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Results on personal networks presented to the Regional Employment Offices

Forty ORP advisors from the Canton of Vaud came to the University of Lausanne on November 14, 2013 to hear the first analysis of a study involving 4,648 unemployed persons, conducted by a team from NCCR LIVES. Researchers found the advisors’ input of great interest, which will enable them to formulate new hypotheses on the importance of social contacts in finding work.

"After two minutes of discussion, you have already given us several very interesting ideas to follow up," said Professor Giuliano Bonoli, when the first questions were asked during a presentation prepared by members of IP4 at the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES for advisors from the Regional Employment Offices (ORP) of the Canton of Vaud. The purpose of the meeting was to share the initial results of a study launched at the beginning of 2012 involving 4,648 persons looking for work, in order to determine the usefulness of a person's social contacts in finding a job.

In a first stage, Nicolas Turtschi showed that even if personal contacts are by far the main source of information for finding work, as demonstrated by the earlier careers of the unemployed people surveyed in the study, these same people give top priority to the Internet, the press and unsolicited applications for finding a new job. People with few qualifications make the least use of their network, even though contacts have the most influence in their job areas, much more so than among white-collar workers, contrary to common beliefs.

The most effective contacts

Anna von Ow and Professor Daniel Oesch then explained this paradox: a more advanced level of education increases the chance of getting a job and reduces the probability of finding one through your connections. Thus, the use of a network partly offsets the disadvantages due to education and nationality. The most effective contacts are former colleagues who are in the labor market, working in the same industry and enjoying a more senior position in the hierarchy. Their network is therefore crucial for foreign unemployed workers with little education, who work in construction, agriculture or catering, where hiring processes are less formal.

By this point, many ORP advisors already had feedback: "Have you compared the length of unemployment between graduates of top schools and unskilled workers?"; "Perhaps European Union citizens are more motivated to find work to keep their residence permit!"; "Maybe employers prefer foreigners because they accept lower wages..."; "The questionnaires were mostly filled out during the winter months, when the number of unemployed construction workers is strongly over-represented." "We know that certain cultures have a strong sense of solidarity and that bosses will more easily hire someone with the same roots."

Assessment of an experiment

After this initial discussion, Professor Rafael Lalive moved on to talk about the team’s experiment with study participants. Of the 4,648 persons registered as unemployed between February and April 2012, one-half were specifically made aware of the importance of using their social network, which added fifteen minutes to the normal group information session on unemployment insurance.

Before delivering the results of the comparison, the researcher asked the ORP advisors if they thought this measure had had any impact on subsequently finding a job. The verdict was mixed: some advisors responded by saying that they discussed the issue of networks in their usual presentation anyway. Moreover, it is well known that people only retain 10 to 25% of the information presented in a session.

Actually, the experiment showed that the measure did not have a very noticeable effect on finding work. Only women, people with high employability and those benefitting from a tertiary education show any difference in results between those who received the awareness training and those who only attended the regular session. This equates to a positive impact on the more cooperative profiles, the measure being inadequate for those profiles less in tune with the labor market – exactly those people who already make little use of their network and for whom it is proven that contacts play the most important role.

Reactions of the ORP advisors

Again, the discussion that followed was rather intense. "Men already recognize the importance of networking, they have more contacts and more nerve in asking them," stated one ORP advisor, contradicting the researchers who thought instead that men would be more likely to hide their unemployed status so as not to tarnish their image as the family breadwinner.

Another ORP advisor raised another problem, that of seniors who have a hard time finding a job, and for whom relying on a personal network has the negative connotation of “pulling strings.” "Everything also depends on the region," said yet another. "If the job market is tight, personal contacts count for less!"

In conclusion, the researchers showed that for certain sectors of the population, simply providing information is likely not enough and that it would definitely be necessary to develop measures appropriate to the groups involved, taking into account the specific features of different segments of the job market.

Professor Bonoli announced that a second line of research would begin in 2015, this time focusing on employers. Until then, the evaluation of the initial data will continue. "When we present the data to our colleagues in Europe, we can see how much interest it raises," he said, warmly thanking the ORP advisors for their crucial cooperation in this study.

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Researchers and practitioners in the integration of youth start a dialogue

On November 4, 2013, in Lausanne, a forum brought together academics from the National Centre of Competence in Research LIVES with top administrators from the cantons of Vaud and Fribourg to discuss the issues of young adults on social assistance. This meeting was intended as an informal exchange of views, with no other result required than to foster mutual understanding between professionals who are interested in the same issues but have very different practices.

"Multidimensionality of vulnerability": these words came up often on Monday 4 November in the Pontaise administrative building, used to describe the problems encountered by young adults when they attempt to enter the workforce. Social science researchers, social services department heads and integration programme managers – around twenty people in all – spent the afternoon discussing the challenges of supporting 18- to 25-year-olds with cumulative disadvantages.

At the beginning of the meeting, several portraits of disaffected youth were sketched out by Nicole Andrey, head of the "Scenic Adventure" project, a social and professional integration measure in the canton of Vaud, intended to reengage participants through artistic creativity. Many of these youths are plagued by family difficulties, low self-esteem, housing problems and unhealthy lifestyles, she explained. She underscored the importance of running the distance and not falling for the illusion of immediate results – both for the young people and for the social workers.

Scientific contributions

Three short presentations by researchers at the NCCR LIVES followed. Felix Bühlmann (IP5) expressed his interest in studying the life course of members of this population, and in problematizing existing integration measures while benefiting from the methodological advances offered by sequence analysis, which is a means of extracting typologies from trajectories that are originally quite varied, in order to better understand how some people fare better than others.

Then Emilie Rosenstein (IP5) summarised the conclusions of a study conducted with Jean-Michel Bonvin and Maël Dif-Pradelier that examined the canton of Vaud's FORJAD programme. Turning to the concept of the capabilities, she stressed the need for young people to take ownership of the measures offered to them, and underscored two crucial dimensions: the personalisation of support, and timing, which means setting up projects that take into account each person's biographical paths and their pace. She ended by posing the question of what comes next when measures end, asking what the government could do to create opportunities in the labour market, so that young people don't tumble into disillusionment.

Finally, Christian Staerklé (IP9) took a more psychosocial approach to workforce integration by looking at the need young people have for recognition – by their peers, their families and their environment – as well as the importance of identity and social belonging. He mentioned a study done by his team that showed the beneficial effect of collective self-definitions on the feeling of effectiveness, especially among immigrant youth – a conclusion that may inspire programmes for aid and workforce integration.

An animated debate

In the debate that followed, François Mollard, head of the canton of Fribourg's Social Action Service, said that research topics give him additional arguments for defending projects to help young people on social assistance. Sitting next to him, Jean-Claude Simonet, scientific advisor in the same department, commented several times to highlight the many challenges of integrating this population, and the need to offer diversified approaches in response to their needs.

From Vaud, the Service of social assistance and welfare was mainly represented by its head Françoise Jaques and Antonello Spagnolo, head of the Assistance and Social Integration Unit. The latter asked several fundamental questions: for example, how to allow beneficiaries to break free from the services provided by the public sector? How far does the state's responsibility extend when it comes to people whose workforce integration fails for reasons inherent to the labour market?

"It's not easy to accept that some people will just be sacrificed," added Simonet. For some people, the priority must be to bring young people closer to the realities of the working world, with finding employment being the real driver. However, many note that full employment is an illusion. Still others see work as potential violence against people who are already fragile, pointing out that work itself does not necessarily guarantee financial independence. And how can success be measured when other problems exist alongside the workforce integration problems (addictions, etc.)?

Research questions

The discussion – which became ever more lively – did not yield a miracle solution. The researchers, including Dario Spini, director of the NCCR LIVES, called for greater collaboration between public authorities and the scientific world in order to understand the mechanisms involved in the processes of social exclusion and mobility. The practitioners, on the other hand, expressed interest in research providing them with a better understanding of how young people benefit from medium-term measures, whether they are able to maintain the skills they acquired, and what the concrete results of existing programs have been.

The participants left with the agreement that future meetings could involve deeper examination of specific questions in small groups, while involving other stakeholders, such as representatives of employers and civil society. They could also broaden the approach to other stages of life, knowing that problems don't arise all of a sudden at age 18 and do not simply end at age 25.

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Breast cancer also affects men. A team from NCCR LIVES is looking into this

The disease, which affects one in eight women, also makes victims of some of their partners. At the LIVES National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR), a project led by Prof. Nicolas Favez shows that both partners need to be supported.

This is a micro team that has started studying the psychosociological impacts of a major 21st century disease: breast cancer, the main cause of death of women under the age of 60. Nicolas Favez, professor of psychology at the University of Geneva, and head of IP11 at NCCR LIVES, is carrying out a longitudinal study with a post-doc researcher, a PhD student and a nurse, in collaboration with a physician at the CHUV, taking the original approach of also looking at what the romantic partner goes through during this ordeal. 

The study consists of several stages. In the month following their operation, the patients and their companion are asked to fill out a personal questionnaire, and to take part in a 30 minute interview. This exercise is then repeated three times over the course of the next two years. The questionnaire collects socio-demographic data about the participants, as well as information on their psychological state of mind, the quality of their relationship as a couple, and the social support they are receiving. The interview allows certain feelings to be examined in more depth and uses a "mixed methods" approach, combining quantitative and qualitative elements.

More participants than planned

Initially, at the end of 2011, the team was expecting to have difficulty in recruiting participants and set itself the target of finding 60 couples, or 120 people. Two years later, 150 people have already been interviewed and experience shows that the refusal rate is only 30%. Single women are also taking part in the study, or women who have a partner but who responded solo, as their partner did not agree to join the project.

"We see that people are often glad that someone is interested in them other than for medical issues. Men are especially pleased that they are included in the process", explains Prof. Favez. "Our analysis of the initial data shows that the stress created by the disease is just as great, if not greater, for the men than for the women, who have a clear enemy to fight, while their spouses feel adrift and not in control of the situation."

The researcher also noticed that the women who show the highest indications of the symptoms of depression are those whose companion refused to take part: "It could well be an indicator of tension in the relationship, and we already know that support from the romantic partner is essential to your mental health during any kind of illness. What is more controversial is whether mental health in its turn has an effect on the immune system, and therefore on physiological health", he continues.

Material for ten years

At this stage the only analysis has concerned the first wave of questionnaires and interviews. "We have material for ten years of research and publications", the project leader says delightedly.

Another original aspect of this study is the application of attachment theory to observe the way in which women experience their cancer, and to analyze the kind of support romantic partners provide when faced with a disease like this. Roughly summarized, this theory classifies people into three styles of attachment: secure, anxious and avoidant, depending on personality traits developed in the first few months of life. "We have already been able to analyze that avoiding women, who do not display their emotional needs and who are very much in control of themselves, suffer more from the damage breast cancer does to their body image. That makes us think that perhaps interventions need to be adapted to match the personalities of each of the women and their partners", says the psychologist.

Prevention and psychological support

The ultimate goal of this study, in addition to fundamental research, is to come up with some proposals for preventing the negative effects of cancer on psychological well-being. For the moment, women do not receive any systematic follow-up, and men receive no support at all. The project team feels that a place needs to be provided where men can come to relieve the burden of assisting their ill partner every day, with complete confidentiality. 

The interviews carried out as part of the study show that, in any case, the companions are very pleased that someone is showing an interest in their personal situation. The other conclusion, also provisional for the moment, is that if this offer is built into the standard treatment process for the patient, it is more likely to be absorbed than if it comes from a different source. Couples will accept this offer more willingly if it does not divert them from their top priority: beating the disease.