“Communication and dissemination strategies of local jobs and skills agendas - Lessons from the Vantaa GSIP Project Communication Plan”

Youth from Vantaa in action
Youth on the move
This is the web-article No. 6 of the GSIP (Growth and Social Investments Pacts) Project, an initiative of the City of Vantaa (FI) to develop an innovative local jobs and skills agenda. It provides readers with on the ground information about the design and implementation of the overall communication strategy during the development of the Vantaa GSIP Project.

INTRODUCTION

The City of Vantaa has made external communication (how an organization communicates with other businesses and/or people in its external environment, such as citizens, customers, potential customers, shareholders, local society in general, suppliers, etc.) a strategic priority, with the intent of increasing awareness of the policies and programmes of the City and generating enhanced engagement of constituents in the policy making and governing process. The goal of communication is to identify opportunities to share the City’s message and streamline the methods by which those messages are shared, while conducting the business of the City in an open and inclusive manner.

In this respect, the City of Vantaa designs and uses strong communication tools in every thematic policy or field of action, given that communication is seen as an important role of local government, and an essential component of the democratic process. It helps build pride, trust and awareness within the community, increases participation, and contributes to strengthening the quality of life in the community. It is a fundamental component of the City’s mission and vision.

City image communication

 

The Communication Strategy is a task of the City Strategy and Management Department (headed by Mayor Ritva Viljanen), which consists of:

  • PR and Group Services
  • Growth Services
  • Local Democracy
  • Finance and Strategy.

The Communication Strategy is built on the foundation of four concepts that guide the City of Vantaa in its communications approach:

1. Clear and Direct: The City will always strive to use the most direct and straightforward language to communicate its policies and programmes, by explaining technical terms, avoiding jargon, and providing background information to ensure that all communications are understandable and accessible to the widest possible audience.

2. Proactive: Whenever possible, the City will provide information on emerging issues, and follow these up to ensure the most accurate and complete information is available to the public as soon as is possible.

3. Transparent: The City will be open in communicating its business and make information about the policies, finances, and operations of the City available to all citizens. One way of accomplishing this is to include citizens in the decision making process, from soliciting input to encouraging service on boards and commissions that actively advise management and the City Council on policy decisions.

4. Listening and Learning: The City recognizes that communication flows two-ways, both providing information and receiving feedback. Listening to residents builds better trust and credibility so the policies and programs created by the City also reflect the needs and wishes of the community.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the City of Vantaa (acting as the Main Urban Authority of the UIA funded Growth and Social Investments Pacts ‘GSIP’ Project) has also designed and applies an integrated Communication Plan during the development of the GSIP Project, one of the main instruments to promote an innovative local jobs and skills agenda by increasing capacity and skills of the workforce, providing favourable preconditions for business development and creation of jobs, based on distinctive local specificities. After more than two years of the GSIP Project implementation, it is now time to discuss the framework of this thematic focused (jobs and skills at the local economy) communication framework and highlight its strong contribution to the fulfilment of key Project objectives.

1. A brief snapshot of the GSIP Project

The GSIP Project reflects the City of Vantaa key policy decision:

  1. to promote growth and competitiveness of local companies; 
  2. to improve level of education of workforce and offer better training possibilities for low-skilled employees, employees with outdated skills and unemployed persons

through the design and implementation of a new, innovative and exceptional service and incentive model (Growth and Social Investments Pacts - GSIPs).

GSIPs are defined as a new instrument for municipalities to reach the maximum impact on public investments, subsidies and services (including training and vocational education) offered to local companies. GSIPs gather information and expertise about jobs and skills from different national, regional and local institutions and support interested local companies to take in a productive way advantage of them. To increase interest, companies’ employees are offered short free training programmes (partly in class), which deal with different topics on future employment demands (the content is based on previous surveys and interviews).

The GSIPs are tailored for Vantaa based companies employing 10-200 people, particularly companies involved in human intensive and routinely operated industrial sectors and IT-companies which have workforce of outdated skills caused by rapid changes in technologies and future business. They focus on three interrelated policy priorities:

  • Recruitment of unemployed persons with low skills and education – The GSIP 1 model
  • Training of existing staff – The GSIP 2 model
  • Use of digitalization processes in the business routine – The GSIP 3 model.

The GSIP Project Partnership includes the City of Vantaa (acting as the Main Urban Authority) and representatives of the following sectors:

  • the academia (the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and the Laurea University of Applied Sciences);
  • the social partners (the Labour Institute for Economic Research, the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy “ETLA” and the Helsinki Region Chamber of Commerce);
  • the market (ISS Services Ltd, Infocare Ltd, Solteq Plc., Finnair Cargo Ltd);
  • the local government (Vantti Ltd).

2. The role of communication strategies in the development of local jobs and skills agendas

In the challenging context for designing and developing sound jobs and skills agendas, local communities across the EU often face strong communication and dissemination problems. Yet, for the scope of the advantages that jobs and skills agendas deliver, it is important that local communities are able to successfully bridge the gap between public perceptions of employment / unemployment and the services and opportunities that local employment projects offer, particularly through improved strategic and brand communication practices.

Strategic communication

is used as an umbrella term to describe specific activities of an organization that are designed to manage their relationships with internal and external stakeholders. Often this is to build a favourable image of the organization by influencing stakeholder opinions of the organization and its services. This is also sometimes referred to more broadly as communication activities or a communications programme.

Brand communication

is a process aimed at creating a memorable name and an image for an organization, with the aim of remaining in consumers’ or users’ mind. Branding can also involve differentiating the organization from competitors (e.g., in countries where there are public and private employment services, why should jobseekers use local employment channels?). In the past, only business organizations were involved in branding, however public organizations recently got involved to inform and educate stakeholders on their presence, the work they do and their available support.

At the same time, it is critical for local communities to remember that the development of jobs and skills agendas may contribute to their identity and reputation. They also affect the perception of the city social policy responsibility for both internal and external stakeholders (a person, or a group of people, who have an interest in a given policy, such as employees, suppliers, public, media, etc.). However, to improve cities reputation, and their ability to engage with relevant critical stakeholders, more purposeful strategic and brand communication is needed in order to better develop, manage, and repair their relationships with their many internal and external stakeholders. This will help local communities meaningfully address the existing and emerging issues both the organization and its stakeholders face together, making the communication process mission critical.

It is clear that local communities across Europe face a variety of issues during the design and implementation jobs and skills agendas, including reputational challenges related to negative attitudes about the role and effectives of public policies in general, funding limitations, differing levels of brand recognition, and substantially different approaches to the strategic and brand communication process. In some national contexts, the communications activities are better developed and these local communities have a relatively active and complex approach to stakeholder engagement.

Moreover, different nations have different approaches to deliver jobs and skills at the local level, ranging from highly centralized to highly devolved. As such, any strategic and branding communications strategy to support local communities would have to be designed to be flexible or agile enough to accommodate different types of communication needs, environments, and levels of experience.

3. The communication framework of the GSIP Project

GSIP Project Partners have invested a lot in the design and implementation of communication and dissemination activities during the development of the Project. This process was smoothly developed during three steps, which may be used as reference actions for cities interested to implement local jobs and skills agendas

FIRST STEP: The design of the Communication Strategy conceptual background

Project Partners designed during the selection process of UIA Projects a clear Communication Strategy, which was included in the GSIP Application Form, under the title Work Package No. 3 “Communication Work Package”.

The scope and objectives of the Communication Strategy

THE SCOPE

Communication is one of the most essential tasks in the Project. It aims to support implementation of the Project and especially GSIP-processing. Public events are synchronized with created GSIP. In these events, new GSIPs are introduced for target groups and potential users. After piloting, experiences and results will be introduced in public events, then for stakeholders. Media releases as well as promotional materials are also planned to support GSIP launches. Webpages and other digital activities are aimed for more horizontal and aims to support implementation directly or indirectly (via supporting other communication acts).

THE OBJECTIVES

There will be three edges where communication will support reaching Project objectives: a) by motivating and inspiring partners, pilot companies and stakeholders involved that project is doing relevant, meaningful and innovative work in local, national and EU level; b) by promoting attractiveness of new GSIP model and offering supportive background information for the development; c) by mainstreaming model and good practices to horizontally and vertically.

SECOND STEP: The identification and contact processes with key external Project stakeholders during the first implementation phase

The first action of this step was to identify the key external Project stakeholders (external stakeholders should be defined as entities and groups outside the City of Vantaa which are affected or might be affected in some way by the GSIP Project), which include:

  • The central Government (the Ministry of Economic Affairs & Employment / the Ministry of Education & Culture);
  • The Public Employment Services (TE  Services);
  • The Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres);
  • Private business representatives;
  • Vocational Training organizations;
  • Other relevant Projects at national, regional and local level;
  • Citizens’ associations;
  • Target groups (unemployed and low skilled workers).

The second action was to promote contacts with these stakeholders in order to exchange ideas about their active involvement in the Project and seek networking and coordination opportunities within their own agendas. In this respect, a senior official of the Ministry of Economic Affairs & Employment participated in the launch event of the GSIP 1 model and contributed in the relevant panel. In addition, the MUA Project management team has established strong links with the local Vantaa Office of the Public Employment Services (TE Services), and it is well noticed that a TE Services contact person was appointed for the Project. This is a very interesting lesson for the national and international audience involved in the development of regional and local employment policies, given that synergies between Public Employment Services and cities are not easy to achieve without solid networking methodologies and mutual trust.

Last but not least, contacts were promoted both with local companies and their associations and with specific Vantaa based civil society organizations (Vantaan Järjestörinki ry, Vantaan Työnhakijat ry, Hyvät Tuulet ry, Nicehearts ry, Kalliolan Setlementti ry ) involved in the provision of activation and integration services to people at high risk of poverty and social exclusion (including unemployed).   

This step improved the relationships between the GSIP Project Partners and the stakeholders, and confirmed that this process is likely to be influenced by stakeholder assessments of five concepts:

1. The stakeholder’s perception of the Project’s scope and objectives

2. The stakeholder’s perception of their own knowledge and understanding of the Project thematic context (local jobs and skills agendas)

3. The stakeholder’s trust in the Project Partners

4. The stakeholder’s commitment to the relationship with the Project Partners

5. The stakeholder’s perception of value congruence between themselves/their organization and the Project Partners.

THIRD STEP: The implementation of the Communication Strategy

The Communication Strategy with target groups is implemented in a rather effective way - despite of the strong challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic - by the following tools:

  1. A thematic website in Finnish (https://urbaaniakasvua.fi/)
  2. Social channels on twitter (account: @@urbaaniakasvua) and youtube
  3. The GSIP Project own blog  
  4. Recruiting events (unemployed jobseekers have been contacted at the Megarekry Trade Fair on 3 October 2019, one of the biggest recruiting events in Finland, the Aviapolis Jobs on 28 January 2020 and the Uusio Ura on 4 February 2020)
  5. The first online keynote event (“Growth Clinic”, which took place on 30 October 2020 with the aim to attract enrolling SME participants to pursue growth in their business operations. The main goal is rather simple: to inspire SME decision makers to take part and engage in competence development (learning and renewal), and further to commit interested focus group companies to get involved in the GSIP Project
  6. A magazine story
  7. Articles published in the UIA Knowledge Lab (https://www.uia-initiative.eu/en/uia-cities/vantaa)
  8. Videos about the implementation of the GSIP No. 1 and No. 2 Model uploaded in the UIA Knowledge Lab (https://www.uia-initiative.eu/en/uia-cities/vantaa)
  9. A Report with the Project learnings and (field) experiences (published in 2021);
  10. Academic articles published in Finnish Journals and Books
  11.  Articles on blogs
  12.  Articles in magazines and stakeholders’ journals
  13.  Articles in local newspapers
  14.  News releases.

 

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