The audience’s attention was instantly drawn when cabaret performer and writer Vincent Bijlo wished the crowd a boisterous and hearty good morning at 10am on November 11 at the Meervaart. It was his task to open the 9th Annual Amsterdam Participation Fair. The common thread chosen this year was the topic of inclusive labour markets. This was concurrently the subject of the three-day European conference Make It Work, of which the second day took place at the Amsterdam Participation Fair. Just as past years, visitors could familiarize themselves and specifically search for options in the areas of education, employment and involvement.
In order to illuminate the theme of the fair, Vincent Bijlo was given an hour and a half to discuss with a variety of guests. Bijlo, blind from birth, has had plenty of his own experiences with prejudices, limitations, the disabled and employment. “I have never declared myself unfit for work, even though I was advised to. An inclusive labour market is a labour market where people are not pigeon-holed” says Bijlo in the jekuntmeer.nl periodical that was published especially for this occasion.
First to speak was Corine van de Burgt, director of De Omslag. As organizer of the Participation Fair for the past nine years, she still sees a real need for it. “It remains a fair that adds value; a matchmaker, an inspiration bringing knowledge together.” Eric van Burg, a municipal council member, affirms. “I have seen the fair grow these past years. The number of visitors, organisations and activities has increased as well as the diversity available. It’s great that that people can be introduced to all of these projects and organisations”.
Bijlo subsequently invited municipal council member Arjan Vliegenthart and Jos Verhoeven from Start Foundation to the podium. Before their conversation he read out loud the column “The labour market as carnival” by Will Tinnemans(for reference see the back page of the jekuntmeer.nl periodical). Unfortunately Will Tinnemans unexpectedly passed away of a heart attack at the end of October. Commissioned by Start Foundation, Tinnemans wrote a book this past year titled “The vulnerable” in collaboration with Verhoeven who will now continue the the project. Verhoeven implores for a different layout of the labour market, a more flexible one. Vliegenhart also speaks of a dismantling of the bureaucracy and the creation of more jobs. “For example employment opportunities that initially provide assistance but that lead to sustainable employment, thereby cutting out the need for subsidy.” Moreover we want to make it appealing for businesses to settle here and interesting for them to hire those quite removed from the labour market.” The councilman confirmed that at least 42 people with impairments are to be employed by the municipality every year.
Over 65% of people with sensory disabilities sit at home. “Too absurd for words” says Sandra Ballij, social entrepreneur and owner of Ctalents, an organisation that discovers and helps apply the talents of those with sensory disabilities. Passionately she tells of her start 7 years ago with Ctaste: dining in the dark thereby enhancing the other senses. Soon followed Cthecity and then Ctalents in 2013. Ballij says “Our goal is to reduce the unemployment rate of those that are deaf or blind to or below 20%. Because of their disabilities, our target group possesses unique talents that can enrich an organisation.” Ellen Jacobs, director of MKB Amsterdam supports this wholeheartedly. “It is of vital importance that companies start to realize the benefits of employing those with disabilities. It is constructive for the social cohesion of a company; a pleasurable atmosphere is essential for getting the most out of your employees.”
In conclusion Frank Kalshoven, director of the Argumentation Factory, took the stand. His speech, under the heading of Groeiland (also the title of a book he recently authored) discussed the newly flourishing labour market for the so called unproductive. “We must stop thinking in terms of jobs but instead think in available work. The playing field must be enlarged and I implore that we create economy by utilizing the work by the “unproductive” (for more please see the the last page of the jekuntmeer.nl periodical). Summing it up, Van de Burgt asserts that things have been put into motion and many people are taking action. “Discovering talents is an art form. This holds true not only for those with disabilities but also without. Let us share our knowledge, ideas and experience so that we may deliver tailor-made results in preparation for an inclusive labour market!”
In 2014 the fair was renamed as the jekuntmeer.nl Fair to emphasize that the Amsterdam Participation Fair represents the live version of jekuntmeer.nl. Nearly 1800 visitors took part in the fair this year where more than 70 projects, organisations and companies pitched themselves and their services. On the first floor, in collaboration with the Werkgeversservicepunt Groot Amsterdam(an employment agency for those with employment disadvantages),a job fair was organized to bring visitors in direct contact with employers that had current employment availability for those with an employment disability. Just as the previous year, it was possible to create and complete a resume using the resume game. Existing resumes were reviewed by the attending resume doctor who also gave out handy job interviewing tips to visitors.
Besides employment there was also plenty of participation opportunites represented. Everything from community projects, neighborhood activities, (vocational) day services and training opportunities, all was readily available!
De Omslag aims to set an example of dedication and involvement. Thus Kwekerij Osdorp provided the sandwiches for the visitors and the lunch packets for the faculty, volunteers from Pantar checked jackets at the cloakroom, goodies could be purchased in the restaurant that were catered by Lunchroom De Buren who also provided lunch for the B&W lecture as well as 100 conference attendees, Roads transport brought people to and from the Participation Fair and delicious cakes could be purchased from Confuus. To top it off, the delightful and cozy sitting area was furnished and transported by Kringloopbedrijf De Lokatie (a second-hand/thrift shop).
From the 10th to the 12th of November, 2014 “Make it work” took place in Amsterdam, a European conference dealing with participation, work integration and social entrepreneurship. The conference brought approximately 100 participants together from 15 countries, forming the keystone of the European Commission subsidized project INWORK. The goal of this project is to advance the social participation and employment integration of vulnerable groups. Social entrepreneurs, policymakers, researchers, social workers, guidance counselors and clients of work and integration projects all made up the participants of the conference.
The second day of the conference took place in Meervaart during the Participation Fair. Workshops were offered and participants could partake as well as gather inspiration for their own projects. (www.inworkproject.eu)
The Amsterdam Participation Fair 2014 was made possible in part by the financial support provided by the following sponsors: Dienst Wonen, Zorg en Samenleven, Dienst Werk en Inkomen, city districts West, Oost en Centrum, Werkgeversservicepunt Groot Amsterdam, Kwekerij Osdorp and Kringloopbedrijf De Lokatie.