The AREA programme in Argentina: working together to create jobs

The ILO-run AREA project, funded by the Italian government, has helped many Argentine workers and companies recover from the 2001 financial crisis by creating jobs and improving livelihoods. ILO Online reports from Argentina.

Article | 11 July 2008

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (ILO Online) – Liliana used to dream about becoming a dressmaker, but with children and a household to care for and a husband earning a decent living, she had neither the time nor a real need to find a job.

All of that changed after December 2001, when Argentina was thrown into one of the worst financial crises of its history. In the months and years that followed, more than 50 per cent of the population fell below the poverty line.

Liliana’s husband lost his job and the family had to adjust to the new situation, including transferring their children from private to public school. Through the school she made contact with other cooperatives and learned about a special programme called AREA, which cooperated with the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security of Argentina to promote employment-generating policies. Suddenly, Liliana saw a chance to realize her dream.

Six years later, she and two partners have set up a sewing business specializing in garments used in hospitals and veterinary shops made of disposable material. Support has come from the Ministry of Labour together with the local municipality working through the AREA programme to provide professional training.

“The thought of running a workshop had never crossed my mind”, she says. “The training I received really opened up my mind and showed me how big the possibilities were.”

Liliana is one of the many people who have benefited from AREA, a programme funded by the Italian technical cooperation agency (Cooperazione Italiana). The project is run by the ILO, with the participation of Italia Lavoro, a technical agency of Italy’s Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of Argentina.

The purpose of the programme, launched in 2004 and expected to finish this year, is to fight unemployment by restructuring and strengthening local networks for improving local economic development. That includes promoting small and medium enterprises and improving government policies for employment. The programme covers seven regions, including rural and urban areas of Argentina.

Thanks to the Technical Assistance given to the Municipality, AREA (the Spanish acronym for “Apoyo para la reactivación del empleo en la Argentina”) widened the number of beneficiaries of active employment policies of the Ministry of Labour, from people like Liliana who set up their own businesses to unskilled workers like Cristina Ferreira, who had never held a job.

In this sense, the innovative approach of the Municipal Public Employment Services has been to combine national employment policies with local development strategies in the framework of a National Policy that aims to place the employment issue at the centre of the public policies.

Helping people to get back on their feet

As someone without a secondary education, Cristina faced difficulties finding a job. Through the AREA programme, she was able to develop cooking skills that lead to a paid internship in the kitchen of a five-star hotel.

“At the hotel they treat me very well, and I have learned a lot,” she says. “Even though I am an intern, I now have a pension and medical insurance”.

Some five hundred kilometres south of Buenos Aires, the city of Mar del Plata is a popular seaside resort and one of Argentina’s major ports. For years Mar del Plata had an important ship-building industry, but when the government liberalised the economy in the 1990s most of the ship-yards were forced to downsize or close down.

The AREA programme has helped workers, employers and learning institutions there promote local economic development to address the needs of the industry, find funds and start projects. Most importantly, it taught them to work together. Similar approaches have been implemented for the information and textile industries.

In this sense, the AREA programme has not only has been helpful in creating new jobs in Mar del Plata – which has one of the highest unemployment levels in the country – but has also stimulated sustainable growth in the region.

For Gustavo Lima, a human resources manager at one of Mar del Plata’s main shipyards, it’s a win-win situation: “From the company’s point of view, we are acquiring skilled workers, and from the social perspective we are helping to generate work”, he says.

Adds Buenos Aires ILO Director Javier Gonzalez-Olaecha Franco, “If we take into account the satisfaction level, we can say the AREA programme has been very successful, because all those that signed up for it were very satisfied. But at the same time we feel the project should not stop here and should be expanded to other regions”.