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Lifelong Learning Policies for Young Adults in EuropeNavigating between Knowledge and Economy$

Marcelo Parreira do Amaral, Siyka Kovacheva, and Xavier Rambla

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781447350361

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447350361.001.0001

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A social investment perspective on lifelong learning: the role of institutional complementarities in the development of human capital and social participation

A social investment perspective on lifelong learning: the role of institutional complementarities in the development of human capital and social participation

(p.43) 3 A social investment perspective on lifelong learning: the role of institutional complementarities in the development of human capital and social participation
Lifelong Learning Policies for Young Adults in Europe

Yuri Kazepov

Ruggero Cefalo

Mirjam Pot

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter investigates the relationship between social investment (SI) and lifelong learning (LLL). First, we present and describe the SI and LLL perspectives, reviewing their foundations and main principles. Even if lifelong learning policies are considered part of a SI strategy, the origin of LLL perspective dates back to the 1960s. These approaches present significant overlaps, but also differences related to the scope and aims of interventions. Moreover, both the critical debates on SI and LLL stress the relevance of ambiguities that can be traced back to the co-existence of a narrower functionalistic understanding and market-led human capital approach (functionalistic view); vis-a-vis a holistic comprehension of inclusion taking into account issues of social participation and human capabilities. Second, we discuss the critical issue of institutional complementarities as preconditions for the effectiveness of SI policies, to be identified in the complex and time-framed interface among labour market, education system, and welfare state. By doing this, we go beyond the mere consideration of LLL policies as an example of social investment policy. We argue for a strategic role of LLL policies as specifically addressing the time dimension by means of coherent interventions over the life course.

Keywords:   Social investment, Lifelong learning policies, Complementarities, Life course, Human capital


The increasing educational level of young people, together with changing labour market dynamics, affects school-to-work transitions and young adults’ life course in general (Parreira do Amaral et al, 2015). The importance of education in the life course is a view shared across many theoretical approaches, both within and outside educational studies broadly conceived: from the sociology of education (Blossfeld et al, 2014) to pedagogical studies (Walther, 2006), as well as welfare studies (Busemeyer and Nikolai, 2010). In educational research, the lifelong learning (LLL) concept expresses the relevance of education and learning at every stage of individuals’ development (Aspin et al, 2012; Milana et al, 2018). Thus defined, LLL encompasses the whole life course of individuals, implying a continuous process of learning in formal, informal and non-formal settings. The ‘learning turn’ in the field of adult education (Seddon, 2018) produced an emphasis on perpetual learning: all stages of life are seen as requiring education, and at the same time, all areas of life provide learning opportunities (Wyn, 2009). This understanding of LLL relates to the wider context of a ‘learning society’ or ‘knowledge economy’ (Lundvall and Lorenz, 2012), and overlaps with the social investment (SI) approach to welfare studies and social policies. The SI perspective considers welfare policies as a productive factor connecting social inclusion strategies and economic growth, designed to ease life course transitions through synergic policy mixes. SI represents a paradigmatic shift, repositioning education to the centre of social policy reforms (Kazepov and Ranci, 2016). (p.44) Given the priority assigned to education and training activities, SI shares strong connections with the basic principles of LLL. In advocating for an integration of learning experiences along the entire biography, the SI approach is highly coherent with the theoretical framework of YOUNG_ADULLLT, as LLL policies are intended to promote the realisation of young adults’ potential in their life course, supporting inclusion primarily by connecting education and work. Within the SI literature, LLL is considered as a component of a coherent SI strategy (Hemerijck, 2017). Nonetheless, there is a lack of theoretical integration between the two concepts. In this chapter, we will explore the common ground underlying both the SI and the LLL approach in order to understand overlapping features and analytical ambiguities characterising the two approaches.

Increased interest in the two concepts is to be understood in the context of the new global economy, where productivity and competitiveness are the result of knowledge generation and information processing. The literature on individualisation and risk societies (Beck, 2000) argues that the new economy provides new opportunities to exert individual agency. In post-industrial learning societies or knowledge economies, individuals are expected to continuously upskill themselves in order to maintain integration in changing labour markets and gain upward mobility. Conversely, more critical approaches stress that the increased dependence on the market negatively affects the condition of less protected groups in the labour market: low-skilled people and those with disadvantaged backgrounds face a greater risk of social exclusion, while socially advantaged individuals are likely to have more freedom to negotiate their biographies. Breen (1997) refers to a process of selective recommodification that increases preexisting inequalities and transforms life course patterns. On closer inspection, although inequalities among countries are slowly shrinking, inequalities within countries have been rising over the last decades, even in northern European social democratic countries with more universalistic welfare states (Nolan, 2014).

Within the new global economy, LLL and SI strategies may be seen as policy levers available to governments to steer economic growth, and at the same time secure social cohesion. The two approaches differ with regard to the scope and aims of interventions, but also share several common features: indeed both LLL and SI stress the central role of education through the life course, advocating for an integration of learning experiences within the individual’s biography. Moreover, the two approaches carry various meanings and implications for different actors, international organisations and countries involved in their (p.45) translation into practice (Morel et al, 2012; Riddell et al, 2012). In the case of both LLL and SI, this can lead to different and partially ambiguous interpretations of the relationship between education and the life course.

In what follows, we will focus on the assumptions and policy strategies underlying these approaches, discussing how LLL can be integrated within a coherent SI strategy. According to the SI perspective, the welfare state should prepare individuals to face the challenges of a post-industrial society by means of activation and high-quality services, and not just intervene through traditional passive benefits (for instance, unemployment insurance) to buffer the impact of social risks. However, the time horizon of social policies may produce unpredictable consequences due to the temporal gap between interventions, such as educational provision, and their outcomes, for instance labour market integration. This is supported by recent empirical investigations showing that SI policies may have unintended perverse effects (Cantillon and Vandenbroucke, 2014). We argue that these temporal gaps could potentially be bridged by LLL policies that extend training and learning through the life course. The re-synchronisation of SI policies through LLL policies allows us to identify a holistic and coherent framework underlying social and educational interventions, where the goal of employability is accompanied by a capability-related form of empowerment that respects personal aspirations towards self-realisation (Cefalo and Kazepov, 2018).

In order to explore this framework, the chapter is structured in three parts. In the first and second sections, we present and describe the LLL and SI perspectives, reviewing their foundations. The two approaches present significant overlap and ambiguities which we analytically unpack. Most important for our analysis is the fact that they both display a narrow, ‘functionalistic’ and market-led human capital approach, in contrast to a ‘holistic’ understanding of education that addresses issues of social participation and human capabilities. In the third section, we discuss the concept of complementarities – both contextual and institutional – as a critical perspective needed to understand the (pre)conditions influencing the effectiveness of SI strategies. The complex and time-framed interplay between labour market, education system and welfare arrangements presents relationalities which are often overlooked. The YOUNG_ADULLLT project contributed to this issue by contextualising LLL policies as investment-related policies at the interface of relevant institutions within functional regions (FRs) (see Chapter 1, in this volume). By (p.46) investigating these relationships, in this chapter we go beyond mere consideration of LLL policies as an example of SI policy. We rather argue in favour of the relevance of LLL policies, specifically their role in addressing potential time gaps within the SI perspective which might emerge between investment in education and its supposed positive economic returns.

Between human capital and capabilities: the changing concept of LLL

The concept of ‘LLL’ was introduced in the 1960s to denote the function of education in relation to individuals’ life courses (Bagnall, 1990). It has been variously interpreted in the education literature. A programmatic discourse on LLL developed in association with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Lifelong Education Unit. This position has been labelled as maximalist (Wain, 2001), as it considered lifelong education as involving a fundamental transformation of society, such that the whole society becomes a learning resource for each individual. This discourse takes into consideration the wider cultural, social and political context and conditions under which education and learning are taking place. Progress towards this emancipatory ideal is envisaged by radically rejecting education systems aligned with the needs of capitalism and advocating a paradigm shift in thinking about education (Wain, 2001). In the maximalist vision, education and learning would not be constrained to a certain phase in life, that is, childhood; a certain place, that is, school; nor to the activity of professional teachers (Bagnall, 2012). Instead, the maximalist position argues for an integration of learning experiences across the entire life course. The state plays an important role in this conception as it has to provide the resources for the realisation of this new educational vision.

During the 1970s, this maximalist movement lost UNESCO’s support and subsequently its influence in the debate surrounding LLL. Instead, narrower and instrumentalist discourses that linked LLL with further training and professional development gained ground, highlighting a functionalist view of LLL in relation to the labour market. The notion of learning society was reintroduced into the debate at the beginning of the 1990s; however, the main focus of the discourse shifted towards the increasing mismatch between competences acquired during schooling and the competences demanded by a fast-changing economy and an increasingly complex world. This mismatch was seen as a major factor behind the spread (p.47) of problems such as low employability, unemployment and social exclusion, which would also lead to a decrease in Europe’s economic competitiveness (Walker, 2012). The rapid change in the demand for skills has been defined as a key feature of an even faster changing economy, labelled as post-industrial, knowledge-based and service-oriented. Thus, LLL and a workforce capable and willing to adapt to these demands become an economic necessity. The reform of European education and training systems is one result of this need for increased flexibility and was premised on a redefinition of education and learning by aligning education with economic needs (Rizvi, 2007).

Supported by the European Union (EU), LLL has emerged as a key theme of educational, welfare and labour market policies since the late 1990s. However, this accompanied a recurring ambiguity regarding the aims of LLL policy interventions: education for productivity, human capital and competitiveness on the one hand; education for broader personal development and social inclusion, reminiscent of maximalist positions, on the other (Holford and Mohorčič Špolar, 2012).

Human capital theory assumes that economic advantage and growth are directly linked to investment in human capital. From this perspective, individuals are seen as resources and education is associated with the enhancement of one’s value on the labour market. Accordingly, the approach to LLL is strongly vocational (Ertl, 2006). The human capital approach therefore necessitates a reconceptualisation of the purpose of education itself. Overall, this approach remains anchored to a ‘functionalistic’ view of education as a means to update competences acquired in school, adapt to changing labour market needs and maintain the competitiveness of both individuals and economic systems.

However, the EU itself stressed that LLL has a range of non-economic justifications, stating that society and the economy would benefit from individuals’ engagement in LLL (Walker, 2012). Combating exclusion and fostering personal fulfilment of European citizens, as well as promoting social cohesion and upward social mobility, have been listed as objectives when implementing LLL policies (Commission of the European Communities, 2000). Moreover, various authors have criticised the human-capital-centred understanding of LLL. Examining labour market outcomes, Livingstone (2012) challenges the problem definition and corresponding solutions underlying the dominant understanding of LLL by pointing to the high degree of overqualification, that is, the share of people with higher educational attainment than their job requires. According to Rizvi (2007), treating (p.48) education as a quantifiable asset within a competitive labour market might intensify the division between valuable and non-valuable people. As education would serve in this sense as means for social efficiency rather than social equity it is likely to have a negative impact on social cohesion and even widen social inequalities. Furthermore, the focus on human capital is premised on a problematic understanding of citizenship, emphasising the economic and neglecting other human dimensions such as the social and political. According to Casey (2012), a different understanding of citizenship can be envisioned starting from a broader, ‘holistic’ perspective of LLL. Meanwhile, Walker (2012) proposes not to abandon but to complement the human capital approach by placing greater focus on human capabilities. This approach – built upon Sen’s broader capabilities understanding (Nussbaum and Sen, 1993) – maintains a recognition that education serves as a means to finding employment. More important, however, is education’s role in promoting well-being and agency, fostering an emancipatory ideal through the enhancement of capabilities for participation, empowering both individuals and society. At present, the emancipatory potential of LLL is hindered by a current bias towards the economic function of LLL (Biesta and Leary, 2012). In contrast, the capabilities approach recognises diversity in people’s abilities and the outcomes achieved by employing these abilities, including, but not restricting, these achievements to the domain of employment. Advocates of a wider and holistic perspective of LLL critique a narrow, functionalistic approach by connecting concerns about human capital, agency and well-being. In their view, a broader approach would shift the focus from education for economic means to education as means for human development, framing this as an end in itself.

A paradigmatic shift in social policies or just new rhetoric? The SI perspective

SI emerged at the end of the 1990s as a policy perspective supporting the relevance of the welfare state in employing public resources to foster productive social policies, combining social inclusion and economic competitiveness (Jenson, 2010). The origins of SI can be traced back to debates surrounding the relationship between the economy and the welfare state (Giddens, 1998; Esping-Andersen et al, 2002), as well as the place of education as a relevant dimension in comparative welfare analysis. The term ‘social investment’ was formally adopted in 2013 with the ‘Social Investment Package’ (EC, 2013), a political and policy platform set up by the Directorate General for Employment, (p.49) Social Affairs and Inclusion to steer social policy reforms in member states (Sabato, 2016).

Moving away from neoliberal approaches, SI advocates view welfare state policies as ‘active’ and ‘productive’ rather than ‘passive’ and understood as a ‘cost’. SI contributions refer to a positive theory of the state; simultaneously assuming a redistributive function by providing social protection to citizens in need, as well as an empowering function through services that promote individual skills and human capital, activation, work–life balance and smooth transitions. The principle aim is to increase participation in the labour market, especially in high-quality jobs: SI can be understood as policy investment in tomorrow’s tax payers as future productive workers (Hemerijck, 2017). Nonetheless, the activation approach should not be seen as a substitute for conventional income guarantees, as the minimisation of poverty and income security are preconditions for effective SI (Esping-Andersen et al, 2002).

The ambitious goals of SI are best supported by a comprehensive policy mix, broadly encompassing education policies, labour market policies, poverty alleviation policies and family policies. Interventions follow three analytically distinctive and complementary policy functions (Hemerijck et al, 2016):

  • easing the flow of contemporary labour market and life course transitions;

  • raising the quality of the stock of human capital and capabilities;

  • maintaining strong minimum-income universal safety nets, as social protection buffers in ageing societies.

Hemerijck puts forward an argument of functional complementarities (further developed in section ‘The devil in the detail: The complementarities of SI’), suggesting that the more these policies are aligned to a common goal and complement each other in a multiplicity of areas, the better returns they are able to provide. Such an argument stresses the relevance of institutional complementarities and synergies among policy interventions as necessary conditions for an effective SI strategy. A comprehensive SI strategy would involve increasing resources devoted to welfare policies in order to foster protection and promotion, competitiveness and inclusion (Morel et al, 2012). If resources remain constant or decrease, a trade-off occurs, undermining the expected positive outcomes of SI policies. SI strategy has rarely been related to the economic cycle, an oversight given that during crisis years budget cuts undermine investment in social policies. In this regard, Barbier (2017) (p.50) envisages two ways of implementing SI principles. The first has its roots in neoliberal economics, stressing the unsustainability of welfare provision and the risks of welfare dependency. Here, SI policies are governed by a functionalist view of education subject to market logics, substituting social protection with activation policies aimed at forcefully reintegrating people into the labour market. This ‘functionalistic’ understanding of SI contrasts with a second and more comprehensive and ‘holistic’ view, aimed at combining traditional social policy protection and SI promotion in order to increase participation and self-realisation as well as employment. Such contrasting approaches can be traced back to the lack of a common intellectual origin for this policy perspective (Morel et al, 2012), which was nurtured both by contributions from social democratic academics (Esping-Andersen et al, 2002) inspired by the example of the Nordic welfare states; and Third Way intellectuals and policy makers representing an Anglo-liberal view of social policy (Giddens, 1998). According to the Third Way, inequalities produce dynamism in the economy, and welfare state restructuring should imply a shift from traditional social protection to active policies fostering human capital development. Social democratic academics meanwhile consider the reduction of inequalities to be an explicit aim of SI necessary for economic efficiency. Furthermore, they state that the new welfare state architecture should be based on both an ‘investment strategy’ and a ‘protection strategy’ (Vandenbroucke and Vleminckx, 2011).

The SI perspective has also been widely debated and criticised in other ways. SI interventions are said to have ambiguous outcomes for inequalities and poverty trends (Nolan, 2013; Cantillon and Vandenbroucke, 2014): Bonoli and colleagues (2017) argue that human capital investments in childcare and higher education, as well as active labour market policies, are often biased by ‘Matthew effects’ – where measures designed to favour disadvantaged people have the opposite outcome. For instance, job-related training may require a proficient command of the local language and some cognitive or non-cognitive skills. The most disadvantaged might lack this knowledge and the required skills, thereby reinforcing their disadvantage. Other authors argue that the impact of SI cannot be taken for granted without considering the interplay between the socioeconomic and institutional contexts, which influences the outcomes of interventions: we can speak of contextual and institutional complementarities as key factors explaining restricted opportunities for developing SI policies and their limited impact in countries such as Italy (Kazepov and Ranci, 2016, 2017).

(p.51) SI can be viewed as a paradigmatic change in the field of social policies, supporting policy interventions that focus more on prevention than on protection. Education and training policies represent the core of a policy mix that aims to prepare individuals for the uncertain landscape of social risks affecting contemporary societies, rather than providing reparatory compensation when the risks occur. This understanding of education represents the main connecting element between SI and LLL. Thus, the two concepts are placed in relation to one another and the ground is laid for analytical cross-contamination.

Considering education policies as part of welfare policies has significant consequences from an analytical point of view, in particular in the field of comparative research on welfare states. As stated by Wilensky (1975: 3): ‘education is special’. While social policies are directly redistributive, thus affecting equality of outcomes, education is not directly redistributive, following a different principle of social justice: equality of opportunity. As it is conditioned by occupational structures and influenced by social background, investing in education can produce differentiated outcomes in terms of inequality and labour market participation (Checchi et al, 2014). Accordingly, comparative studies on social policies have often neglected education policies when analysing welfare state interventions (Busemeyer and Nikolai, 2010).

In the SI debate and literature, LLL is usually considered as part of investment strategies involving various policy fields. However, due to the similar constitutive tensions in their guiding principles, LLL is unable to resolve the ambiguities of the SI approach as these are inherent in social policies which oscillate between control and empowerment. The aforementioned tensions between human capital and social inclusion, efficiency and equity, therefore need to be disentangled by moving from the ideational principles to the implementation of SI and LLL policies. We believe that this can be done through the concept of institutional complementarities, stressing the synergies between policy interventions and contexts (Hemerijck, 2017; Kazepov and Ranci, 2017).

The devil in the detail: the complementarities of SI

The SI approach considers welfare policies as a productive factor connecting social inclusion and economic growth, designed to ease life course transitions through institutional complementarities and synergic policy mixes. In this section we elaborate on this distinctive characteristic of SI, highlighting shortcomings and risks that hamper the adoption of SI interventions and policy mixes in different contexts.

(p.52) Institutional complementarities (Gagliardi, 2014) are crucial when addressing the assumptions underlying the SI perspective and its policy developments. The term gained momentum in the early 2000s, being widely used in the historical and comparative institutional analyses of capitalism (Hall and Soskice, 2001). This literature used the concept within a political economy framework, in order to explain persistently different institutional arrangements, implying that institutions established at various levels of a system are context dependent, rather than invariably conditioned by strict efficiency considerations (Gagliardi, 2014). Accordingly, two institutions can be defined as complementary if the presence (or efficiency) of one increases the returns from (or efficiency) of the other (Hall and Soskice, 2001). The underlying assumption is that certain institutional forms, when jointly present, reinforce each other and contribute to improving the functioning, coherence or stability of specific institutional configurations (Amable, 2016). Complementarities deal with the interdependence and the effects of interaction among single elements/institutions within a more complex configuration. This goodness of fit triggers synergic effects where the functional performance of one institution is positively affected by the combination with other institutions, resulting in a quantitatively and qualitatively better outcome. Furthermore, this means that several combinations of complementary institutions might exist that can bring about a beneficial effect in terms of aggregate economic performance (levels of growth, employment, productivity) and/or deliver benefits to specific groups (Crouch et al, 2005). There is no one-size-fits-all practice; instead subsystems with specific characteristics work together to produce a certain result.

A high degree of complementarity is usually associated with the Fordist post-Second World War period (until the early 1970s), also corresponding with the Golden Age of the welfare state: during ‘mid-century social compromise’ industrialism, capitalism, liberalism and citizenship achieved a distinctive balance in Western Europe (Boyer and Saillard, 2005) that resulted in the expansion of the welfare state and the wide diffusion of well-being (Crouch, 1999; Amable, 2016). On a country-level scale, the concept can also be applied to comparative analyses of welfare and capitalism. By analysing the combinations among the state, the market and the family – considered as institutions aimed at addressing social risks by following specific principles of resource allocation – scholars identified several welfare regimes which developed over decades (Esping-Andersen, 1990; Arts and Gelissen, 2002). In the varieties of capitalism (VoC) literature, Hall (p.53) and Soskice (2001) described Germany as a typical case of coordinated market economies, stressing that German firms rely heavily on non-market relationships to coordinate their endeavours with other actors and to construct strategic competencies, in order to maintain competitiveness. Busemeyer and Trampusch (2012) also rely on the concept of complementarity to define a typology of skill formation systems, looking at the varying degree of firms’ involvement and public commitment to vocational education and training (VET). Capsada-Munsech and colleagues (2018) classified the countries and FRs participating in the YOUNG_ADULLLT project according to this skill formation typology. As a result, Austria and Germany are classified under the collective regime, where the long-standing tradition in adult education and VET involves collaboration among firms, social partners and the state in vocational skills provision. Finland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain are seen as being part of the statist regime, where adult education and VET are state-funded and more institutionalised, with lower firm involvement. Finally, Croatia and Scotland are considered to be cases of liberal regimes, where vocational skills are mostly provided by on-the-job training in firms, with a generally low public commitment to VET and adult education. The authors also identify similarities across regimes. For instance, many countries do not exhibit a high level of internal coherence but are instead ‘mid-spectrum’ or ‘mixed market economies’ (Rhodes, 2005).

The concept of institutional complementarity should not be understood statically. In fact, institutional change represents a privileged perspective for understanding how social systems transform themselves through changing balances among institutions. Processes of policy change usually evolve incrementally within the limits of institutional configurations, rather than occurring during critical junctures of institutional development (Thelen, 2009). Nevertheless, system breakdowns and revolutions should not be excluded a priori. Moreover, incremental changes can also reach tipping points, instigating broader processes of change.

Starting from the mid-1970s, the changing landscape of social risks (Ranci, 2010) has placed the traditional configuration of social protection systems under pressure. During the 1980s and the 1990s European welfare states experienced complex reforms ranging from recalibration to retrenchment – at least rhetorically – towards a neoliberal turn (Ferrera, 2013). Social expenditure did not decline abruptly; however, the virtuous processes of positive institutional complementarities – which supported economic growth and the spread of wealth during the 1960s and 1970s – turned into negative (p.54) complementarities. This implied that the cumulative and interactive effect reinforced negative consequences, such as rising inequalities. Negative complementarities started to emerge from deep socioeconomic changes and new related social risks which increased pressure on mature welfare states. Institutional change and adaptations, however, tend to develop at a slower pace than social and economic changes. Streeck and colleagues (2016) argue that three trends have run in parallel since the 1970s throughout the family of rich capitalist democracies: declining growth, rising inequality of income and wealth and rising debt – public, private and total. These trends were mutually reinforcing: low growth contributed to inequality by intensifying the distributional conflict, while inequality dampened growth by curbing effective demand. This brought about a growing misalignment and desynchronisation between resources and needs, demands for protection and the adequacy of interventions (Kazepov, 2009).

To summarise, if we consider complementarities as a continuum, we have:

  • the positive extreme of goodness of fit and mutually reinforcing institutions, as in the case of coordinated market economies and liberal economies described in the VoC literature (Hall and Soskice, 2001);

  • the mid-spectrum position where institutional subsystems may not be well calibrated with one another (Rhodes, 2005);

  • the negative extreme, produced by cumulative and reinforcing negative effects resulting from institutional interaction (Cefalo and Kazepov, 2018).

Developing this further, we might rephrase the definition of complementarity in negative terms as follows: two institutions are negatively complementary if the presence (or efficiency) of one decreases the returns (or efficiency) of the other, such that the functional performance of one institution is negatively affected by the presence and functioning of another institution. The same applies to what we have termed contextual complementarities, namely the interactive and relational nature of the elements of a context, within which more formalised institutions operate and relate to one another. As a further example of negative complementarities, Kazepov (2009) highlights the desynchronised character of reforms to unemployment benefits and social assistance in Italy. Their occurrence at distinct moments within the last 20 years and their treatment as unrelated policy areas produced two major consequences. First, it created institutional interstices such (p.55) that for a considerable period of time those exiting unemployment benefits were not covered by social assistance schemes. Second – in particular due the lack of national coordination – this created a strong territorial fragmentation of the instruments tackling unemployment and poverty, increasing territorial inequalities.

According to Hemerijck (2017), an SI strategy must comprehensively rely upon institutional complementarities and policy synergies across policy measures, thus creating a virtuous circle helping to ease life course transitions. The measure Du Kannst Was, implemented in the FR of Upper Austria and analysed within the YOUNG_ADULLLT project (Cefalo et al, 2018), can be considered an example of complementarities enforced through policies. The measure is intended to facilitate official recognition of informally acquired professional skills. Its target group are young people over 22, who possess professional experience but lack good educational qualifications. The policy is based on a partnership involving a wide array of actors with different responsibilities and operating at various scales, including social partners and the economic chambers, the federal Ministry of Education, the regional state, public employment services and adult education institutions such as the Forum for Adult Education. Du Kannst Was was considered successful in preventing unemployment as it was subsequently adopted by other Austrian regional states. The experts and operators interviewed, as well as the young people involved, expressed largely positive evaluations of the policy implementation, stressing the importance of the intense and constructive model of cooperation developed by the actors, resulting from a high degree of complementarity among them.

The goodness of fit among institutions and across policy domains, however, cannot be taken for granted. On the one hand, we must consider that coherent policy reforms across different policy domains could be hampered by corporative interests exerting influence in particular policy fields. On the other hand, as previously mentioned, processes of institutional change may lead to new equilibria of resources and needs. We also need to consider the possibility that institutions negatively affect one another through desynchronisation and misalignment, thus creating vulnerabilities and disadvantages. In light of this, Kazepov and Ranci (2017) stress the necessity of analysing contextual preconditions structuring the interface among the labour market, welfare state and educational system. In fact, SI policies might have ambiguous and even unexpected negative impacts on both economic growth and equal opportunities when crucial contextual preconditions complementing policies are missing.

(p.56) The positive returns of SI policy complementarities should not, therefore, be taken for granted. For most SI policies, positive returns are not anticipated in the short term: the SI approach aims at preparing the individual, thus translating the focus of policy interventions towards the future (Morel et al, 2012). Investments in human capital should foster high levels of quality and equality in educational and labour market outcomes later in life, thus helping to ease, together with adequate income protection, work and life transitions in times of uncertainty. For these very reasons, time also matters (Pierson, 2002), and the temporal dimension must be considered as paramount in this debate. This is due to the specific temporal horizon implied by SI reforms, especially in the field of educational and training policies. However, this makes it more difficult to evaluate the effects of policies, as many unpredictable and variable events might intervene between the initial investment and the following transitions. This is clearly shown in literature on the relationship between welfare and education, which stresses the special status of educational policies compared to more traditional interventions (Busemeyer and Nikolai, 2010). As an example, investment in education may ultimately result in increased inequalities over time (Checchi et al, 2014). For these very reasons, the temporal gap between the adoption and implementation of educational measures and their impact in terms of both labour market and social participation may bring about a desynchronisation among needs, expectations and returns. Temporal gaps might also influence negative complementarities and produce various forms of mismatch, for example, as expressed by gaps in employment rates and earnings between less and more educated individuals (Kazepov and Ranci, 2017).

Such an argument reframes the role of LLL policies within a SI perspective, stressing the relevance of policies aimed at supporting the development of individuals over their lifetime, thus not limiting them to a particular stage in the life course. Given the fact that LLL policies specifically address the temporal and life course dimension, they can potentially mediate between investments and expected returns. A well-suited LLL strategy may in fact rebalance the temporal bias produced by the difficulty in coordinating policy domains, and the medium- to long-term future horizon characteristic of investment policies. By contributing to the realignment and synchronisation of SI policies, LLL may thus enforce investment-related institutional complementarities in the long run and contribute to effectively realising the life course multiplier effect advocated within SI-related research contributions (Hemerijck, 2017).

(p.57) Conclusions

Despite LLL policies being recognised as part of an SI strategy (Hemerijck et al, 2016), their role and relationship has not hitherto been addressed and analysed from a theoretical standpoint. In this chapter we have outlined the origins and development of LLL and SI. We have highlighted how both debates and discourses present ambiguities and competing interpretations that tend to polarise between a narrow and ‘functionalistic’ interpretation, with a clear focus on human capital and employability on the labour market, and a more ‘holistic’ and widely conceived approach emphasising capabilities, citizenship and personal development.

However, the commonalities we have identified create space for new empirical investigations into how different versions of SI and LLL interact within national and local contexts where citizens and policies meet. A particularly fruitful lens through which we might look at this relationship would address the contextual and institutional complementarities within which both unfold (Cefalo and Kazepov, 2018). This is true especially in the transitions shaping young people’s life course, as they represent critical junctures that may have consequences at later stages of young people’s lives. LLL measures, as already shown by the Du Kannst Was example (Cefalo et al, 2018), carry the potential to ease transitions, ensuring that contemporary coherent (social) investments in LLL are actually aimed at solving potential future problems. This would reduce the resources needed for more traditional, passive measures of social protection as potential damages are addressed ex ante and not only ex post, connecting the individual life course to the collective well-being.

The concept of institutional and contextual complementarities could create a bridge between SI and LLL. From this perspective, the relationship between SI and LLL can be conceptualised by connecting a life course approach with a focus on the political economy of skills and the governance of policy interventions and associated actors. These same perspectives also represent the crucial theoretical underpinnings of the YOUNG_ADULLLT project. Since the devil of SI lies in the detail of institutional and contextual complementarities, we argue that investment-related policies and LLL policies are potentially highly compatible within a broader SI strategy, with LLL specifically addressing the time dimension and the life course perspective that remains an underestimated feature of SI. When examining the empirical evidence produced by the YOUNG_ADULLLT project (Capsada-Munsech et al, 2018), such a virtuous level of deep coordination appears to be (p.58) rarely achieved, with an overall lack of coordinated policy-making regarding measures aimed at young adults observed in the participating countries. However, the analysis also shown high degrees of interaction and complementarities among actors involved in LLL policies within particular local contexts. For instance, this was the case for the measure of educational and labour market policies targeting school-to-work transitions in the FR of south-west Finland (Tikkanen et al, 2017). We suggest that further research should empirically investigate and assess the complementarity of SI and LLL policies within different national contexts, considering the multilevel governance arrangements that increasingly characterise most (European) countries.


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