Kruševac:  It was just a few weeks after the delegation of the town of Kruševac and Kruševac Youth Council visited the organisation “The Skill Mill” in Newcastle that the initiative to establish a social enterprise “Skill Mill Serbia” in Kruševac was launched. The objective is to increase employability of vulnerable categories of young people in that town, most of all of former inmates of the Juvenile Detention Centre. The Skill Mill in the UK has been working for four years now, and has its branches in Estonia and the Netherlands.

In the next six month the analysis will be made concerning the target group, labour market and all the stakeholders in the process of employing young people in Kruševac, and the Action Plan for the operation of The Skill Mill representative office in Serbia will be developed. Legal framework for registration in Serbia will be identified and the Advisory Board will be formed. The Youth Council of Kruševac, one of the local partners of the programme “From Education to Employment” will be the implementing organisation for this project in Serbia.

Through education and on-the-job training programme the Youth Council in Kruševac supports the process of resocialisation of Juvenile Detention Centre inmates and develops support programs for their easier employment as the safest way to prevent them from going back to crime.

Through work to a life free of crime

“The Skill Mill” is a social enterprise providing practical work experience and offering employment to young people who are at risk or have already been in one of the juvenile detention centres. It is simple crafts, or environmental protection/ecology jobs.

“What we do is some kind of mediation, or trying to find work for young offenders. We noticed that young people who have committed an offence need, in addition to the support of social institutions dealing with their psychological and sociological problems, to be offered an employment opportunity. Thus the chances that they will go back to breaking the law are much smaller”, says David Parks, founding Director of The Skill Mill from Newcastle.

Both guests and partners are certain that their model will take hold in Serbia as well.

“The point is that we offer them six months of employment during their stay in the juvenile detention institution and train them for a job. In that way, after they leave the institution, we make it possible for them to look for work in some of the companies that they worked for during the training or in the free labour market,“ Parks says.

Successful global model for local circumstances

Parks explains that his enterprise was established and is financed from the national budget and budgets of local self-governments, and underlines that the money invested into employing former inmates is actually saved, since that is the way to keep them off the streets and prevent them from repeating their offences and staying in juvenile detention centres. In the UK this enterprise is also financed by foundations and also through contracts with the private sector and local self-governments that they serve.

The Skill Mill was founded four years ago and it already has an established international practice and cooperation with Estonia, and currently the representative office in the Netherlands is being opened. The enterprise hired academicians in the fields of criminology and social sphere who follow their work in each country. That is why an international network of academicians/researchers was established, and they study and evaluate the results achieved in working with young people. For the time being the network is made up of professors from the UK, Australia and Estonia, and the idea is also to include academicians/researchers in this field from Serbia as well.

Model proved to be successful outside of the UK as well

The meeting in Kruševac was attended by Katri-Liis Reimann, member of the network and also a representative of the Skill Mill Estonia.

“The UK example and experience show that recidivism among the young former inmates of correctional facilities, having gone through the programme of the social enterprise Skill Mill, is only ten per cent,” she explains.

She says that the practice implemented in one country cannot be simply copied to another, but that it is necessary to adapt a relevant model to local specificities.

“The most important thing is to find appropriate partners in the institutions dealing with the young people breaking the law and in the private sector, while the researchers working here are important for the visibility of the results achieved,” she stressed.

The Kruševac Youth Council, one of the founders-to-be of The Skill Mill enterprise in Serbia, has been implementing projects involving inmates of the Juvenile Detention Centre since 2009, and has worked with about 400 of them so far.

“We are the first NGO that started the activities of informal education of inmates in this institution. There are no official data about the percentage of unemployed in this category, and the lack of institutional post-penal support makes following up on them after leaving the institution very difficult indeed. The Draft Strategy on Post-penal Reception of Convicted Persons was developed and presented in 2015, but has not been adopted yet, and its adoption will mark important progress for Serbia in this field,” says President of Kruševac Youth Council, Marina Virijević.

Safe choice

As part of the programme “From Education to Employment” the Youth Council in Kruševac is implementing the project “Safe Choices” that aims to increase employability of the Juvenile Detention Centre inmates. For 50 inmates the “soft skill” workshops were organised, as well as training on employment and writing CVs; ten inmates attended training for the profile florist-gardener in the greenhouse of the Public Utility Company Kruševac, where a professional provided training in the plastic greenhouse for inmates and officials over the period of six months. The study visit to Newcastle, during which the idea for establishing such an enterprise in Serbia developed, was part of this project.

Improving employability of the young people in Serbia in a socially inclusive manner and using the model of mutual cooperation of business sector, local self-government, educational institutions and the non-governmental sector is the main goal of the programme “From Education to Employment“, implemented in four other local communities in Serbia in addition to Kruševac. The “From Education to Employment” programme pays special attention to finding ways and procedures for increasing employability of young people from vulnerable groups.