Western Balkans

Promoting Inclusive Labour Market Solutions in the Western Balkans

The sub-regional Project will assist the Western Balkan countries and territory to build more inclusive labour markets by promoting an integrated approach to employment and social policies.

The overall objective

The project will strengthen the institutional capacity of public employment services and Centres for Social Welfare to develop mechanisms to reach out to those at risk of exclusion. It will support the piloting and scaling up of innovative programmes to facilitate access to the labour market; and will establish mechanisms for multi-stakeholder partnerships to tackle unemployment and social exclusion.

The target group consists of those who are not active in the labour market, the long-term unemployed, and those who are unlikely to benefit from standard active labour market policies. There will be a particular focus on youth, but the groups at risk of exclusion will vary from country to country.


The project will impact the work modalities of national and local offices of the Public Employment Services, Centres for Social Welfare, social partners, private sector and civil society organizations, as well as national Ministries of Labour and Social Welfare. Some interventions have an explicitly territorial focus and approach; they will involve local government authorities and, where appropriate, incorporate actions to assist the employment of asylum seekers.


The overall objective of promoting inclusive labour market solutions will be achieved through three interlinked outputs:
  1. Labour market governance: Public employment and social service agencies have greater capacity to implement integrated user-centred approaches to improve outreach to vulnerable and hard-to-employ groups
  2. Innovation for fostering inclusive labour markets: Public employment and social service agencies implement innovative programmes for employment of disadvantaged groups and scale them up at the regional level
  3. Knowledge systematization for effective policy making: sustainable mechanisms for exchange of experience, peer learning and peer review are established


The Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo (as defined by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244.), The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) are often quoted as the countries with the lowest employment rates and the highest unemployment rates in Europe. Although most public attention focuses on unemployment, the low rates of economic activity and the nature of employment patterns are equally worrying dimensions. The Western Balkans are characterized by a high share of public sector employment, a small share of private sector wage employment, high agricultural, informal and vulnerable employment; and also low employment rates for older workers, persons with disabilities and Roma. Women’s activity rates significantly lag behind the European Union average.

Youth unemployment is twice as high as the overall unemployment rate and reaches over 50 per cent in some countries. Unemployment rates for early school-leavers are twice as high as those for secondary and post-secondary graduates. There are few job opportunities for people with disabilities. Geographical factors also play a role, as secondary urban areas and remote rural areas tend to have less, or lower quality, job opportunities.

Despite an impressive list of global, regional, and national frameworks, neither labour market nor social policies have been successful in addressing the specific needs of the vulnerable population. Many citizens withdraw from the labour market or face multiple barriers to access it. Vulnerable groups are also over-represented in public works programmes, which usually do not result in finding a more permanent job. The evidence suggests that these vulnerable groups are the last to gain in periods of growth and economic prosperity and the first to lose in periods of economic downturn.

This project aims to build on the ongoing policy discourse and the growing understanding in the Western Balkans regarding the important role that public institutions can play in creating equitable training and employment opportunities for those outside the formal labour market, by also addressing the challenges and exploiting the opportunities provided by the EU accession processes. This project is designed to work with national partners to draw policy attention to these barriers, and to put in place institutional capacity, partnerships and processes to help dismantle them.