B-WISE first activity: mapping WISEs in Europe!
The first activity started in the framework of the B-WISE project is the mapping of European WISEs, done by EURICSE!
Among the host of activities supported by social enterprises, the integration of workers with support needs is the most widespread. The labour market is indeed far from being perfect. On the one side there are applicants that are qualified and trained, who normally have good career prospects; on the opposite side are positioned workers that are hard to employ and at risk of labour market exclusion. Work integration social enterprises (WISEs) have emerged as a reaction to the incapacity of traditional labour policies to ensure the full integration into the labour market of workers bearing specific disadvantages. The advantages of WISEs stems from the expertise they have accumulated working with workers with support needs. While acquiring specialized knowledge on the impact of the diverse disadvantages and needs upon the various types of work activities, WISEs have experimented with appropriate organizational processes designed to facilitate work integration pathways. They are thus capable of identifying the most suitable job according to the type of support need a worker bears. Furthermore, WISEs have proven to be effective in integrating the training and employment components.
Thanks to the appropriate on-the-job training they provide, WISEs help workers with support needs overcome their disadvantage and facilitate integration into work through productive activities that enable to pay disadvantaged workers a wage comparable to that of ordinary workers. WISEs can be regarded as a double-output enterprise: in addition to marketable goods and services, they deliver work integration support services. To this end they have developed two strategies: the creation of transitional occupations with a view to supporting the integration of disadvantaged workers into the open labour market and the creation of permanent jobs within the WISE.
According to the preliminary result of the B-WISE project, the landscape of WISEs is extremely diverse across the 13 B-WISE partner countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain) with respect to size; fields of activity; resource mix; typologies of workers with support needs integrated; and legal frameworks.
As far as the legal frameworks are concerned, we can identify three groups of countries:
- A first group of country where WISEs mainly rely on existing legal forms – such as associations, cooperatives, foundations and traditional companies – that have not been designed specifically for WISEs
- A second group that includes countries that have legally acknowledged WISEs either through a specific WISE status or a social enterprise status, designed to recognize a broader set of social enterprises. WISE statuses have a longstanding history especially in Central and Eastern Europe countries. This is the case of Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Poland, where specific WISE statuses have their roots in initiatives developed back in the 70s. Social enterprise statuses are conversely a rather recent legal trend.
- The third typology includes countries that have acknowledged WISEs through the adjustment of existing legal forms. The pioneering role was in this case played by Italy that adjusted cooperative legislation in 1991 so as to acknowledge B-type social cooperatives. This trend was then followed by Spain, Poland, France and more recently Belgium with a special accreditation scheme for cooperatives.
The legal and policy recognition of WISEs has significant consequences: in countries where WISEs have not been legally recognized, reliable data on WISEs are very hard to find. Conversely, figures on the size of WISEs and their impact upon welfare and development are available in countries where WISEs have been legally recognized.
Next steps of the B-WISE preparatory research work package (WP1) include a face to face survey aimed at assessing skills gaps in WISEs (including digital skills gaps of enablers, supporters and workers with support needs); an online survey focused on digital skills gaps specifically; an analysis of selected good practices for developing skills (mainly on digital skills) and a selected number of transversal analyses aimed at assessing the contribution and potential of WISEs in tackling labour market exclusion. A research report, based on the findings of all the above mentioned research activities, will be then drafted so as to feed the training B-WISE activities in the pipeline.