Sustainable labour market integration: challenges and advancements in algorithmic profiling of jobseekers

By Clément Brébion and Janine Leschke

◦ 5 min read 

The number of countries that are using algorithms to profile jobseekers has been on the rise since the 1990s. Algorithmic profiling aims at identifying individuals with little counselling needs, and those for whom intensive counselling and active labour market policies (ALMP) are expected to have the largest returns. The ultimate goal is to target services and thereby expenditures towards the latter. In a dual context of budget constraints and of technological innovations (which makes it possible to build and analyse large register databases), profiling algorithms are increasingly seen as an important vehicle to identify and target those unemployed who are most likely to become long-term unemployed. In an EU-funded project, HECAT – Disruptive Technology Supporting Labour Market Decision Making, we question this consensus. The goal of the project is to go beyond state-of-the-art profiling tools and develop a tool that will allow jobseekers and counsellors to get a snapshot of their labour market situation and a better sense of their labour market options.

State-of-the-art statistical profiling tools carry important shortcomings. One of them relates to the outcome category when used for defining the profiling categories. Most profiling algorithms approach jobseekers’ needs for counselling and for training programs by measuring their likelihood to remain unemployed for more than 6 or sometimes, 12 months. Usually, any type and length of employment spell is counted as a successful exit from unemployment in these models. Research on the causes and consequences of long-term unemployment (LTU) is extensive and we know that an early identification of the jobseekers that are likely to fall into LTU to take action at the earliest stage possible is key.

However, the mere focus on exits towards any type of employment is problematic. On individual grounds first, it disregards the agency of the unemployed by ignoring her lived experience of unemployment and wishes and aspirations for future labour market integration. Second, such a focus on exits without job quality in focus, can also be dysfunctional and inefficient both from the perspective of the individual and the PES as unsustainable labour market integration is likely to lead to vicious circles where people circle between (short-term) employment and unemployment.

In order to address this shortcoming, in deliverable 2.1 of the HECAT project, we discuss the scope for using job quality information in profiling and job matching tools. We develop a list of 24 items covering 7 dimensions that we see important to take into account to meet SDG (sustainable development goal) 8 on decent jobs and economic growth [1]. We do so by drawing on established job quality indices (e.g. here and here).

By putting the quality of jobs in focus, such an approach provides a more complete and sustainable vision of the labour market to the unemployed and the job counsellors and thereby increase their agency.

As we outline in the deliverable there are a number of challenges with this approach. This includes the high complexity of multi-dimensional job quality indices in view of an efficient and usable counselling and visualisation tool as well as a lack of sufficiently detailed job quality indicators on the level of occupations or sectors.

As regards data protection and data privacy, profiling algorithms also carry the risk of being in conflict with the GDPR and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Importantly, these legal bases provide no ready-made ‘checklist’ as to which data can be used, nor which algorithms can be implemented. Impact assessment of algorithmic profiling or job matching tools based on algorithms must therefore take place on a case-by-case basis that takes into account the impact of the algorithm on the citizens. Governments most often disregard the need for these impact analyses and entire profiling algorithm are therefore at risk of being shut down, such as in the Austrian case in 2020.

Impact assessments should first stress the necessity of using privacy-violating profiling algorithms. This can be justified in order to comply with a legal obligation to which the public authority is subject or for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest. The proportionality and fairness of profiling algorithms must also be checked and ensured. Proportionality relates to whether the ends justify the means.

For instance, collecting and analysing data carries a cost, in terms of privacy, which must be compensated by clear gains in accuracy. One should therefore not feed the algorithm with variables that have little explanatory power. Fairness concerns imply that one should ensure that profiling algorithms are not discriminatory. This is not straightforward. Profiling algorithms classify the unemployed based on the typical behaviour observed among other jobseekers with similar characteristics. As a result, individuals from social groups that are traditionally the least attached to the labour market will be profiled as high-risk individual more often than the rest.

While this behaviour of profiling algorithms seems intuitive, research has found that among jobseekers who happen to quickly find a job, those from foreign origin are more likely to be misclassified as high-risk individuals ex-ante than natives.

The fairness condition therefore seems hard to meet for profiling algorithms. Last, profiling algorithms should only use data that is up to date and relevant and, importantly, one should ensure that jobseekers and PES counsellors who use the algorithm have a good understanding of its functioning and limitations. 

Whether or not the use of an algorithm is legal must be continually assessed before, during and after development and implementation. In a working paper based on deliverable 2.2 of the HECAT project, we therefore propose a model for designing algorithms to sum up these considerations. The model is circular in order to illustrate that the assessment should be continually updated.

A proposed model for designing algorithms 
Source: Working paper based on HECAT deliverable 2.2
“Working with not on the unemployed”

Given these shortcomings of state of the art profiling tools, our European project HECAT puts the unemployed persons and their aspirations and needs centre-stage. It aims at building a sustainable digital platform “My Labour Market” which provides both information on the estimated length of time before one exits the unemployment record and a visualisation of labour market opportunities according to one’s job quality preferences. This digital platform, to be piloted at the Public Employment Services in Slovenia, builds on extensive sociological fieldwork on unemployed persons and case workers. This tool will not sort jobseekers into profiling groups associated with specific services and labour market measures. Instead, we believe that well-informed jobseekers will make the best choices for themselves.

[1] The dimensions are: pay and other rewards, intrinsic characteristics of work, terms of employment, health and safety, work-life balance, representation and voice, distance to work.

Further readings

HECAT, deliverables 2.1:

HECAT, Deliverable 2.2:

About the Authors

Clément Brébion, postdoctoral researcher, received his PhD in economics in November 2019 from the Paris School of Economics. His main research interests are labour economics, economics of education and industrial relations. He has a particular interest into comparative research. More recently, he started working on the EU H2020 project HECAT that aims at developing and piloting an ethical algorithm and platform for use by PES and jobseekers.

Janine Leschke, political scientist, is prof MSO in comparative labour market analysis. Her research interests comprise issues such atypical work, job quality, labour mobility and migration, youth unemployment, as well as gender. She is currently the Danish lead partner in the Horizon 2020 project HECAT, participant in EuSocialCit and one of the editors of Journal of European Social Policy.

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Raising the bar for sustainable events

By Louise Thomsen

How often do we as event coordinators ask ourselves: how can I minimize the plastic use, the waste, the paper? I could also reverse the question and ask: Could we imagine a smarter, more efficient and even more inspiring new way to host events?

Copenhagen Business School hosts a significant number of conferences and other events throughout a year and all carry the opportunity to be managed more sustainably. But, what makes an event sustainable? In June, the Sustainable Consumption Conference hosted by the VELUX Endowed Chair in Corporate Sustainability at CBS became the first pilot conference for implementing sustainable initiatives at a bigger event at CBS.

Hosting events is a wasteful affair

We all know exactly what to expect when attending a conference. You receive a name tag when you register, which you usually throw in the waste bin when you leave. You get a plastic bottle of water, and when you are done with that, or even before you are done, you get another one. You get the conference programme and the participant list which you look at a couple of times before that goes into the waste bin. Often printed in colour.

Now, imagine attending a conference with no plastic bottles, no paper, no meat, and no food waste. Imagine, how this conference would increase the level of awareness, communication and engagement between the participants and the hosts. And ignite fruitful discussions because we would realize, how much we can actually achieve with little changes in our everyday lives.

Sustainability taken to new heights

On June 27-30, more than 200 scholars and policy practitioners participated in an international conference on sustainable consumption at Copenhagen Business School, The conference topic Sustainable Consumption naturally raised the question how a sustainable conference could look like at Copenhagen Business School? No attempt at all to satisfy the conference’s title would be more than hypocritical.

In order to make sure that the sustainability initiatives implemented at the conference were the most sustainable solutions and had a high impact factor, the conference organizers allied themselves with a group of students from the Danish Technical University (DTU) who were doing a course on Life Cycle Assessments.

The students received 2 cases

  1. How should the conference supply water?
  2. How should the conference be catered?

Over the course of 4 months, the DTU student teams collected data from CBS and carried out life cycle assessments taking into account various impact factors such as production, transportation, use and disposal etc. Based on the results, all conference meals were vegetarian, and all conference participants received one glass bottle that could be filled from water dispensers throughout the entire conference.

The conference participants also received information about the sustainability initiatives that they could expect prior to the conference. The findings from the life cycle assessment were communicated on posters and on the back of the staff t-shirts. All conference staff engaged with the participants and assisted with water bottles and waste sorting. Furthermore, the conference participants were continuously encouraged to share feedback and discuss the attempts made with each other and the staff.

Implemented sustainability initiatives at the Sustainable Consumption Conference

  • Each conference participant received one reusable glass bottle, which replaced single-use plastic bottles for the distribution of water throughout the conference.
  • Every meal served at the conference was vegetarian, reducing the environmental impact of the conference’s catering by 44% compared to meat-based meals.
  • Participants were asked to sort their waste throughout the conference, using designated bins for paper, plastic, food, and general waste.
  • The conference was largely paperless. Programs and other general information were made available in ways that reduced the need for paper, such as printed posters and an app with, among other information, the timetable.
  • The lanyards for name tags were made from recycled polyester, and both name tags and lanyards were collected for reuse after the conference.
  • Food waste was minimized by asking participants to give notice in advance about which meals they were going to participate in, and any leftover food was brought to a nearby centre for homeless people.
  • All conference staff wore a sustainable and organic cotton t-shirt with key sustainability messages on the back.

Invitation to a learning journey

When hosting an event at CBS, you are in touch with many different stakeholders who have procedures on how to efficiently meet requests on catering, waste handling, or cleaning. This means that it must be a collaborative effort if you want to change the existing structures. Engagement and communication are key.

We should not get carried away by the belief that the easiest solutions to implement will necessarily be the most impactful or more environmentally significant than our starting point. There is a big difference between solutions that carry a high degree of reducing CO2-emissions (real impact), and solutions that have the purpose of creating awareness. Both aspects are highly important. However, we should be aware of when we spend resources on one or the other and communicate this clearly.

I want to invite you to think about how we can improve our ecological footprint when we host events at CBS and elsewhere. As you will soon learn, there is no such thing as a “sustainable event”. However, there are well-founded decisions and much to learn if we dare to ask the question:

How can we raise the bar for sustainable events?

Louise Thomsen is Project Manager for CBS PRME and the VELUX Chair in Corporate Sustainability at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, CBS. Louise is focused on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in an university context through student engagement. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Save the date: 29 August, 15 h, Dalgas Have, Copenhagen Business School.

Creating a whole conference to have a significantly reduced amount of waste, use of paper and plastics is a big challenge. But many people also wonder, what they can do as individuals to limit climate change, if there is anything at all.
This issue is treated in another edition of the Sustainability Seminar Series at the department of Management, Society and Communication at CBS.

For more information and sign-up click on “What Can the Individual Do to help Limit Climate Change?”.