Ageing Society, Migration & Remigration

22. Apr. 2013

Editorial: Interview with Berenike Ecker, Head of Work & Equal Opportunities (A&C)

‘Creating greater solidarity between able and disabled people, between the old and the young, between women and men, between regions, and between thosewho are wealthy and those who are less lucky in life. This is really the vision we have - and have been promoting for 10 years now.‘
(Anne-Sophie Parent Secretary General, AGE Platform Europe in 2011:

 ‘Older people are no longer the other.

(One of the keyideas of Sarah Harper in Mature societies: planning for our future selves. In: Daedalus. Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Winter 2006)

‘I hope I die before I get old.’

(A line of a pop classic of the British band “THE WHO” in 1965: The WHO, now arrived in their 60s, were giving a vivid concert on the occasion of the Olympic Games in London in 2012. )

The phenomena of an ageing population has gained central importance for our society. The topical area of ZSI Work & Equal Opportunities (A&C) discovered the subject early. In the synopsis of the studies and projects of ZSI: Which are the challenges and opportunities of an ageing society?

My vision regarding the unstoppable demographic change is to find a different approach concerning work in general and particularly on older workers and employees. Nowadays the majority of people perceive the third phase of life mostly as negative. One keyword is anti-ageing: People do a lot to keep away age. Far too often people express an attitude, which equates work with units of time until holidays or pension starts. Only then real life begins. I hope that innovative forms of generation management and new collective images will trigger a change. These images should represent work as fulfilling act, as well as older workers should be valued on the basis of their wealth of experience and knowledge. Older employees can bring a lot of potential and experience into the current world of work. In the Territorial Employment Pacts (TEPs), with the nationwide coordination unit (Kooo) located at the ZSI, experts from different fields and institutions work to support a positive development concerning these challenges. Moreover challenges and opportunities related to demographic change should be considered together. Demographic change and the associated impacts relate to political and social units such as state, administration, municipalities, or different policies in different forms and intensity.
This applies also increasingly to the field of policies of labour market and employment, economy, social affairs, health and migration, integration & discrimination.At ZSI we advise stakeholders of these political fields, moreover we are researching and coordinating thematic networks.
For example, our staff deals with issues about the support of older workers, as well as the (further) development of strategies and concepts for the integration of (long-term) unemployed elderly in the labour market. In the Territorial Employment Pacts (TEPs) experts develop e.g. ageing-appropriate education and training concepts. This happens in close cooperation with the provinces, the labour market service, the social partners and educational institutions.
At this point, I also would like to mention another current project on participation and empowerment supported by ZSI: The Green Paper "CE ageing strategy" of the project "CE Ageing Platform" includes recommendations for action and measures to tackle the challenges of demographic change in Central Europe.

Only 200 years ago life expectancy was significantly lower. Forecasts of various studies show a tendency; the average age will increase, and the same time the population will decrease, especially in Central Europe. Moreover, this group of elderly seems to consist mostly of women. Do you see deficits and potentials in terms of the issue equal opportunities?

This is a field in which one can put many accents. A fundamental approach is to strengthen the education and training opportunities for women. The target audience of older women – both employed as well as senior citizens - is affected by poverty remarkably higher, if they have little education, only compulsory education or no education degree at all. In the federal plan for senior citizens it is also pointed out that women of this age group are more at risk to be socially excluded. Both, politically and socially there are often very few options to participate for them.
Another aspect are twists and turns in people's biographies, which can be found in the vita of an older generation but also in younger generations of women. Those women were often only shortly formaly employed in their professional lifes. They disclaimed a professional career because of their family situation. At present the affected group unfortunately suffers from poorly paid social insurance tax, which is needed for an adequate pension. Moreover they have often earned less than their male colleagues during their professional career. However, the so-called gender pay gap still affects all women in Austria and in other European countries irrespectively of the age. At the institutional level, responsible person are trying to force the implementation of gender equality objectives in the course of the current new programme of EU cohesion policy.

Besides the top issue Ageing Society, Migration and Remigration have become key discussions become for society. Which approaches and issues do your team follow in the projects of ZSI's unit A&C?

Remigration is a relatively new direction of thrust in the context of research on migration. Researchers from A&C started to dedicate their work to re migration more intensively about two years ago. In this context I like to mention the project Return. The study focuses on returners in Central Europe: Who belongs to the target group? Who returns? These are the central questions for us. First outputs show that returners are rather younger people, who often have skills acquired during their stay abroad. The projects support the development of strategies and means of support, how returners can re-establish themselves in their countries of origin and can refeed their experience from abroad in their home regions. I call it "brain drain the other way round". Knowledge and human capital can flow back in the affected regions. In the best case these phenomena contribute to an economic strengthening of these regions. In general remigration is a difficult field of research, since data is still scarce.
In general A&C has gained expertise in the field of migration research for many years. Many projects of A&C are worth to be mentioned. The project ‘Berufliche Qualifizierung von EinwanderInnen in Tirol: Verläufe und Interventionsmöglichkeiten‘ is highly topical. Other compulsive examples are ‘How well does eduction travel?‘, ‘Sozialer Aufstieg aus dem Migrationsmilieu‘ or ‘Bildungshintergrund von MigrantInnen‘.

Do you see a shift of paradigm concerning our future world of work?

In my opinon this question is rather connected to the field of trend research or forsight. Nevertheless I have the courage to say that a paradigm shift has already occurred. What is clear is that classic professional careers, as they developed during the last 30 or 40 years, have changed. Former collective images, for example to start a professional training in a particular company and to remain there until my retirement, have fundamentally changed and become reality for a minority of workers. The use of technology and modified working modes including new forms of communication or working time models up to telework are no longer necessarily new and are successfully practiced in many companies.
To me it seems highly relevant to perceive the cultural aspect of work. Nowadays there is an attitude of many well-educated, who are looking for satisfying and to them meaningful jobs. In this context a higher standard has evolved, which I can also perceive in my personal environment. In the best case work should be customizable to the priorities of life periods. There is also a growing challenge for companies: Younger employees might no longer be stroungly bound to a company.

For more than 20 years the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) is a pioneer in the field of social innovation and innovation research. In accordance with the claim of the ZSI I like to ask: Are all innovations socially relevant?

There always have been social innovations. To identify them as such is often a matter of point of view and definition. To stay in my topical area, the social partners or trade unions come to mind as they represent a remarkable social innovation in the period of their foundation. Today prominent gaps and discontinuities in competences, for example concerning the service problems concerning young people, who get stuck in a period of change from school to vocational education and training, are compensated by innovative activities of the earlier mentioned TEPs in Austria. As one of many results there was an innovative form of start-up consulting developed, which also focuses on the development of intercultural competences. Another important example of a social innovation in the field of Work & Equal Opportunities is the guaranteed minimum income (Bedarfsorientierte Mindestsicherung), which was established in Austria in 2011. Many more social innovations can be found in the dynamic fields of solidarity and ethnic economies: Collaborative consumption like car sharing is another crucial social innovation to me, even if usually not being identified as such.

Introducing Berenike Ecker
Berenike Ecker studied Geography at the University of Vienna. Afterwards she passed the post graduate European studies at the University of Vienna. She gathered professional experience as co-ordinator in the network of regional management in Austria and as research co-ordinator in the University of Applied Sciences bfi Vienna. Since 2010 she works at ZSI - Centre for Social Innovation as research associate. She is mainly involved in the Co-ordination Unit (Kooo) of the Austrian Territorial Employment Pacts (TEP).

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Tags: ageing society, migration, social cohesion, social innovation, social sciences