It’s easy to be a skeptic about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their predecessor Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The SDGs contain a pledge to ‘leave no one behind’. Translating this bold global commitment into an action-oriented mindset and result is a tall order. Yet, we believe that action starts locally.
In this blog post, we share our experience from Kosovo about how a local initiative supports inclusion of disadvantaged and vulnerable communities in the labor markets.
Kosovo faces big challenges with unemployment. Reasons such as an outdated education system and mismatching of education and training with labor market demands are often cited for the highest unemployment rates in Europe—a staggering 25.3%.
Not everyone is affected equally. The Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities disproportionally face high rates of unemployment and poverty. Generational cycles of exclusion, poverty, discrimination, limited access to education and the resulting lack of skills have made it increasingly hard for these communities to find opportunities for decent work. Marginalized and underserved, they are also not widely targeted by employment-generating initiatives and active labor market measures.
Understanding exclusion in labor market systems
It’s often easy to describe the issue of unemployment. Yet, more challenging is how to sustainably address root causes that prevent working age disadvantaged and vulnerable women and men from participating in the labor market and benefitting from it.
A labor market system is composed of supply and demand of skilled workforce. Sometimes the two may not meet, and hence intermediation services through career guidance and labor market information become necessary. This isn’t the complete story. How do we know that jobs women and men find are of good quality? Here’s where labor market policy/regulation comes into play.
For disadvantaged and vulnerable women and men, all or most of these dimensions don’t work well. Measures of active inclusion of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups into the labor market – assistance for (re-)integration – aren’t adequately designed or are missing. Reasons for exclusion in the labor market system can be due to education and training (insufficiency), local contexts (inaccessibility), content (inappropriateness/less relevance) and poverty (unaffordability).
It’s also true that being unemployed or poor alone isn’t a complete indicator of exclusion; factors such as ethnicity (Roma Ashkali or Egyptian), gender and social status (orphans, victims of gender-based violence), health status (disability, living with HIV), and migrant status or where they live (internal migrants, returnees, poor rural areas, urban slums, remote regions) also influence entering, returning to or integrating into the labor market.
Before addressing one or a combination of the labor market dimensions, it’s crucial to understand the complexities of systems that we're dealing with (such as specific economic sectors) and identify underlying causes for poor performance and exclusion.
In the case of the Enhancing Youth Employment (EYE) project in Kosovo, facilitating job placement for disadvantaged communities who face obstacles to employment can improve not only short-term earnings, but also long-term employment prospects. But such initiatives have been always scarce in Kosovo, leaving the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities largely dependent on social assistance schemes and with little prospects for employment.
A small step towards ‘leaving no one behind’ in the labor market
The ‘leave no one behind’ pledge is universal as the core part of the UN SDGs. Simply stated, it seeks and works toward making any initiatives, policies and investments people-centered for current and future generations. By defining, targeting and reaching out to ‘the furthest behind first’, the effort promises to end extreme poverty and structural unemployment, curb inequalities, confront discrimination and fast-track progress.
A small digital Human Resource consultancy company, Prishtina Consulting Group (PCG), has been quietly working in the background to include these communities in the job market. And it has been remarkably successful so far. With EYE’s support, PCG started doing job-matching in the agriculture sector between farmers in need of employees and Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities looking for work, while also promoting agriculture and agribusiness.
The concept is simple and effective; and it has already matched more than 400 Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian members of the community with farmers. More than 1,300 farmers were reached directly.
‘In Kosovo, people complain that there’s no labor force for agribusiness to account for the demand,’ says Gemb Shehu, COO at PCG. He recounts his extensive exchanges with the communities and recalls several number of community members who complained that they lack jobs. His idea was to tackle the elephant in the room – temporary and ineffective job matching.
So, PCG embedded job-matching as a feature into their already-existing ‘Fermeri’ mobile app and platform. A farmer downloads the app for a free. It’s easily-navigable on any smart device. Then the user fills out a questionnaire about how many employees he/she needs, for how long, and for what particular work.
As soon as Gemb and his team receive the request, they contact members from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities from a wide pool of individuals who’ve signed up to the program. The matching and intermediation is complete within a matter of days. There’re more than 500+ registered users on the platform, many of them farmers.
It’s worth noting that Fermeri’s usability goes beyond simply matching. Because many of the crops grown in Kosovo have changed in nature over the past 20 years, many farmers lack the expertise to ensure optimal growth of many of the newer crops. Although not a component directly supported by EYE, Fermeri allows for an additional feature where farmers can simply enter the name and type of the crop they’re cultivating, and an agronomist will engage in a conversation with the farmers to answer any question they might have.
“It’s like a chat,” says Gemb, explaining that farmers can send pictures, ask a few questions and their full-time agronomist who works 8-10 hours a day will reply to any question they might have.
Relationships/trust, processes and patterns matter
The EYE project chose the agriculture/agribusiness sector for practical reasons: there’s demand for labor. The sector also requires little training to do the type of work. PCG was already doing headhunting in the field, but not yet focusing on the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities.
According to Gemb, a number of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians who signed up for the initiative had already been working in similar jobs. The problem was the lack of systematic way of searching for jobs. Even if community members did search for a job by themselves, they often faced discrimination and received less payment than promised.
The job-matching component integrated into a mobile app is practical and easy-to-use. What really drove its success is the stimulation of demand by PCG for the service. Building trust and conducting extensive outreach (1,300 farmers were contacted directly) made the platform a one-stop-shop in farming and matching. It serves as the address for farmers to find reliable workers quick, and for community members to find short-term employment.
However, not everything was a walk in the park. Working with the communities presented itself with many challenges. Given past negative experiences of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities, it was hard for Gemb and his team to be viewed as a credible source of information. Community members gave the cold shoulder to many of the information sessions.
‘It was a tough battle to be accepted by community members,’ recalls Gamb. What helped overcome this early hiccup was the experience that Gamb and his team had with this kind work. They quickly figured out a solution: instead of offering free in-job safety trainings for these communities, they started using it as a tool for recruitment.
The training covered basic topics around minimizing risks at work, avoiding accidents, developing a safety culture, managing conflict and even communicating with employers. What’s more, the trainer himself was a member of the Roma community. Community members started to wholeheartedly embrace the initiative thanks to efforts in open communication and continuous guidance. The first few people to sign up began reporting positive experiences, upon which the initiative gradually snowballed into success.
One example of successful job-matching is that of Admir Mehmeti, a 35-year-old father of four from the Roma community. Admir, who holds a degree in agriculture, was involved in clearing fields and picking up raspberries and apples. Later, he was also involved as a trainer for in-job security training for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community members.
‘It was an honor and a pleasure to work for the bettering of the community that I am a member of,’ syas Admir, adding that what he enjoyed most was getting to work with diligent people with a passion for their work. ‘In the past, it was hard to find work for people like us. We’re one of the most discriminated communities in Kosovo. But this service has made it easier for us—it employed a great number of people from our community. Any income was considering that our unemployment is extremely high,’ he says.
Sanije Krijezi, a 29-year-old woman from the Roma community is another example of a successful case. Sanije was primarily matched for apple picking. ‘The work wasn’t, and everybody treated us in a good manner and respectfully,’ the technical high-school graduate says. For Sanije, the best part in working with the matching service ‘wasn’t having to worry about details like transport, payment, work schedule, and mistreatment. Traditionally, the main issue was always transport, which isn’t a problem anymore. I’m looking forward to when there’s more work to do. It was a pleasure to work with this project,’ she said.
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Cover picture: EYE project
 Kosovo Agency of Statistics, Q2 2019.