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2 The contribution of structural policies to economic and social cohesion: results and prospects

2.2 Assessing the effects of Community intervention (1994-99)

Objective 4: concentration on the training needs of SMEs

During the period 1994 to 1999, Objective 4 programmes, which were aimed at helping workers cope with industrial change, were altered significantly, as the underlying principles were re-interpreted and co-financed policies were modified.

Absorption problems, which were evident between 1994 and 1996, were overcome in the subsequent period, through a softening of the selection criteria and the application of less stringent requirements for co-financing in terms of the target group or type of training.

There are two groups targeted by Objective 4 measures, SMEs and workers at risk of job loss. Substantial efforts were made over the period to increase concentration on SMEs, but within these, training was mainly addressed to managers and highly-qualified workers, rather than those with the highest risk of becoming unemployed.

Evaluation of programmes has identified three types of effect - on firms, on employees and on training systems.

In the case of firms, the main effect was on changing attitudes towards continuing training and the kind of schemes carried out, in terms of the amount of training given, its quality, nature and relevance to industrial change as well as the number of employees covered.

In the case of employees, the effects were examined in terms of job improvement (or reduced risk of redundancy) and employability, as reflected in more and/or higher qualifications. At this stage, however, few evaluations have been completed because of the delay in the launch of Objective 4 and, consequently, the significant number of projects which are still ongoing. Those available suggest, in some cases, that firms benefited more than employees and, in others, that benefits were divided between greater competitiveness of firms and improved qualifications of some categories of employees.

The ESF also had an important effect in improving training systems, through structuring the continuing training offered, widening the provision of continuing training in SMEs and encouraging the development of better systems of labour market analysis.

Although Objective 4 as such has not been included in the 2000 to 2006 period, several of the underlying principles have been incorporated as part of the priority given to lifelong learning in the new Objective 3, such as the inclusion of preventative measures in training programmes, the need to focus on employees at risk and mobilisation of SMEs.

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