The labour market is currently undergoing major shifts. These shifts have important consequences for marginalised and vulnerable groups, as they increase the number of individuals located outside the labour market. Therefore, they make it more difficult to (re)integrate those who were already in the margins of society. This a major challenge for Work Integration Programmes (WIP).

The main shifts in the labour market are the following:

  • increasing instability, precariousness and uncertainty
  • rising unemployment (also among young people and those most qualified)
  • technological change
  • growing number of working poor

These shifts are engendering two significant consequences in the labour market:

  • Polarisation: there is now a larger gap between qualified jobs and lowly qualified jobs. They have become increasingly distant poles.
  • Exclusion: exclusion from the labour market is now dictated not by physical or intellectual handicaps, nor by lack of adaptation due to emotional distress or addictions. Indeed, some labour market analysts now talk about the ‘useless normal people’ and the ‘supernumeraries’.

Indeed, rising unemployment and decreasing job availability are hampering effective integration of the vulnerable individuals in the open labour market. The weakened labour market dynamics constrain not only the possibility of finding employment, but also of maintaining regular employment. Some WIPs aim to move people into mainstream employment, where there are few vacancies available. As such, the lack of jobs in the open market may cause the setback of the integration trajectories achieved by some individuals. Work experiences enabled by WIPs are motivating and enable people to reactivate skills that were numbed or lost during the time of prolonged unemployment. Therefore, the inability to continue working can create frustration and disturb the expectations and work routines that were created. Also, low wages are a problem when trying to move from benefits to work. Wage levels and working conditions that currently prevail are deteriorated to the point of not constituting a stimulus for effective job transition. People are generally unwilling to initiate a process of change when there is a significant risk of getting worse off than in the initial situation.

In short, the economic crisis makes it more difficult to focus on marginalised groups. In fact, additional support for marginalised groups to ensure participation and employment is one of the first things which is being cut down in times of crisis. A vision and a great deal of resilience are needed for those who engage in developing WIPs: these programmes can also play a relevant role in promoting an alternative labour market culture, focused on creating and promoting dignified jobs, wages, and working conditions. This is a major challenge to be addressed in the design of WIPs.


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