The status of work in contemporary societies is the result of a long historical process. It is not only an indispensable means of enhancing individual senses of usefulness and belonging, but also of providing financial means. Work is also central in several other dimensions, namely in its role as a socialising mechanism, as a source of social exchanges, and individual identities. Thus, work can be seen as the pillar of social organisation, but also, to a large extent, as an important pillar of the existential organisation of individuals. It is a fundamental feature in many dimensions of social integration, such as health, housing, and interpersonal networks. Hence, the relevance of Work Integration Programmes (WIP) aimed at improving the condition of vulnerable groups.

Let's summarise the importance of work both at the individual and the societal level:

  • •For individuals, work is an important feature in structuring: personal and social identity; family and social bonds; ways of making money, and thereby accessing a number of essential and non-essential goods, services and activities; daily routines; level of activity; physical and mental well-being; self-confidence and self-esteem; a sense of self-worth provided by the feeling of contributing to society or the common good
  • •For societies, work is an important feature in: promoting community cohesion and safety; increasing civic participation; reducing public spending in a range of welfare benefits (provided, of course, that work is performed in a decently paid job); promoting social and economic development; organising social life at a macro level

When success in these dimensions is challenged WIPs become more important. The relevance of WIPs is made even more acute when both macro and microstructural conditions create obstacles to the positive role of work. These must be carefully considered:

  • •  Macrostructural conditions: the current European crisis, reflected in the rise of unemployment and job precariousness; the transformation of work ethics that has been going on over the past few decades: as jobs become increasingly precarious, subject to sudden change or elimination, individuals have a decreased sense of security, commitment and loyalty towards their jobs and each other (see: Public Policy).
  • Microstructural conditions: work is not, by itself, synonym with integration. Indeed, precarious, unappealing, dangerous, low-paid and low-status jobs relegate individuals to the margins of society.

Yet, despite these current conditions, work is still a central piece in our societies, and a crucial factor in the social integration of vulnerable groups.


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