What is Community Employment?
Community Employment or C.E. as it is more commonly known is a Department of Social Protection (DSP) scheme that is designed to bring people who are aged 25 years or over (23 in the case of childcare positions) and in receipt of a DSP payment for a year or more back into the labour market. Participants of C.E. schemes are primarily sponsored by community organisations and are active in the provision of some social service or social good. The participant is paid an additional €20 on top of their social protection entitlement. In addition, they can receive training up to FETAC level 6 (Post Leaving Cert level) as part of the contract.
What benefit is Community Employment to the participant?
Community Employment serves many benefits for both the individual participant and our society at large. For the individual, it gradually reintroduces people into the culture of employment. This concept of “the culture of employment” may sound wishy washy or abstract but it is a very real idea in its consequences. People who have been long term unemployed and who may not have gone to a third level institute can quickly become insecure in their abilities. C.E. allows such people to operate in a work environment with the aid of a supervisor who is there to support and encourage them. In addition, the nineteen and a half hour week that C.E. participants are expected to work is not as daunting as a regular 35 – 40 week in the private sphere.
A lot of participants as previously mentioned may not have much in the way of professional qualification and may similarly be insecure about pursuing third level or vocational degrees. C.E. participants are entitled to undergo tailored training often geared towards a specific career. They are given choice of course and it’s entirely funded by the Department of Social Protection. The courses are diverse in selection and can range from literacy to Fetac level 6 (which is considered post Leaving Cert standard).
Of course, there are different needs for different individuals and for different sub groups C.E offers better opportunities than the private labour market. People of senior age may not get any breaks in the private labour market but C.E. does provide for a productive role and purpose. This is an important point, nobody at any stage wants to lose their personal freedom and everyone deserves to feel they have purpose. Too often we forget that there are those in our society who would rather work than “enjoy” retirement.
There are of course people who suffer from addiction, who are similarly unattractive to the private sphere employer. It has been my own personal experience as someone who has spoken to former addicts at length that the most useful thing they required above all else in combating addiction is structure. If someone is trying to get clean and has no option (due to a reluctance from the employer and a lack of finances either to) but to sit at home and stare at the four walls, then sooner or later the temptation to return to substance abuse can become too much. C.E. schemes in special rehabilitation centres provide a structure that allows people to work, or to develop skills and a sense of pride that are crucial in defeating addiction.
Finally, for people living with a disability, whether it is intellectually, mentally or physically the same arguments of purpose, place, structure and of course, the social element of employment work equally well. This group too can suffer a great deal, despite well meaning equal opportunity initiatives, in the private labour market.
How does Community Employment Benefit Society?
The above arguments for Community Employment were taken from the participant perspective but of what value is it to the community as a whole? Community Employment is the life blood of community organisations up and down the state. Youth project, crèches, play schools, mediation services, welfare information offices, senior citizen groups, rehab groups, youth football clubs, usually involves a C.E. Scheme.
The community sector’s role is to pick up the shortfalls of the state’s laissez faire model of social provision and capitalism (low taxation and minimum welfare state). It is the community sector in conjunction with other organisations that works hard to give people an opportunity in life in otherwise disadvantaged areas. It is also the community sector that works with disadvantaged individuals. The point being that affordable childcare, and most youth projects up and down the state would not be able to operate without C.E. Schemes. Simply put the money is not there for community groups to put out these services whilst full time employing people and there certainly is not the motivation from the state to extend the public sphere to adequately fulfil these roles either.
Community Employment can also impact the labour market in unusual ways. When it was first introduced in the early 1990s, at a time when there was low female participation in the labour market, affordable childcare meant that “stay at home” mothers were able to enter employment. CE played an important role in challenging traditional gender stereotyping.