While in Moldova the unemployment rate is of 3%, according to official data (National Bureau of Statistics, 2018), uncertainty gains ground on the labor market. When turning 19 years old, most of young people start looking for a job and this process lasts in average for 8-9 months. But they must wait for about three years more before ending up with a stable job. Only half of the young people from rural area succeed to find a job. We learned this by conducting a research in partnership with the National Institute for Economic Research.

“I’ve been registered with the Employment Agency for the last half a year; several job offerings were proposed to me, including one at a medical facility, but the salary was very low. I’ve accepted another offer given by the career advisor and this is where I continue working today”. This is only one testimonial from hundreds we got from persons we interviewed, and gloomy routine for the career advisors of the National Employment Agency. This vicious circle keeps rolling out, while discouragement and apathy are growing.

On one hand, jobseekers strive to find decent work in their home country, while very often their skills mismatch the employers’ demands. Also, according to our partner, the National Employment Agency, who helps women and men find a job, their beneficiaries are passive, and do not feel like getting the lead out and finding their way on the market. On the other hand, the Agency is short of resources and people. But, it is determined to transform itself and connect jobseekers’ aspirations to employers’ expectations.

To unlock this paradox, back in 2016, we at UNDP Moldova have engaged with the National Employment Agency in conducting a behavioral experiment: to see what happens if we mentor and encourage jobseekers to become proactive. And ‘what if’ is our favorite question. We partnered with the Behavioral Insights Team.

We knew from various researches that encouraging proactivity is one of the most effective ways of improving people’s chances of obtaining employment.

Building on this promising foundation, we started looking into the ways we could rapidly and cost-effectively help jobseekers find employment faster. We redesigned the way consultations for jobseekers take place and put them at the heart of the process.

We called this new approach Employment Helper. To make it operational, we created an instrument, easy to tailor and roll out - an individual employment plan.

Here are the steps needed to take when developing and individual employment plan:

  1. Goal-setting: Each jobseeker was encouraged by the National Employment Agency’s specialists to set 3-5 SMART goals; each goal was adjusted based on the stage of job seeking journey.
  2. Planning: Jobseekers outlined plans, detailing when and where each activity would be undertaken. This helped jobseekers to take more responsibility.
  3. Reviewing progress: Jobseekers would review their progress against each goal every fortnight, identifying any obstacles that prevented them from achieving their goal.
  4. Individual feedback: The National Employment Agency’s specialist would provide tailored feedback to the jobseekers throughout the process.

For 11 months, from April 2018 to February 2019, we conducted a randomized control trial by involving the 29 Territorial Employment Centers of the National Employment Agency. We divided the pool into two groups: those who use the new approach Employment Helper and those who use the old.

And … the results were stunning, even for us. We looked at 2 indicators:

  1. Whether a jobseeker’s case was closed by the National Employment Agency within 5 months of registering with the agency.
  2. Whether a jobseeker’s file was closed within 13 weeks.  

The results showed for the group using Employment Helper approach an increase of 5.5 percentage points (7.7%) on the likelihood of a person’s case being closed within 5 months, compared to the control group, and an increase of 5.2 percentage points (10.7%) in the likelihood of a jobseeker’s file being closed within 13 weeks.

We were thrilled to hear impressions from the field of action. Ana, an experienced career advisor, told us: “Although the experiment seems a simple solution and process at the beginning, it is quite complex and complicated in implementation, as it requires an overall change in mentality. When starting it, some job seekers were scared or skeptical, commenting things like ‘Are we in high-school or something…? Why do we need to fill in this agenda?’ Another group was curious to see how things will develop. That group managed to achieve good results in setting and reaching specific targets and objectives, many of them found jobs,” noted Ana.

This journey was a learning one. Here are few lessons:

  • Public agencies are not rigid to change as we tend to often think – we’ve learned how important is to suggest relevant and timely ideas to be tested and how important is to always have the beneficiary in mind.
  • Shifting to a new business model starts with a simple idea – as Ana, the career advisor mentioned, simple is not simplistic and uncovers complex changes. Inverting the way the system operates by putting more responsibility on the jobseekers, as opposed to the usual practice of centralizing responsibility in the hands of the career advisors, is a transformational change.
  • Methodology transfer to the specialists is not a one-time shot and methodological improvements require time and effort. To overcome the temptations of coming back to business-as-usual, we were side by side with the career advisors, to guide and support them.

We cannot stop now half way. We aim to scale up this pilot and cover all jobseekers. At the end of the day, 9 of 10 Moldovans want a decent job (post-2015 Agenda, national consultations).

Interested to learn more or help us? Feel free to write to dumitru.vasilescu@undp.org

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