Erwin Meyer-Wölfing
Employment programmes and networking for development

How does the restructuring of the 'world of work' within a region relate to the region's unemployment? Today we are experiencing a fundamental change in the world of employment. Unemployment, interrupted employment and discontinued careers used to be the exception, affecting only fringe groups, or were caused by isolated breakdowns in localised economic structures. Now they are the norm, affecting the majority. Today, in regions far-removed from urban centres, large numbers of people are permanently out of work with no further hope of setting foot in the 'primary' labour market. These situations receive little public attention.

The facts behind them tend be suppressed. Fear of becoming unemployed oneself reinforces this tendency. Employment programmes have a negative image, which goes hand in hand with an outdated prejudice against social work. This stems from the idea that the unemployed are to blame for their unemployment. As such, employment programmes are viewed as help for 'failures'. Organisations offering employment programmes are perceived as owing their existence to unemployment, so that they, too, are subject to regional attitudes and thought-processes. Within such organisations, the employees themselves often adopt this attitude.

For the sake of regional development, employment programmes need to be 'marketed'.
A central task for organisations which have employment programmes is the development of their approach to this situation. They have to raise public consciousness that unemployment is not an individual but a social problem. For these organisations to be respected, they have to bring to the public's attention an analysis of new developments in the employment market (not just unemployment rates). They should also make sure that their findings concerning 'the future of employment' in their region are put into practice and publicly discussed. Only if these things are achieved will it be possible to develop strategies that will be broadly supported in the region. Since this issue affects every region, fact sheets and speakers on the topic 'the future of employment' should be provided cross-regionally. The search for others with an interest in public debate can lead to partnerships which wouldn't ordinarily occur through day-to-day contacts. Both trade unions and political parties discuss 'the future of employment', but in business circles too, new employment structures are under discussion.

Employment programmes need regional networking
Organisations with employment programmes are often seen as 'helpers' kept on a short lead by state programmes, rather than as independent, equal partners. They are given tasks as necessary but there is no fundamental recognition of their independent function. Many regional activists therefore don't believe such organisations have the legitimacy to initiate their own contribution to a regional network, though without such networking, it is hard to imagine any future for employment programmes.

Reinforcing regional networks rather than supporting individual employment programmes
Employment programmes need networks to make the co-ordination of tasks with regional partners possible and hence promote regional development. Only then will it become possible, over time, to develop task-sharing within the regional network. Their interests in organising themselves correspond to the necessity to strengthen the regional network.

Networking leads neither to bureaucracy nor to nationalisation
Networking is in danger of being misunderstood as a bureaucratic integration of employment programmes into local authority plans; that is, as a decentralisation of governmental activity. A perception of 'regionalising' as being governmental regulation on a regional level would raise fears of an end to any further innovations in the regional employment market.
'Regional networking' needs to be perceived as having a social, not governmental, basis. I recommend borrowing ideas from neighbouring countries such as Denmark and Holland, where regional social action plays a much greater role than in Germany. It is therefore an important task to promote and develop the activities of the SME1, and of Germany's regional associations and organisations.

The aim of networking should be to get rid of bloated institutions and instead create smaller units which can co-operate with one another within the regional network. Progressive and active forces should be encouraged, and dynamism fed into the network.

In its aims and rules, our definition of 'network' signifies the creation and functioning of democratic development processes.

'Network' has become a buzzword. Generally, some closely-knit inter-relationships do exist within regions but they don't always promote development. Therefore, any assessment has to focus on the question: how do these existing networks, which promote the status quo, differ from 'development networks' in which activists are striving to adapt the region to future conditions?
As a backdrop to the character of 'development networks', I'd like to point to the Internet. Without its possibilities for communication and access to information, the following characteristics might seem idealistic and fanciful. Networks are

  • Open: external partners are valued, and open discussion is especially promoted, even if not everyone can participate at all times.

  • Transparent: what happens within the network is known by all interested parties.

  • Permeable: discussion points and communications issues are not mutually exclusive.

  • Polycentric: there are several concurrent centres, according to the abilities of respective partners to carry out particular tasks

  • Non-hierarchical: whilst there are power-relationships within the network, they should not become institutionalised.

  • Dynamic: changes are normal. Power-relationships, partners, and connections within the network can change.

  • Environments for creative development, which promote the building of project-orientated co-operatives. Networks are not business relationships.

  • Networks need management as they develop and also when they are up and running. Network management can only be carried out by a person or an institution agreed by all partners involved.

How can existing regional 'status quo networks' be transformed into 'development networks'?
In answer to this question, initiatives which prompt shifts in regional relationships seem to play an important role. Internal initiatives are often connected with new ideas arising from unusual partnerships. External initiatives are often related to new external relationships, in other words, new partnerships. 'Development networks' need to make such initiatives possible, and then support them, activating external regional relationships and facilitating communication between regional partners who don't normally work together, but whose co-operation opens up new possibilities.

Development networks are vehicles for passing on initiatives, opportunities, and the management of emergent ideas

  • 'Relationship management' should exist to initiate and build new partnerships, thereby giving rise to new ideas and encouraging external and internal initiatives.

  • New opportunities should be created for the evolution of new relationships. This can be achieved by modern conferencing models such as 'The Future Search Conference' or 'The Open Space Conference', whose concept is to offer a space and make it possible for all partners who need to find a solution to a specific problem to have contact with one another. It is also recommended that such a group should then invite external partners who have different skills and expertise to join them. Bringing people together, away from their official function and their daily routine, can itself create opportunities. They are able to sit beside an open fire with a glass of red wine to discuss the issue in hand. With the availability of contemporary communications technology, 'virtual' spaces also become possible, guaranteeing the accessibility of partners.

  • Opportunity-creation, and the management of new ideas, should be subjects of brainstorming sessions. Nationwide support is also possible, in terms of supplementary advice from experts who work on a national level

Networks are 'spaces' for regional partnerships
Work programmes should develop so that there are ever closer interconnections with the so-called 'primary' labour market. ABS organisations2 should become the partners - not the competitors! - of small and medium-sized regional businesses if they want to survive. Very often, ABS organisations are the biggest employers in a region; therefore a partnership relationship stands to reason.

The term 'community-orientated' also covers small and medium-sized businesses in a community, mainly smaller businesses which depend on the region for co-operation, potential customers, and distributors. These businesses have a key role to play in the regional labour-market, if interconnections between the labour market and the economy are seriously pursued. 'Experts' in the employment programmes can make themselves useful to the SMEs by helping them to get grants, which are difficult or impossible to obtain single-handedly. ABS organisations could be of interest to both employers and trade unions, extending their spheres of influence within organisations whilst making changes in the labour market.

Employment programmes should become partners of the regional SMEs to develop the region's economy
In order to pursue all possibilities of feeding the unemployed back into the 'primary' labour market, close co-operation with regional businesses is vital.

  • The setting-up and implementation of grant aid for employment programmes in tandem with local authority investment opens the door to co-operation with SMEs almost automatically.

  • Existing co-operation models between SMEs and employment programme providers could also initiate, promote and support co-operation between individual SMEs.

  • Employment programme providers can serve the SMEs by informing them about available grants and to offer help how to obtain grants in co-operation with employment programmes, institutions business associations and trade unions

  • ABS organisations could also play a role in development strategies if they are accepted by SMEs as regional partners.

  • ABS organisations could make it easier for employers' associations and trade unions to put innovatory strategies into practice regionally if they contribute their specific skills.

  • Genuine education and training programmes always attempt to match training to employment either in companies or publicly-supported employment programmes. In the context of employment in companies regionally, employment programmes, and education and training, new strategies could perhaps come together to increase the potential for employment. This area hasn't yet been explored by employment programmes. The co-operation of companies (e.g. in the form of job rotation) with training and education providers is a field which could be greatly developed in the regions.

How to build and manage networks
The greatest obstacle to the creation of networking structures is not a lack of co-operation. The main difficulty is in the fact that new working methods need to be developed in order to mobilise the potential intrinsic in regional co-operation. Because they don't know a better way of doing things, old methods are stuck to. This is true both within companies and institutions, and in external relationships, and leads to the reinforcement of outdated forms of management. Networking structures are so new that hardly anyone knows what the term means when it is used. There isn't a general understanding of the term. Hardly anybody has any experience of the creation or management of networking structures or how to function within a network. IT sector experience cannot easily be transferred to regional employment programmes.

Because a general knowledge of this sector is not yet very widespread, all those who become involved in networking should participate in the development of the methodology. This should become a stated work-objective within projects. Existing knowledge of networking should be centralised, formalised and systematically distributed.

1. SME: small and medium-sized enterprises.
2. ABS-Gesellschaften (Arbeitsfoerderungs-, Beschaeftigungs- und Structuranpassungs-gesellschaften): employment programmes and organisations which promote employment and adaptation to economic situations.


Email: Erwin Meyer-Wölfing
Erwin Meyer-Woelfing is 56 years old. He is in his second marriage and has five children. He is the co-manager of the tamen. GmBH in Berlin, a small business for the development of projects, and project-related training and qualifications.