In the mid 1990s a survey/study was commissioned by the Department of Social Affairs of the City of Linz to look into the social situation of youths in developing areas in the South of Linz. An important result of this study was that youths in these town areas were finding it difficult to cross over from the educational system into the vocational one. One of the reasons for this was that parents were not able to support them to the same intensity as was the case elsewhere. At the same time the Social Welfare Department had good experience with the vocational integration of potential welfare recipients into a work process aided by the so-called welfare support. In this particular case people with entitlement to welfare support were offered a 25 hour/week employment with the City of Linz. The work content was chosen based on the needs of the City and the abilities/skills and interests of those concerned. The results were very good and showed that people predominantly chose a vocation with the related payment, rather than the other option of a passive salary from social welfare. The social acceptance and the level of social integration associated with regular work was easier accomplished through employment exchange rather than merely receiving transfer benefits.
A first step was therefore attempted by also employing youths, who couldn’t manage themselves to cross over from the educational system into the vocational one, within the frame of social welfare. However, in doing so, it turned out that youths needed a much higher degree of social educational care and support, in order to develope job fitness. For this reason, with the situation of the approaching entry of Austria into the EU and the possibility of financing for these purposes from European Social Funds, the idea was born to put this funding into use so that the necessary social support for the integration of youths could be ensured. As it seemed difficult to establish an additional service within the City Council’s administration structures, the idea was born to outsource this service to a municipal association. This led to the founding of the VSG.
The VSG was founded in 1996 in close cooperation and at the initiative of the Social Welfare Department of the City of Linz. The objective was to guide youths with social educational programs, to enable them to cross over from the educational system into the vocational one. Previous studies showed that a significant social problem occurred in certain areas of the City as a result of difficulties crossing over from school into working life because of support weaknesses, i.e. from parents.
In order to avoid this target group (mostly educationally disadvantaged youths) from becoming dependant on social welfare, the first project of VSG was born in 1997. It was called KICK and supported youths by mediating internships with the City of Linz or in the private sector and in working together by providing the necessary socio-educational assistance in applying for jobs and job hunting. The results were very promising, because after a short start-up phase more than 80% of the youths were mediated into permanent positions or further education.
After a two year experimental phase, in which the project was mainly funded by European Social Funds, the evidence was provided that further financing of the project by the City of Linz and the Government of Upper Austria would have a significant impact on preventing the need for social benefits. For this reason, the Government of Upper Austria and the City of Linz declared that they were willing to finance the project KICK permanently.
On analysing the obstacles for integration into the job market of youths, as a result it was apparent that many youths hadn’t finished secondary school. On negotiations with the Federal Ministry for Education, Schooling and Culture, the VSG received funding for a project to assist youths in acquiring secondary school leaving certificates. In the year 2000, the project LEARN was born.
At the City Council’s initiative, a time exchange platform was encouraged for the transfer of social services between the older generation and younger persons in the form of caring for the elderly. The decision was made to subsequently entrust the VSG with this task. The project TIME was started in 1999.
The city councillor at that time, Dr. Ingrid Holzhammer greatly valued the VSG’s work and at regularly held press conferences, informed about the successful mediation. Her great concern was to especially support women in finding jobs by guidance in job applications. Subsequently a concept was developed for the BSG, where specifically the needs of women seeking work should be met. The project WOMAN was born in 2000.
In 2000 at the initiative of the Upper Austrian Federation of Trade Unions, the Danish Production School was pushed forward as the pioneering model. The Production Schools of Denmark close the gap which sometimes arises between school and vocational training and vocational integration. The federal state of Upper Austria declared itself willing to finance a first Production School. A tender was issued and the concept submitted by VSG, was chosen as the best. Following, the City of Linz allocated a building for this purpose and the FACTORY started up in January 2001.
In the past, the Youth Welfare Office often noticed that youths with a difficult social background were indeed supported by the family assistance, but, at the time of their coming of age, they only had little basis for a further vocational independency and self determination. Based on the expertise that the VSG had collected during the continuous projects for vocational integration of youths, the VSG were contracted by the City of Linz’s office for youth welfare and educational support to develope a concept for socio educational family assistance with the main focus on the vocational integration of youths up to the age of 18. Because of this concept, and based on the Youth Welfare Act, VSG was chosen as representative for social educational offers and nominated as provider of these services. This was the start of MOVE for children and youths in 2004. Since then along with general family assistance it has developed two further focal points, namely support for young mothers and the support for after school care.
In 2008 at the initiative of the Government of Upper Austria together with the Ministry for Social Affairs, the Independent Federal Voluntary Centre (unabhängige LandesFreiwilligenzentrum) ULF was started by the VSG. It is the task of the Federal Government, to encourage voluntary work in Upper Austria and to bring the volunteers in contact with the appropriate social organisations.
The VSG was assigned for a temporary period of three years in 2009 to run an initiative in Auwiesen with the aim of improving the communication between the different residential groups and to encourage social solidarity as part of a community work project. The project VIEW ended after three years, but many of the initiated activities continue in the Civic Neighbourhood Centre of Auwiesen. Originating from the project VIEW, the VSG submitted an application, called “The Healthy Neighbourhood “ to the Austrian Health Promotion Fund. This was implemented in 2012 and 2013 in cooperation with the Civic Neighbourhood Centre, also in Auwiesen.
The objective of the VSG is to continue to offer social and community projects for the City of Linz and for the catchment area of other sponsors, and to act quickly and easily to changing needs. The social services offered by VSG shall remain State of the Art and, within the contract of each sponsor, be flexibly tailored according to the current situation. Therefore VSG’s offer will remain flexible also in the future in order to cope with changing needs. In doing so VSG warrants the sponsors a maximum of socially desired effects for the subsidies given.
Günther Bauer- Founder and Association Chairman up till 4/2016