Aim and Scope
The case of ‘work practices’ in Estonia is a service targeted at people out of employment for a long time or with no earlier working experience, allowing them to benefit from learning and acting in a group, and helping the long-term unemployed to keep up their motivation, and to find out more about themselves and their opportunities at the labour market (Töötukassa 2020). In 2018, the provision of work practices saw a considerable systemic adjustment with the aim of increasing the impact of the service. The goal of achieving a clear outcome (moving to employment, moving to another service or into education) for every participant in the work practice was set. The success of finding the best individual solution for every participant in such a system depends on close collaboration of actors engaged in planning and implementing the service, and working with the unemployed persons – from the individual caseworkers and group facilitators to the service coordinators. The service of work practice is provided by Töötukassa, the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund operating in the Ministry’s area of governance as a statutory state agency.
Forms of collaboration
The case study at hand focuses on a procurement-based type of collaboration, though other forms do exist. This entails that Töötukassa, which acts as the lead organisation of the collaboration, analyses the need for establishing work practice groups based on the information inserted to the uniform IT system by caseworkers and procures provision of specific groups in the national electronic Public Procurement Register. The chosen best bidder provides the service based on a contract. Organisation of the procurement-based groups relies on ‘the technical description’ of work practices providing the concept of the service and its formal outline. The technical description divides the service into three consecutive steps and emphasizes the importance of ongoing collaboration between the service provider and Töötukassa’s County Office in every step on the way in order to assure the best individual result for every participant (Töötukassa 2019).
Based on the personalised approach towards employment-seekers, the client is in the centre of the work practice concept, and the need for the specific service is decided in cooperation between the client and his/her caseworker. The service is managed by a cascade of service consultants within Töötukassa who are located at the Central Office in Tallinn, 15 County Offices in the regions and their local bureaus. A service consultant in the County Office monitors the demand for the service and its implementation in the region. The County Office service consultant communicates with coordinators in the Central Office and service consultants in the local bureaus, whose main role is to exchange information and to work with the individual caseworkers. As for many other Töötukassa services, the work practice service is implemented by private and non-profit providers based on the contract. Very often the provider is represented by one of the group facilitators who also implements the service in practice.
ICT systems have an important role to play in the case. The procurements take place through the electronic Public Procurement Register. The key information system and an electronic working environment for the officials in Töötukassa is the Employment Information System EMPIS (officially the Register of Unemployed Persons, Employment Seekers and Labour Market Services; EMPIS2). Unemployed persons, employment-seekers and employers can communicate with Töötukassa through e-Töötukassa – a self-service interface where it is possible to search for trainings and vacant positions on offer.
Accountability and legitimacy effects
While the internal accountability relations of actors collaborating around work practices are quite clear and set, there are two external actors whose role still seems to be controversial or developing. First, the third phase of work practices where the clients are expected to visit potential employers was added to the service in the renewed system. Although evaluated to be an improvement in the concept of work practices, it was also perceived as a challenge in relation to finding suitable employers and the limited number, impact and usefulness of the visits undertaken with the clients.
In the case of procurement-based work practices, local governments are outside of counterparts formally collaborating. However, it appears problematic when addressing the needs of complex clients. In the context of the renewed system of work practices, the issue of local government responsibility has become even sharper than before as the expectation of results and impact has constricted the circle of clients suitable to the service and has left out the clients with durable social problems (for example, substance consumption). However, the caseworkers still need to guide them towards employment. The topic was raised both by the group facilitators and caseworkers, but creates tensions especially for the latter.
Lessons learned (policy managers and policymakers)
Altogether, the renewed system of work practices was characterized as more meaningful and more functional by counterparts participating in the collaboration. They also had a shared understanding of the goals of the work practice service. Nevertheless, the counterparts had differing perspectives on the legitimacy of the renewed collaboration around work practices relating to their role. While the administrative actors (service consultants and coordinators) emphasized the increased output legitimacy of the service, the providers focused on issues around input and throughput legitimacy, for the caseworkers input legitimacy was one of the core issues. Furthermore, the interviews revealed several tensions in the current system limiting the extent of collaboration, partly reflecting the preceding legitimacy concerns. These seemed to relate to three factors – the procurement-based system reliant on price, path-dependency or inertia in the routines of different actors, and an expectation of a clear outcome for every client while the client group is extremely complicated and with accompanying social needs.
To read more about the case study, see D8.1 Networks of account-giving in long-term unemployment collaborations in five countries report.
Töötukassa (2019). Tööharjutuse teenuse riigihange raamlempingu sõlmimiseks. RD Lisa 1. Raamlepingu eseme tehniline kirjeldus. Procurement 208046, 06.05.2019. Retrieved from https://riigihanked.riik.ee/rhr-web/#/procurement/1567389/general-info
Töötukassa (2020). Work Practice. Retrieved from https://www.tootukassa.ee/eng/content/services/work-practice
About the Authors
Külli Sarapuu, Tallinn University of Technology