When Martin Hagen from Dornbirn in Austria and Marc Boes from Rotterdam in The Netherlands met at the first European Youth Work Convention in Ghent in 2010, they immediately recognized the experienced youth worker in the other and started to talk about their projects. What followed was the exchange of experience, study visits and a new offer for young people in Rotterdam that was inspired by Job Ahoi in Dornbirn.
Martin Hagen was in Ghent to present one of the diverse projects that his organisation Offene Jugendarbeit Dornbirn runs in the most western part of Austria.
Job Ahoi offers young people between 15 and 25 who have dropped out of school, vocational training or any other education the chance to work on building and repairing boats or sewing design pieces like bags or acessoires. Both activities are instructed by professional boat makers and seamstresses and accompanied by social workers. The young people can work for a maximum of 15 hours a week and get paid per hour. Pay day is every Friday when after a lunch prepared and enjoyed together the young workers get their weekly share in cash. Getting paid only for every hour they really worked serves to higher the ownership and responsibility of the young people.
The main idea is to show to the young people that work can be fun and give a sense to life. They should feel needed and start developing new perspectives for their own future. They start with simple tasks and slowly are entrusted with more complicated operations, so that they can build up skills and self confidence alike. But besides these practical skills, there is a lot more to Job Ahoi.
A certain flexibility is applied in the times that the young people can show up for work, so that they have the possibility to get slowly back into a normal daily routine. They are coached by social workers and encouraged to get active for changing their current situation of unemployment. Weekly workshops on job orientation, training for a job interview or support in writing their own CV round up the offer. Martin Hagen explains the guiding principle of the system „The general aim of open youth work is to support young people in finding their own path towards becoming independent adults – with Job Ahoi little success after little success they are able to do that.“
In the beginning the project was hard to explain and thus to finance but in 2015 Job Ahoi already celebrates its 10th anniversary and keeps on thriving – last year 31 young women and 47 young men participated in the project. The average young person involved is 17 years old and stays four to six months with Job Ahoi. The products are high level quality and are presented at fairs and in design settings. In 2014 Job Ahoi also intensified its engagement with the arts and could ensure collaboration with various artists and the support of one of Austria’s biggest banks.
Open Youth Work is the ideal setting for an initiative that is very much based on the voluntary involvement of its young users. The professional relationship that youth workers create with young people in all kinds of services open a low threshold entry for those that feel excluded in many ways. Mutual trust and respect foster then the process of reintegration in a supported labour situation.
Open Youth Work is the ideal setting for an initiative that is very much based on the voluntary involvement of its young users.
Show up for work and get paid for every hour
Marc Boes from Stichting JONG immediately saw this potential when Martin showed him around the Job Ahoi workshops for the first time and started to investigate possibilities to adapt the concept to the local reality in Rotterdam. In 2012 the time was ripe and Werkt! started to work. How could it be different in The Netherlands – stereotypes or not: the main offer is bikes. Werkt! opened a bike repair shop, which is frequented very well in the neighbourhood and beyond and also produces special retro bikes on order. Customers know that they might have to wait a little longer and as a compensation they pay a reduced price.
Werkt! is still smaller then Job Ahoi and it is a bit more difficult for young people to get in since they have to be registered with social services for qualifying, but the successful basic idea of „Show up for work and get paid for every hour“ stays the same. The target group in The Netherlands is young people aged 18 to 26 that have been, are or are in danger of being homeless. Many of the young people involved are living during or at the beginning of the project in accompanied housing projects, where they also get counselling. Close cooperation with the counsellors is obvious for Werkt! and is supplemented with some practical information and advice by the Youth Information Centre Rotterdam, which also belongs to Stichting JONG.
The young people can stay up to two years with Werkt! During that period they are gaining practical skills but also learn a lot of life skills. „It starts with the very simple things“ says Marc Boes „getting up every day, greeting colleagues from other departments on your way in or accepting the authority of your boss.“ During their two years in Werkt! they have the chance to learn how to cope with an everyday routine, colleagues and hierarchy without getting fired if one thing or the other does not work out immediately There are situations where consequences have to be drawn, but it is not for not being able to show up on a Monday morning right from the start.
The people guiding them are experienced youth workers who establish a professional relationship that opens room for developments. After some time, when first steps have been made within the save environment of the project, the youth workers start to encourage the young men to look for further training or jobs outside and support them in doing so. Werkt! was successful in this in 50% of the cases so far.
Both projects show the immense potential of professional open youth work when it comes to opening a new way for young people where it might have looked like a dead end. They are based on some core values of this form of youth work – mainly voluntariness, openness and a trustful relationship. The successful transfer of the concept form the Austrian to the Dutch situation also proves that with all differences and diversity in youth work in Europe, there is some basic things that are just the same.
Martin and Marc are still in contact through European Networks such as poywe and did not stop there by far. Around Job Ahoi there are several other offers that have been implemented over the last years in Vorarlberg. Albatros, that gives young people access to a degree for their compulsory education, to name only one.
And in the Netherlands Marc is currently exploring possibilities to enrol Werkt! also in other cities.
It starts with the very simple things
by Alexandra Beweis (2015)
Alexandra Beweis works as project manager at POYWE . She is also a trainer and facilitator and active in different areas of youth work since 1994.
Photos Job Ahoi!: © OJAD, Alexandra Beweis; Photos Werkt!: © Jorde Steenbeek
Video Job Ahoi and Werkt!: © poywe/Alexandra Beweis