Unemployed people who have spent long periods on benefit become passive, and surrender responsibility for their situation to others. Research is now being carried out to develop a system to help them obtain a sense of empowerment.
The task undertaken by the umbrella company Arbeidskompetanse AS and eight so-called "Growth Enterprises" from various municipalities in Sør-Trøndelag county is to provide guidance, training and coaching to assist job seekers currently in the Norwegian benefits system (administered by NAV) in getting back to work.
Participating job seekers who are struggling with both their health and/or a lack of skills undergo a training programme before they attempt to return to work.
In spite of this, about half of them end up back in the benefits system after two years. This means that many of the same procedures have to be repeated, resulting not only in major financial waste, but also in frustration among both the job seekers and their coaches.
Hypothesis on trial
Arbeidskompetanse AS started with a fundamental hypothesis. What if the job seekers were given responsibility for their own success in terms of looking for work? Wouldn't this make them less likely to continue to seek assistance from the benefits system?
The company wanted research-based evidence as a basis for progressing with a system they might consider developing, and asked SINTEF for assistance. So a pilot project was launched in February 2015.
Arbeidskompetanse AS has observed that it is those who struggle with empowerment issues in particular who tend to return to the benefits system. It also noted that many of the job seekers that came to them had spent a long time in the benefits system and had become passive and deferential to it. Because they had repeatedly experienced failure, they increasingly surrendered any responsibility for their future success to their coaches.
The staff at Arbeidskompetanse AS thus recognised an opportunity to develop a system designed to encourage job seekers to be more proactive and take more responsibility for their own development. They were looking for an interactional tool involving both the job seekers and their coaches, capable of developing individual action plans and documenting that participants had tried, carried out, or failed to carry out small predefined tasks.
A paper prototype and a digital tool
"SINTEF's role has been to define requirement specifications and perform feedback analysis," says Leendert Wienhofen at SINTEF. "We are now carrying out a literature survey," he says. "The plan is for coaches from the eight companies to interview a total of 20 job seekers. The idea is to be able to form the basis for a tool or app that can function as motivation and support for job seekers, featuring interfaces tailored to the job seekers themselves, their coaches, and other support personnel."
When the results have been analysed, researchers will construct a paper prototype which they will present to the participants. "It is the job seekers who are the end-users and the focus of the process," emphasises Wienhofen.
The third component of the project involves Norsk eLæring, a development department at Nord-Trøndelag County Council (NTCC). The department itself has already developed a tool dedicated to communication between teachers and pupils in which the main focus is on the pupil.
"Some of the pupils using this tool are struggling with the transition from school to the work environment -- in many ways similar to the benefits system situation," says Wienhofen. "Since NTCC is already using this tool with its pupils, Norsk eLæring can function both as developer and service provider for our tool," he says. Currently, job seekers have to wait in a two-hour phone queue to contact NAV simply to notify them of a trivial matter. The aim here is for the IT tool to do away with all this and ensure effective communication between job seekers and their coaches, NAV and their psychiatrists.
"The tool is designed to carry out a diversity of functions," says Eva Lian, General Manager at the Growth Enterprise Noris in Rissa. "One of the ideas behind the development of this product is to make it easier to document a job seeker's activities and his or her individual goals," she says. In cases where anxiety may prevent people from obtaining a job, such as worries linked to calling potential employers, a typical goal may be for them to call three such employers during the course of a given week. It will be possible to document activities by using the telephone to record both the calls and the user's reflections on his or her experiences following a telephone conversation," says Lian.
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