Learning to make the job market work: capacity building in public employment agencies
Public Management Research Conference “Seeking Excellence in a Time of Change” May 25-27, 2012 Fudan University, Shanghai, China Learning to Make the Job Market Work:Capacity Building in Public Employment Agencies Dr Alberto Asquer Lecturer of Business Strategy and Policy Faculty of Economics University of Cagliari, Italy Visiting Fellow Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies European University Institute
1. Overview summary The implementation of “Active Labor Market Policies” often entails that public employment agencies need to develop the capacity to deliver services to the unemployed for which no expertise and practices had ever been accumulated in the past. How do public employment agencies develop the capacity to effectively deliver Active Labor Market Policies? The organizational change process may be especially troublesome, when (a) statutory tasks enlargement are combined with (b) decentralization of responsibility to sub-national governments, within (c) a political context not fully supportive of inter-governmental collaboration.
2. Theoretical background Studies on organizational change in the public sector miss providing a full account of what affects the path and outcome of organizational change process (Thomas, 1993). Some argue that external support from political overseers and key external stakeholders is a factor that contributes to successful organizational change (Fernandez and Rainey, 2006). Others hold that external political stakeholders generally seek to attain a successful enterprise for the benefit of various groups (“stewardship theory”) (Harrow, 2001; Donaldson and Davis, 1989, 1991).
3. Research method Question: How does the process of organizational change in public sector agencies unfold, especially when political context conditions include lack of support for inter-governmental collaboration? Case: Organizational change process in four public employment agencies (Centri Servizi per il Lavoro or CSL) in Cagliari province, Italy, during the implementation of 2001 labor market reform (2001-2011) Case path and outcome: Development of novel organizational routines for the delivery of ALMP services, that resulted in (a) consolidation of new work practices, but also (b) failure to provide demonstrably well-performing routines for the delivery of ALMP services.
4. Organizational changes in the CSL in Cagliari province The regional government passed new legislations on labor market policy, providing the establishment of 28 CSL (2003, 2005) as agencies of the provincial governments. CSL were established and staffed with former employees of local branches of the Ministry of Labor (SCICA) (about 180) and with new recruits among young social science graduates (about 270), who were offered short-term job contracts (6 months) periodically renewed. Regional government was not fully supportive of the CSL (e.g., by doing competing policy initiatives and lacking coordinating programs) and planned to centralize labor services at the regional level, adding to the threat to “hollow out” the competences of the provinces (often portrayed as source of waste of public money).
4. Organizational changes in the CSL in Cagliari province Organizational design of the CSL separated “traditional” labor services (performed by former SCICA personnel) from ALMP services (conducted by the new recruits). Despite job rotation and other initiatives, the two groups of employees developed a conflictual relationship. The new recruited staff developed professional standards and codes of conducts for performing ALMP services, especially by networking and sharing knowledge and experience. Performance of ALMP services, however, remained relatively disappointing, provided that greater concern was placed with quantity of service delivery rather than quality and that the temporary staff remained generally uncommitted to CSL.
5. Explanatory arguments for the case path and outcome Components of the Organizational changeexplanatory argument process features Consolidation of new Lack of demonstrablyExplanandum work practices well-performing routines Features ofInitial conditions permanent staff Tasks enlargementPolicy design features Tasks enlargement Allocation of responsibilities to regions and LGs Modality of recruitmentPolicy process features Modality of recruitment “Silos” organizational design Conflict on competencesContext conditions between regions and LGs Certification Hypothesized social Protection of identities and roles Attribution of threats mechanisms Polarization
6. Conclusions The (a) quest for legitimacy for new ALMP services and (b) efforts to protect professional identities and roles, together with (c) particular organizational design features, led to the development of organizational capabilities (learning) to delivery ALMPs. However, (a) focused concern for quantity rather than quality and (b) conditions of recruitment of ALMP staff, together with (c) features of the political context, led to restraining from perfecting organizational routines. Political context conditions related to lack of inter- governmental collaboration did not seem to hamper the development of new work practices, but did play a (negative) role on the attainment of well-performing organizational routines.