©AP/Vadim GhirdaModelled on the Mutual Learning Programme (MLP) of the European Union, the programme unfolded over 12 months and focused on practices and approaches that would make the employment agencies better prepared to cater to the most vulnerable on the labour market. Given the current employment challenges of the Western Balkans, these population groups include young people (particularly those not in education, nor employment, or training), people with disabilities, informal workers, the long-term unemployed, and others. Very often these situations overlap, creating a compounded disadvantage that individuals cannot overcome on their own without the support of apt institutions. In the words of Dajna Sorensen, Deputy Minister of Finance of Albania, who was in attendance, “it requires a person-centred approach”, whereby the counsellors of the employment agencies “look at the individual sitting in their office and ponder the specific circumstances that put this particular person at risk of exclusion".
However, changing how employment agency staff think about inclusiveness so that they can operate differently takes time, effort, and discipline. It is hard. Institutions do not change how they think or operate in the heat of complex employment situations just by attending a workshop. That is where peer-to-peer learning comes into play. During the period leading up to the Budapest event, the ILO technical team has supported practitioners from the public employment agencies of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, the FYR of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia to peer-review their practices related to adult training, traineeship, self-employment programmes, as well as other services for disadvantaged clients. Representatives of the employment services from Portugal, Ireland, and Austria have also brought their knowledge and expertise to the table. During the programme participants have become aware of shortcomings in inclusiveness and committed to ending them. Closing these gaps requires expert guidance, adequate resources, and the support of peers who have learnt from their experiences by both failure and success. Direct policy transfer from one country to another can rarely be achieved: mutual learning activities, however, can result in faster implementation and cost and time savings. Thanks to the ILO programme, participants have become familiar with the peer-learning approach and contributed to the formulation of concrete policy recommendations for each delegation to so that they can improve their employment services on a daily basis.
This first peer-learning exchange programme for the employment agencies of the Western Balkans has been organised within the project Promoting Inclusive Labour Market Solutions in the Western Balkans, co-funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) and implemented by the ILO.
*as defined by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244.