Social Work at The Street-Level of Employment
Policy - Institutional vs. Professional Challenges
European Conference on Social Work Research, Bolzano, April
15th-17th – 2014
Søren Peter Olesen, Associate Professor, Institute of Sociology and Social Work,
Aalborg University, [email protected]
Introduction – a case of what?
• In Denmark social welfare offices were merged with the state
employment service into municipal job-centres  what are the
consequences for the social work profession?
• A case of employment-oriented social work
• Social work or ’human services’
• Specific Danish developments seen in the context of
• Welfare  Workfare + Human Capital  Work First
• New Public Management and Governmentality
• Employment-Oriented social work as Street-Level Activity
• Coping-mechanisms due to the structure of the working
• Hopes for reform and reconstruction of public service
A Danish case
A reform of Danish local government in 2007 reduced the number of
municipalities from 279 to 98.
After the reform the state employment service became integrated in
municipal employment and welfare administration.
This has contributed to the on-going comprehensive reforms of social
and employment administration, including social work
During these processes the role of social work has been
As an implication employment oriented work has been challenged by
work with social problems in addition to unemployment and
accordingly social policy and social work has been challenged by
employment orientation (shift from welfare to workfare)
Social work at Danish job-centres - 1
Severe problems in addition to unemployment among cash benefit
recipients – analyses of official statistics
Similarities between the job-centres (due to common context), e.g.
heavy workloads and ethical dilemmas – analyses of survey and
interview data
Social work at Danish job-centres - 2
Surprising differences between the job-centres as regards overall
strategy and perception of need of qualifications and competences
– analyses of survey and interview data:
• Clarification and motivating for job – social workers dis-preferred
• Clarification of the citizen, e.g. as regards cash benefits or social
pension – social workers preferred
• On-going activation, control and sanctions – no specific demands
as regards qualifications at the street-level
• Placement in job – social workers among others, but they have a
too broad education
Social work at Danish job-centres - 3
Differences as regards micro-processes at the street-level – analyses
of observations/tape-recordings of professional-client-talk:
• Including people with personal difficulties
• Working with complexities and co-operating with other actors
• Managing motivation and user involvement
Raising discussions about:
1. The character and functionality of the professional practice at the
organisational front-line
2. The qualifications demanded of social workers at the street-level
3. The consequences of state regulation and management measures in
the field
Professional knowledge at Danish Job-centers
Combination of different forms of professional knowledge at Danish Jobcenters,
including medical, labor market and social work knowledge ([email protected])
A large multi-method study of educational background, qualifications, challenges and needs for
training among social workers at Danish job-centers was finished by the end of 2011.
The study consisted of analyses of documents, register-data, survey- and interview-data as well as
observations and sound recordings of institutional interaction at different job-centers.
The multi-method approach appeared seminal as regards capturing the complexities of the front-line
work in the employment policy front-line, including the need to combine medical, labor market
and social work knowledge.
The study could be illustrative in relation to policy, governance and educational discussions
1. Baadsgaard, K., Jørgensen, H., Nørup, I. & Olesen, S.P. (2012): Jobcentre og klemte kvalifikationer. Hvorfor og hvordan
studere faglig praksis og kvalificering til arbejdet I beskæftigelsessystemet med kontanthjælpsmodtagere og sygemeldte.
Aalborg Universitet: CARMA.
2. Baadsgaard, K., Jørgensen, H., Nørup, I. & Olesen, S.P. (2012): Praksis, krav og kvalifikationer. Jobcentermedarbejdernes
erfaringer og holdninger til beskæftigelsesarbejdet, belyst ved interview I 4 jobcentre. Aalborg Universitet: CARMA.
3. Baadsgaard, K., Jørgensen, H., Nørup, I. & Olesen, S.P. (2012): Praksis og kvalifikationer set fra fronten.
Jobcentermedarbejdernes erfaringer med og syn på indsats og kvalificering omkring arbejdet med
kontanthjælpsmodtagere og sygemeldte. Aalborg Universitet: CARMA.
4. Baadsgaard, K., Jørgensen, H., Nørup, I. & Olesen, S.P. (2012): Mikroprocesser: Den konkrete faglige praksis i
jobcentrene. Observationer af frontlinjevirksomhed. Aalborg Universitet: CARMA.
These reports are at present reorganised and forthcoming as three books 2014.

Presentation SPO ECSWR 170414 - VBN