From Dignity to Employment - Newly arrived immigrants and refugees’ interpretations of opportunities to improve labor market participation through the Introduction Program
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The aim of this thesis is to explore how newly arrived immigrants and refugees interpret their opportunities to improve labor market participation through the Introduction Program. The thesis is based on qualitative interviews with six former participants of the program situated in Oslo, Norway. The Introduction Program is an activation program designed to qualify newly arrived immigrants and refugees for economic independence through the goals of employment and higher education. The implementation of the program in 2004 represented a shift from an integration policy relying on unconditional social assistance benefits to a compulsory work-oriented activation program with intensive qualifying measures. As an activation program the Introduction Program have more potential for inflicting shame for its participants than unconditional benefits, as the use of conditions represents a curtailment of individual autonomy. Nevertheless there are variations of activation strategies used within activation policy and programs, in this thesis understood in a continuum between a Human Resource Development (HRD) approach and a Labor Market Attachment (LMA) approach. As the Introduction Program represents a strong Human Resource Development (HRD) approach through the focus on long-term skill development, the program has the potential to promote dignity for its participants. A focus on quick entry into the labor market through elements of a Labor Market Attachment (LMA) approach may in contrast inflict a feeling of shame for the participants in the program. In the thesis I make use of Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition to identify structures in the program that may promote dignity or inflict shame for the participants in the program. The respondents in the study interpreted a close and personal relationship with their caseworker and the ability to develop skills through the program as the most important factors for their opportunities to improve labor market participation. The material indicates that recognition through a relationship of support, close follow up, user involvement and mutual respect with one’s caseworker combined with access to high quality qualifying measures promotes dignity for the participants and offers them “more” in terms of opportunities to improve labor market participation. Not experiencing recognition through the relationship with one’s caseworker, poor quality qualifying measures, and a focus on a quick entry into the labor market at the expense of long-term skill development may on the other hand inflict a feeling of shame for the participants and be a demotivating factor for skill development. Shaming factors in the program may thereby offer “less” for the participants. Offering “less” is in this study connected to curtailment of rights and autonomy, with the potential of having none or even negative effects on the participants’ opportunities to improve labor market participation through the program. Based on my findings I argue that there is a need to continue the Introduction Program’s aim of long-term skill development through a Human Resource Development (HRD) approach, as the approach is dignifying and offers the participants “more” in terms of opportunities to improve labor market participation through the program. Especially important in this aspect was the respondents wish to have more intense and higher quality language education, as it gives them the necessary skills for finding employment and prepare them for higher education.
Master i International Social Welfare and Health Policy