 73, mis en ligne le 27 janvier 2014, consulté le 21 juillet 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/brussels/1202  ; DOI : 10.4000/brussels.1202

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Auteurs

Abraham Franssen

Abraham Franssen is a sociologist and professor at Université Saint Louis - Brussels where he is the director of the Centre d’études sociologiques. His research work is based in particular on the analysis of public action in the area of social, education, employment and youth policies. They are characterised by their participative methodology and their research/action objective, through the implementation of the group analysis method. He published in particular (with L. Van Campenhoudt and F. Cantelli) “La méthode d’analyse en groupe : explication, applications et implications d’un nouveau dispositif de recherche”, in SociologieS (November 2009) and (with G. Van Dooren and L. Struyven) “Les ambivalences de l’activation sociale” in La pauvreté en Belgique : annuaire 2012. abraham.franssen@usaintlouis.be

Donat Carlier

Donat Carlier has a degree in sociology and anthropology. He coordinates the Commission consultative Formation Emploi Enseignement en Région de Bruxelles-Capitale (CCFEE). d.carlier@ccfee.be

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Anissa Benchekroun

Anissa Benchekroun has a degree in political science and international relations and has a master’s degree in international commerce (Solvay) and European politics. She is in charge of Actiris International, a department of the public employment service of the Brussels-Capital Region. She is responsible for relations with the European Commission (DG Employment), the World Association of Public Employment Services (WAPES), benchmarking and matching at international level (intra- and extra-European geographic mobility and international training courses). abenchekroun@actiris.be

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