By Spanish Red Cross, and Giovanni Zambello, IFRC
Jesús, a waiter by profession, is one of the many Spaniards who saw their unemployment benefits coming to an end during the peak of the economic crisis in Spain. “My situation was rather complicated. I was not longer receiving the dole and, of course, I still had to pay my bills. There was a moment when I saw myself in the street,” he says. Then, through friends, he got to know the Plan de Empleo of the Spanish Red Cross.
The Plan de Empleo (employment plan) is a project that the Spanish Red Cross has run since 2000 – well before the beginning of the current crisis – to promote the job placement of people at increased risk of social exclusion. Through this project, the organization advises, trains and steers people affected by the economic crisis towards a job or career, and offers them psychosocial support to help them regain confidence in their abilities. The programme also includes a specific module for those who would like to start their own business.
“The first thing they teach you is how to look for a job, to identify your skills and nurture them.” Jesús says. “In my case, as I had previous experience in the hospitality sector, I didn’t need to take any vocational courses. One day the Red Cross called me asking me to go for an interview at a restaurant and now I have an open-ended contract. I keep in touch with the Red Cross. They call me every now and then to ask how the situation is. I could not be happier than this.”
Carmen Cárdenas, who works in the Plan de Empleo of the Spanish Red Cross, says the project works with people from different backgrounds. “We work with those who have already participated in the programme before and have lost their job again, and people who were never unemployed before and now come to us for assistance. But also women who never worked before, as they previously relied on the income from their partners, and are now entering the labour market for the first time.”
“Work is a tool for social inclusion,” says Maika Sánchez, director of the preogramme. “Employment provides economic independence, an important source of self-esteem and social recognition, and is a form of participation in society. In the case of immigrant women, it is one of the fundamental tools of integration in the host society.”
According to a report published on Tuesday by the International Labour Organisation, global unemployment is at a record high in the wake of the economic crisis. 197 million people were out of work last year, and another 5 million people are expected to lose their job by the end of 2013.
In such scenario, young people are often hardest hit. In European countries where the issue is most acute, 12.7 per cent of all young people are not employed, in education or in training, which may result in discouragement, and depression, as well as in the loss of professional skills.
In this regard, the report calls for enhancing youth employability, particularly through better links between education, training and the labour market as well as enhancing vocational education.
In the last four years, the Spanish Red Cross has seen an increase of 40 per cent in the number of people assisted through the Plan de Empleo. In 2012, the figure rose to 63,000. Since the launch of the project 12 years ago, the National Society has reached a total of 258,269.
A key role is played in the programme by the over 20,000 firms that cooperate with the Spanish Red Cross in training people, offering internship opportunities and providing practical information on the labour market.
“We work closely with the private sector so we can design our course based on actual needs,” says Sandra Jiménez, coordinator of the Empleo y Mujer (Employment and Woman) of the Red Cross branch in Madrid. “However, it is important to mention that we are not a recruitment agency. We are the Red Cross and we work with people in situations of social vulnerability.
“What we are witnessing is a crisis that has heightened the unemployment rate and the social issues connect to that.”