Access to the labour market, unemployment and language skills

01.2013 - 12.2014
Competences, Inequality, Institutions, Migration, Policy

In cooperation with the University of Lausanne UNIL

Today's labour market is characterised by a globalised economy with increasing immigration and mobility. Current economic, social and technological conditions have lent multilingual practices greater importance – and the demand for multilingual skills represents an added challenge for employees. Despite this growing importance, the connection between language community, language skills and access to the labour market has rarely been a subject of investigation. It is, however, critical to understand this link in order to determine the extent and conditions in which language is a valuable resource. In Switzerland, the cantonally run Regional Employment Centres (RAVs) furnish an ideal platform for studying these issues: RAV personnel advise and control job seekers with varying levels of language skills, who apply for a job with potential employers with diverse language-related requirements.

The research project at hand, based on a social constructivist approach, focused on the significance of language, language skills and language community in the job placement process. It investigated those language-related conceptions and representations which characterise institutional discourse and practices. On the one hand, the project concentrated on the governmental offices responsible for job placement and their accrued knowledge regarding language and the labour market. On the other, the project's team accompanied job seekers in the Regional Employment Centres in their efforts to obtain advice and find work. The following research questions were addressed:

  1. What role do language skills and linguistic heritage play in discourses and practices of people participating in the labour market (labour market authorities, personnel advisers, job seekers, etc.)?
  2. What language skills are considered essential for gaining access to the labour market?
  3. What strategies do the various actors employ to acknowledge and support linguistic resources?
Purpose – Expected results

An online survey with personnel advisers in Regional Employment Centres across Switzerland and ethnographic research in three RAVs in the bilingual Canton of Fribourg revealed that language plays an important role both as part of the RAVs’ institutional processes and for all individuals concerned. However, there are substantial differences with respect to prescribing linguistic labour-market measures and evaluating the importance of linguistic competences for an individual’s employability. Dependent on the latter’s educational level, linguistic heritage and the job applied for as well as the institutional representative’s dominant (investment or integration) logics, language competences are variably weighted and, as a consequence, promoted.