UPPER JOBS: innovative skills for employment and social inclusion

Upper Jobs
UPPER Jobs
The selection of participants in the second edition of UPPER JOBS has been completed. The participants selected by the Labirinto Social Cooperative have just started (4th April) the 150-hour training course organized by the Roffredo Caetani Foundation and followed by the six-month professional internship hosted by the Environmental Service of the Municipality of Latina.
Upper Jobs is one of the "actions" included within the UPPER project. It is one of those interventions that aim at the creation of new opportunities - but also of new skills - for the city of Latina. Upper Jobs is a training, experimentation and internship program that will involve local people and will include them within Upper.
The "operators of urban production parks" will have multidisciplinary and diversified skills that include the cultivation of NBS and the maintenance of greenery and plants, environmental communication, public reception, management and organization of urban production parks.
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After the large participation to the first edition which saw the presentation of 340 applications, the new edition will also begin with a training course and then start activities in the field.

UPPER JOBS's objectives are to improve the skills and employability of participants in the horticultural sector, gardening, maintenance and management of urban green spaces and production parks and to reduce the level of inactivity, unemployment and the risk of poverty for vulnerable groups.

The UPPER JOBS training and work program is promoted by the Municipality of Latina in collaboration with the Labirinto Social Cooperative, the Roffredo Caetani Foundation and Latina Formazione Lavoro SRL.

The selected candidates, after a training period of 150 hours, will carry out a 6-month paid internship with an allowance of 600 euros per month for 18 hours of work per week in the redevelopment and management of the green areas of the UPPER project.

Conceptually, the NBS framework provides entry points to harmonize goals of several UN Conventions, such as on climate change, land degradation, biological diversity, and Sustainable Development Goals.

The concept of NBS promotes systemic approaches for social, environmental, and economic challenges by supporting, restoring, and maintaining the ecosystem and sustainable urbanization. It is emphasized that NBS provides innovative solutions to counteract societal challenges by using natural capital to create sustainable economic growth

During the 150-hour training course, which will be of a theoretical-practical type, the following topics will be addressed: characteristics and classification of living beings; plant anatomy and physiology; definition of climate, climatic characteristics, plant associations; elements of general and inorganic chemistry; soil formation and classification, improvement and conservation techniques; job security; main adversities and plant pathogens; phytosanitary treatments; cultivation techniques; environmental communication; the urban green and the ecosystemic emergencies of the Pontine territory; Nature Based Solutions.

The regeneration of the green areas involved in the project will improve the quality, accessibility and usability of these spaces. In addition, selected native plants will be grown in the production parks to combat soil and water pollution, the hydrogeological instability of the canals, the heat island effect and air pollution. The same species will be planted in eight demonstration sites and the effects on the environment of the NBS used will be measured and communicated to citizens through digital platforms.

The goal of the program was also to increase the trainees’ knowledge of environmental issues, such as waste management and water quality, and to help them understand the impact of their environmental decisions on community life and  to integrate the concept of habitat and the interconnections between humans and wildlife.

Activities included discussions of the benefits of clean air, water and soil; the impact of air, water and soil pollution on humans and wildlife; how to keep the environment clean; and garden and tree planting. 

Moreover, they deals with the water cycle, the impact of toxins on natural habitats, and the construction of watershed models that demonstrated how toxins are carried in a water system and potentially into drinking.

There’s growing evidence that gardening can benefit our mental health. Gardens can be relaxing, but also places where our efforts result in a real sense of achievement, boosting confidence and self-esteem. Therefore gardening practices have been chosen because they have positive effects on people’s mental health, helping to reduce depression, anxiety and stress-related symptoms, to alleviate the symptoms of dementia, such as aggressive behaviour, to increase the ability to concentrate and engage and to reduce reliance on medication, self-harming behaviour.

 

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A recognised gardening qualification can increase the chances of employment. But other than job opportunities, this training offers a sustainable interest which can help people to connect with others and for some, irrespective of age, an opportunity to improve social and communication skills.

Taking part in structured gardening activities offers the opportunity to improve skills such as initiative, co-operation, patience, concentration as well as numeracy and literacy all of which are useful in all areas of life.

Gardening and horticulture make a major positive contribution to modern European society in rural and urban areas, through sustainable food production, a greener environment and a healthier population[1].

Research in environmental psychology also shows that the natural environment promotes recovery from stress and helps to restore the ability to focus attention.

Paths like Upper Jobs work on 3 levels. On the one hand, through the creation of new job opportunities linked to environmental protection, it implements the development of new employability spaces.

Secondly, it supports a training course and the creation of specific skills.

Finally, it offers the opportunity to experience the skills acquired within a "protected" context where the worker is supported and supported.

As stated by the commissioner Cristina Leggio, who was in charge of the project until 2021, "this can be useful for those who live in conditions of fragility and need to have an experience within a structured context in which they can looking out, getting to know each other, experimenting with one's skills and then continuing to return to a market and a fabric of new economic sectors that with Upper we are committed to promoting in the area ".

The initiative has significant social impacts. In fact, the following target groups are included among the participants: foreign citizens or Italians children of foreigners; people of Roma, Sinti or other ethnic minorities; people with disabilities; young people and people over 50.

Regarding the composition of the group of trainees, the aspect of heterogeneity is therefore clear.

The group differs in many and different aspects such as age, previous work experience, school education, skills and personal abilities.

In the variety of components, in fact, there are professional profiles close to the work sector proposed by the project offer and people with no work experience or with mental disabilities.

Despite this, all the participants reported an excellent climate between them and a strong collaborative spirit.

Social 

[1]          https://eufrin.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/EPSO-WG-Hort_White-Paper_July2015.pdf

Design and on-going maintenance are the most essential part of gardening; therefore it is impossible to design gardens properly without knowing how to construct and take care of one.

Social and therapeutic horticulture uses the garden as a safe and secure place to develop someone's ability to mix socially, make friends and learn practical skills that will help them to be more independent.

3 monitoring reports conducted, highlighted a high degree of satisfaction with the topics covered and with the ability of teachers to make concepts accessible to all.

Participants also say they are enthusiastic about experiential training and report the usefulness of concretely experimenting with the theoretical aspects in the field. There was also a good climate of sharing and enthusiasm for what was started and for the bonds created between the participants.

Many trainees also reported an individual maturity and how the experience of the training course was useful in discovering new and not yet known personal characteristics.

The trainees were actively involved in the co-design activities of the UPPER project activities. There was a desire among the participants to collaborate in the co-construction of the project from a proactive perspective and to collaborate with the project partners in order to find one or more spaces closest to the wishes and aspirations of future trainees.

In fact, their involvement was initially envisaged for the conversion of car parks into educational flower beds but this was judged by the participants in the program as devaluing compared to the skills they developed during the course and insufficient in terms of expected impact on the city and local community.

The proposal emerged to concentrate the work of the group on a single area, using the demonstration site in Via Goya, where the participants propose to intervene through the creation of an area dedicated to socialization for the inhabitants, also with the involvement of neighborhood residents and with the collaboration of the project partner Tesserae.

The initial project of the Via Goya site was then integrated with the ideas proposed by the trainees.

Evidence shows that the time spent in the green environment, helped reduce stress, improve mood and come away self-reporting improved wellbeing.

ParchiGoya

 

During the first training cycle, some problems were encountered mainly relating to the difficulties in the job placement phase after the training period because no project partner, much less the Municipality, could support at the administrative and legislative level the temporary hiring of such a high number of people who should have been employed in areas municipal and coordinated by municipal staff.

Therefore, the instrument of the temporary employment contract was later replaced with the “job placement” too, (inserimento lavorativo), which however led to problems of adaptation to the regional legislation on internships in particular with respect to the selection criteria of beneficiaries and the numerical ratio between trainees and tutors.

The "job placement" tool, that was introduced nationally in particular for people with disabilities or difficulties, represents an important tool for the implementation of the "targeted placement" (collocamento mirato) provided for by law 68/99 which provides for articulated paths for the gradual integration of people with disabilities.

The advantages for the person with disabilities are that of being able to take advantage of training opportunities to increase their skills and thus facilitate job placement. The ability to respect ways and times of work, rhythms, organizational needs, as well as providing general job training, allows the achievement of a more complete personal autonomy. In fact, a person's working life does not represent his entire existence, and work placement does not constitute the entry point into the inclusion in the society, but its starting point. A person is above all what he knows, that is, what he has lived, and for this reason he already has a place in society, he already has his own dignity. In particular, the trainees selected for the first training cycle of the UPPER project, although belonging to vulnerable categories, do not have disabilities and therefore do not fall within the criteria of the job placement tool.

Another issue concerned the selection of course tutors whose number was inconsistent with regional legislation. All these has led to a delay in the activities of the first group of trainees which are still ongoing.

The delivery partners were able to adapt the methodologies and contents of the training path to the various profiles of participants, very different from each other also with respect to the level of education, presence of disabilities, cultural background, also thanks to the inclusion of additional figures (tutors) of psychological support and monitoring not initially foreseen.

All the difficulties were overcome in the start of the second training cycle, however they led to a reduction in the number of participants to remain consistent with the regional legislation in force.

Difficulties

 

The success factor of UPPER Jobs lies in the novelty of the professional profile, which introduces innovative skills, and therefore is not yet regulated. These are suitable for different vulnerability profiles.

Another positive factor found was the heterogeneity of the groups of trainees by age, sex, training and social condition.

The programme demonstrated that learning how to be a successful gardener requires you to learn about nature and the environment around you.

Gardening was proven to be a great way for people to reduce stress levels and relax. The combination of being outside interacting with people, plants and nature can lead to an improvement in your overall well being.

Through this model, the project explores the potential of a person-focused approach to accessible therapeutic gardening as an opportunity to demonstrate the capacity and contribution of people with disability to their own lives, and others, in individual and social settings.

It is important that any NBS framework be designed with application in mind. In practice, this means that the framework should support the design and implementation of measures that will address needs or problems, isolated and cumulative, which result from ongoing and continuous management of NBS production systems.

The difficulties related to the regulatory and administrative aspects have been overcome thanks to the good collaboration within the partnership and with the trainees' participants.

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