In this second Greek LAB meeting we had broad participation by INE-GSEE, with the presence of eight members of staff of the Specialised Centre for Employment Promotion (EKPA) of INE-GSEE. Prior to this meeting, we had the opportunity to participate in a workshop organised by EKPA-INE and the Municipality of Thessaloniki on “Networking for the Promotion of Local Employment”. In this event, apart from the EKPA staff, there was participation of representatives from a number of other organisations: the social services of various municipalities of the Greater Thessaloniki Area, the Manpower Employment Organisation (and its Centres for the Promotion of Employment), NGOs (including “ARSIS”, the NGO for the support of young people), career guidance services, healthcare services, and the Counselling Centres for Women (run by the General Secretariat for Gender Equality). Periklis Polyzoidis spoke about “Networking for Employment Promotion”, and in this context he briefly discussed the views of the Greek respondents (in the empirical study we carried out under WP 4 Tasks 1 & 2 of the STYLE project) on a more proactive collaboration among major local stakeholders for systematically forecasting and addressing skills needs in the local labour market. The representatives of the above organisations stressed that so far any collaboration between stakeholders takes place occasionally and in an informal way. In most of the cases, collaboration (and networking) is project-based (e.g. in the context of EU funded projects) and weakens or even dissolves when the project finishes. On the 14th December meeting the following issues were discussed: The range of services provided by EKPA to young unemployed, their level of qualifications and skills, the gender dimension of youth unemployment, and the extent to which return to education is a priority of EKPA’s interventions in the case of young people with low level of education. We also briefly discussed the range of services to youth provided by “ARSIS”, particularly in the context of the Centre for Youth Support. We also asked participants to express their views on two major questions: (1) How could local services and organisations be incentivised to closely collaborate on tackling youth unemployment in the area? (2) Given the fact that EKPA plays the role of a “hub” that provides a wide range of information as well as counselling services to the unemployed addressed to it (on education and training opportunities, job vacancies, benefits provision, active labour market policies, funding sources/subsidies for starting a business, etc.), how can it contribute to the development of formal and stable channels of collaboration out of the informal and occasional cooperation pattern that has been the case so far? The main conclusions obtained were that, there is a need to monitor youngsters within the education system and the labour market, at the local level, and to better target policies to those youngsters who drop out of school, give up job search and become “invisible”. This requires partnership collaboration between education providers, public employment agencies, the business sector, the trade unions and youth organisations. EKPA has taken the initiative to explore the possibilities of networking. However, major stakeholders like the business sector, youth organisations and the educational/training institutions have not so far been involved in such a debate. The “experiment” of introducing the dual VET system in the tourism sector constitutes an innovation enclave that mobilises major stakeholders in a partnership-form of collaboration. This improves the quality and attractiveness of VET by young people and can possibly contribute to easing school-to-work transition. The experiment implies significant changes in the governance, design and delivery of vocational education, particularly as it encourages a more active involvement of the employers in collaboration with educational institutions. It rests upon policy learning and transfer instigated by the EU Alliance for Apprenticeship. But also domestic policy entrepreneurs, in the above sector, play an important role. However, so far it is a small scale experiment whose diffusion would require strong initiatives for partnership collaboration at the regional/local and/or sector level. Main issues of debate Vulnerable groups The EKPA staff focused on the profile of the socially vulnerable group of the NEETs. They stressed that, despite the fact that Greece has a record high rate of NEETs among young people 15 to 29 years, in the EU, the term is not commonly used, and often it is held to be equivalent to unemployed youth. They also emphasised that family support is a parameter that, to one extent or another, lessens the negative effects of the phenomenon on living conditions and future prospects of youth. The gender dimension was discussed too, as the rate of NEETs is higher among women compared to men. The majority of NEETs who approach EKPA for guidance and information have low- to medium level qualifications. The employment counsellors stated that most of these young people (and particularly the long-term unemployed) express a high degree of dissatisfaction with the education system and respond negatively to the advice provided to them for improving their educational qualifications. This is justified on the ground that, under the conditions of such a high employment across the entire working-age range, improving educational qualifications will not particularly help the young unemployed to enter the labour market. We also briefly discussed the range of counselling and support services provided by EKPA to youth (individual and group sessions, exploration of individual needs and skills, development of job search techniques etc.). Finally, the social workers from the NGO “ARSIS” briefly presented the activities of the Youth Support Centre they operate as well as of the Centre for Hosting Asylum Seeking Families. Networking at the local level The need for a closer collaboration between social and employment services at the local level was a major issue brought about by the EKPA staff and the social workers from “ARSIS”. So far collaboration has been informal and occasional, involving specific organisations and relying on interpersonal relationships of the staff across organisations. A major point raised is the lack of involvement of the employers’ associations at the local level in any incipient attempt of collaboration, particularly regarding the skills needed in the labour market and the design and implementation of policies for easing school-to-work transition. The head of EKPA in Thessaloniki suggested that we co-organise with DUTH a meeting with representatives from the trade unions and the employers in order to stimulate interest by the social partners (and particularly by the employers, as GSEE plays an active role through the EKPA services) in such an involvement at the local level. Innovation – Youth policies The innovative potential of the Experimental Vocational Training Schools in the tourism sector was briefly discussed with an emphasis on how this collaborative initiative can be diffused to other sectors and stimulate a proactive role of major stakeholders in vocational education, with the aim to strengthen the image and quality of VET. In this respect, we discussed examples of “good practices” of local/regional partnerships, in other countries, taking the form of “triple helix” collaboration that encourages the involvement of the educational institutions, the business sector and youth organisations, with the aim to resolve the problem of youth unemployment. The participants expressed their views on what can be “learnt” from such partnership practices in other countries. Participants: Akis Orphanos Specialized Centre for Employment Promotion (EKPA) of INE-GSEE, and Employment Agency of INE-GSEE and the Municipality of Thessaloniki Also seven more members of EKPA staff (economists, sociologists and psychologists) participated in the meeting Dimitris Gartsonis Municipality of Komotini (Thrace) Sofia Kralidou & Nana Michalopoulou NGO “ARSIS” (Association for the Social Support of Youth), Thessaloniki Office Maria Petmesidou, Periklis Polyzoidis STYLE, Democritus University of Thrace The meeting took place in the EKPA premises in Thessaloniki on the 14th of December 2015 (from 10.30 a.m. to 13.30 p.m.). The first LAB meeting in Greece are available here:http://www.style-research.eu/wordpress/2015/02/lab-meeting-in-athens  EKPA is a new service by the Labour Institute of the Greek General Confederation of Labour, which provides support to unemployed people (mainly, but not exclusively, to young unemployed aged 16-30 years) with all levels of qualifications. In Thessaloniki, the EKPA staff collaborates with the municipality by jointly running an employment agency in the premises of the latter.  He was invited but due to work commitments he could not travel to Thessaloniki. Periklis Polyzoidis informed him about our discussions in the Thessaloniki meeting and exchanged views with him on aspects concerning the impact of local development programmes in the area of Thrace on reducing youth unemployment.
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