Active inclusion is a concept the European Commission [1
] emphasizes for the labor market inclusion of unemployed or/and vulnerable people. In EU member states, there is support for these labor market policies [2
Understanding the employability of vulnerable people is important because it can suggest ways for social agents to carry out interventions. Moreover, employability is a tool for analyzing and modifying the labor, socioeconomic, and political context [3
]. The European Union (EU) presents employability as the path to full employment and active citizen promotion [4
], and as a fundamental strategy to reduce current unemployment rates [5
] and poverty [6
]. In fact, employability is a mechanism to reduce job insecurity and improve job welfare [8
]. Therefore, employability is an important issue in the current scenario and deserves more attention [9
Currently, getting a job can be defined as an evolutionary process because it allows social integration, provides economic stability, and promotes health [11
]. However, labor market conditions and the current economic crisis in the Western world make this job-seeking and job-obtaining process difficult. The effects of this deep crisis in Spain can be seen, for example, in the destruction of jobs and the increasing precariousness of employment. The conditions of the labor market and the current situation of the global economic crisis make it difficult for refugees in particular to find and obtain work. Thus, economic, social, and territorial inequalities are accentuated [12
]. Instability, discrimination, alterations in health, and unworthy living conditions are characteristics of the current society in which we live. Therefore, job insecurity translates into social and economic discrimination, health diseases, and unsuitable living conditions, etc. (see [13
]). For refugees, getting a job is necessary for their social integration, and employability is their best resource.
The scientific literature shows many definitions of employability, and it is difficult to find a consensual one. For some authors, employability is the capacity for self-movement within the labor market, in order to apply one’s potential to lasting jobs [14
]. For other authors, employability is the personal capacity or opportunity to find a job, either in the first job-seeking situation or when trying to find another alternative job [8
]. Moreover, Van der Heijde and Van der Heijden [17
] refer to employability as a systematic ability to obtain or create work through the optimization of personal skills.
In all these definitions, the construct refers to the person and society. However, we need a framework with a holistic view that integrates the individual’s responsibility, personal circumstances, and contextual factors of employability. The Bioecological Model of Employability [18
] provides this framework, based on the bioecological theory [19
]. In this model, employability is defined as a transversal meta-competence related to employment [20
] that includes thirteen indicators: perseverance, academic qualifications, professional qualifications, learning to learn, time management, task management, initiative, social skills, autonomy, the will and willingness to work, specific professional skills, personal care, and work experience [3
In the scientific literature, studies have analyzed employability in university students (e.g., [21
]), older workers (e.g., [22
]), and according to gender (e.g., [23
]), but migrant workers (e.g., [24
]) or refugees are not usually studied. However, according to Álvarez, Favieres, Muñiz, Senante, Valiente, and Amorós [25
], there are 70 million refugees in the world. The European Union member states do not unitarily confront the challenges of forced migration [26
], and the Mediterranean is the most perilous migration route. In 2019, 118,264 people requested international protection in Spain, which represents an increase of 118.7% compared to 2018. Moreover, Spain is one of the European Union countries in which poverty has grown the most, and job insecurity rates have reached 40% [25
For the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), refugees are people fleeing their countries due to armed conflicts or persecution. Their situation is both dangerous and intolerable, given that they escape from their country to search for security, assistance, and recognition as refugees [27
]. This recognition is necessary because it is too dangerous for these people to return to their country of origin [28
Different authors have pointed out that participation in the labor market is the most important factor in refugees’ social integration and health and well-being. However, there is a ‘refugee gap’ [29
] that is reduced over time and through labor inclusion (active job) in the receiving countries [30
]. Blustein [31
] highlights that being part of the working population involves social recognition and provides resources for a dignified life, sustainable development, and health and well-being. This situation makes it possible “to live productively, happily and healthily” [32
] (p. 308). However, in most EU countries, refugees are excluded from participation in the labor market [26
]. Correa–Velez, Barnett, and Gifford [33
] state that entering the labor market is difficult for refugees and that some of them experience high social barriers (legal regulations, few bridging institutions between them and their labor integration, racism, a lack of experience with the labor market of the host country, and missing employability skills for this country). Desiderio [34
] used the expression ‘missing link’. This situation has detrimental effects on health, personal security, self-esteem, and overall well-being [35
The European Quality Assurance Reference Framework for Vocational Educational and Training (VET) has been adopted by EU countries [36
]. It aims to improve the employability of vulnerable groups such as adult refugees [37
]. In Spain, some nonprofit organizations currently defend the need to increase employability skills (e.g., [38
]), and the European Commission highlights the importance of refugees’ employability for their labor market integration [39
]. In this line, the labor integration of refugees is urgent. They make up a smaller population than immigrants but have a greater vulnerability. Specifically, according to the European Training Foundation (ETF) [40
], since 2008, Southern Mediterranean countries such as Spain have produced uneven growth, low-quality jobs, and high unemployment among vulnerable people.
The data provided by Gayo and Quintana [41
] showed that job destruction and a high concentration in a few labor sectors have led to an increase in the number of unemployed individuals in this collective, decreasing their employment contracts and work authorizations and lowering salaries. Therefore, the poverty risk rate has increased exponentially in this social group. All these aspects have contributed to aggravating what some experts have called ‘the refugee crisis’ (see [42
Thus, due to the relevance of changing this situation, our aim is to analyze refugees’ employability in Spain and to implement some intervention strategies to improve it.
Well-being is an indicator of positive psychological development, and it is positively linked to employability (e.g., [43
]), career success [44
], and inclusion in the active labor market of the receiving countries. It is related to individual characteristics in the acquisition of employability skills (e.g., flexibility) [45
] and contextual dimensions [46
]. This study, in line with Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory, seeks a comprehensive and manageable approach to the development of refugees’ employability. For this purpose, the theoretical framework used is the Bioecological Model of Employability (BME) by Llinares, Zacarés, and Córdoba [18
]. Thus, we assess refugees’ employability in one of the Spanish CARs (Refugee Reception Centers) using the EAS (Employability Appraisal Scale by Llinares, González, Zacarés, and Córdoba) [3
The results will allow us to design, implement, and evaluate interventions to improve refugees’ employability. Hence, refugees will be able to improve their employability meta-competence in order to effectively manage their own labor careers.
Some intervention programs have been developed to teach employability-communication skills to adult migrants (e.g., [47
]), and there are projects to increase migrants’ employability (e.g., project SAMIN in SOLIDAR [49
]). However, few studies and interventions have focused on refugees’ employability, even though they make up a high-risk group with serious job-seeking difficulties. They are forced to accept precarious job conditions for which they might be overqualified [50
]. Moreover, most of these studies have focused on refugees hosted by classic receiving countries, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia [51
]. Their findings showed that refugees have an economically disadvantageous position compared to other social groups.
Some recent studies have been interested in health and integration policy aspects. Väyrynen [54
] states that health is an important factor in explaining economic disadvantage because refugees have experienced a post-traumatic stress situation. In addition, authors also state that the predisposition of the integration policies can make the difference between social inclusion and marginalization [53
De Vroome and Van Tubergen [55
] analyzed four factors in western European countries, and they found, regarding human capital, that knowledge of the host country language and work experience played a very important role. Moreover, education in the host country plays a more relevant role in labor and economic inclusion than the education received in the country of origin. Finally, they found an international transferability phenomenon [56
]. In other words, education stimulation and development opportunities involved the reactivation of skills and abilities that already existed in the person but were not manifested in the receiving country. Regarding social capital, contact with associations or institutions and the native population plays a fundamental role in economic and labor integration, as well as contact—oriented towards employability—with the ethnic group and place of residence [58
]. In the health area, general health problems and depression negatively influence employability. Böckerman and Ilmakunnas [59
] have highlighted that unemployment and health problems constitute a vicious circle that feeds itself continually because unemployment is associated with health problems and health problems lead to unemployment. Unemployed refugees have economic difficulties and a lack of access to basic resources for their social integration. Campbell, Mann, Moffatt, Dave, and Pearce [60
] reported that this situation was related to poor emotional well-being and health. Therefore, a higher unemployment and poor health usually have interrelated effects in refugees [61
]. Finally, based on the receiving country’s policies, there is an inversely proportional relationship between staying in institutional centers and labor and economic integration. However, this relationship is mediated by post-migratory human capital; that is, a greater human capital is related to a less negative impact on labor and economic integration [55
A comprehensive approach to the refugees’ problem is needed from an employability perspective as a possible tool to improve their precarious situation and social exclusion risk. Therefore, we aim to develop and implement an effective and efficacious psychosocial intervention program to improve the employability skills of refugees in Spain. Based on an early-stage diagnostic assessment to identify refugees’ employability skills, the main hypothesis is that the intervention would significantly improve refugees’ employability and impact their labor and economic integration [55
The main objective of this research was to analyze refugees’ employability and then design, implement, and evaluate an intervention program to improve their employability skills.
The active inclusion of refugees in the labor market is the way to modify their socioeconomic status [3
] and, hence, their well-being. In this regard, some official organisms emphasize employability as a fundamental strategy to cope with poverty. However, although there are 70 million refugees in the world [25
], few studies have shown interest in them. It is likely that refugees’ social barriers, such as legal regulations or missing employability skills [33
], have been the “missing link” [34
], and refugees have been excluded from participating in labor market integration [26
]. This corresponds to an important increase in the poverty risk rate [41
], which has been called the refugee crisis [42
]. Therefore, our first aim was to discover refugees’ employability by evaluating them in a Refugee Reception Center in Spain. We diagnosed the refugees’ employability, and we also interviewed the institution’s social agents.
The group of refugees was heterogeneous with diverse backgrounds. Refugees do not speak fluent Spanish, they are not familiar with Spanish culture, and they do not have an official academic degree. They obtained high scores on employment protective behavior, self-learning, and employability perception, but not on job-seeking behavior and self-control. Thus, the refugees from the CAR are persistent people, and they have the necessary personal and organizational skills for labor inclusion. However, they need to improve their active job-seeking behavior and emotional control.
The content analysis of the interviews highlighted important deficits in job-seeking expectations, job-seeking behavior, self-control, and job-interview coping. Finally, we also found low education and economic stability levels.
As the literature points out, employability is an indicator of well-being [43
] because, from a holistic framework [18
], it integrates characteristics such as initiative, learning to learn, autonomy, and personal care. Indeed, some authors (e.g., [55
]) state that knowledge of the host country’s language, education stimulation, development opportunities, and contacts with associations or institutions and the native population, among other things, play a fundamental role in economic and labor integration. Therefore, our second aim was to develop and implement an effective and efficacious psychosocial intervention program to improve refugees’ employability skills in Spanish.
Thus, based on the employability diagnosis, we designed a program to promote better self-control and job-seeking behavior. Moreover, we wanted to reduce the employment risk level and, indirectly, increase the employability perception of the users. This program was based on the four-factor model proposed by De Vroome and Van Tubergen [55
]. The results showed the program’s effectiveness in improving the self-control and job-seeking capacity. However, no differences were obtained in the employment risk level or the employability perception.
Due to the lack of these kinds of interventions in the literature, we cannot make any comparisons, but we can highlight the importance of these measures for enhancing the collective’s social integration in our society [50
]. Furthermore, it is essential to consider the four elements proposed by De Vroome and Van Tubergen [55
], which include human and social capital, health, and host country policies.
4.1. Limitations and Future Research
The program improved the refugees’ employability, which was our main objective. However, several limitations should be acknowledged. First, we used two employability questionnaires to measure the construct. Nevertheless, the Spanish level of some users did not allow them to answer the questions properly. Given this situation, the questionnaire was administered as a structured interview. Therefore, future intervention programs should measure employability with qualitative, observable indicators and should consider creating a standardized questionnaire that measures refugees’ employability.
Second, another limitation was the sample composition. The intervention program was designed for refugees who were in a specific CAR, and there were few registered users. Thus, the sample size was reduced, which may have affected the results obtained. In this sense, Bagiella and Chang [66
] state that intervention studies with small sample sizes may not have statistically significant effects even if they exist and could refuse interventions that actually generate a real effect on people. However, many intervention programs have this limitation because they are intended for specific groups and, in this sense, resemble case studies. The aim of this study is not to generalize the results, mainly because the sample only pertains to a working-age population. Nevertheless, future studies should increase the number and ages of subjects so as to reach a statistical power sufficient for detecting the magnitude of the effect of the intervention program.
Third, the SPSS statistical package and the techniques we used required the use of large samples. Thus, future studies should consider the use of statistical packages that are not susceptible to the sample size or the use of qualitative techniques.
Fourth, due to the characteristics of the sample and the temporality problem, only two measures were taken (pretest and post-test). These measures are considered sufficient to evaluate intervention programs. Nevertheless, future interventions should be designed with a greater time extension that allows three or more evaluation measures.
Fifth, the intervention program focused on human and social capital. It did not consider other components proposed by De Vroome and Van Tubergen [55
], such as health problems. However, due to the short stay, we preferred to focus on only a few aspects in order to produce better effects. Future research should consider aspects such as war experiences, cultural aspects, etc. It is in line with the notion of social investment to improve the employability of disadvantaged groups [67
], as well as the job security [68
] and the health and well-being of refugees [69
Despite these limitations, the results showed the efficacy of the intervention program in improving the refugees’ employability capacity. Given that employability is fundamental to social integration [70
], implementing these types of measures could be essential in achieving this objective. By carrying out these initiatives in a coordinated and integrated way with the different associations or centers belonging to the Employment and Social Security Ministry, we could improve refugees’ risk of social exclusion and promote their psychosocial integration.
Thus, this program represents an advance in the refugees’ social and labor inclusion process, and it has theoretical and practical implications. As regards theoretical implications, it should be noted that we did not find data on the individual employability variables of refugees in Spain. The program also has practical implications because it was an attempt to promote refugees’ labor integration in Spain. So far, only a few isolated initiatives have pursued refugees’ integration in the Spanish context (such as Altius Foundation with the Erasmus + Restore Respect project) [71
We would also like to highlight the practical policy implications derived from our results because the political and social debate about population displacement is not new and implies major challenges for all states [25
]. Indeed, in 2018 the Global Refugee Pact was signed by the ONU General Assembly. This is a nonbinding pact, but it implies a commitment to implement migration policies of social and labor inclusion for refugees. However, the access of refugees to the most basic social services (e.g., housing, employment, education, health...) is a difficult matter [72
]. The labor inclusion of refugees is a long-term goal that is difficult to implement.
In Spain, the process of integration has been slow. The right to work is developed in a context of crisis and precarious markets. This implies the need for new models and best practices. In this sense, there is a demand in Spain for policies that refer to alternative methods that evaluate and promote not only the transversal but also the technical and linguistic skills of refugees. In the current business context, human resource policies are based on skills management, and therefore their development must be part of the public policies that contribute to access to employment. This development can be promoted at an individual or group level, as in the intervention program developed in this study, and can focus on the development of transversal and/or technical competencies that depend on the characteristics of the group in question.