Interview with Marija MARKINA, the representative of Valakupiai Rehabilitation Centreand LEAD project Coordinator in Lithuania
Reporter: What are the particularities of the labour market for people with disabilities in Lithuania?
According to the data of Ministry of Social Security and Labour, in Lithuania there are about 158.8 thousand people with disabilities of working age, of whom about 47.7 thousand are employed, which means 30% of the total.
An important change has been made since the 1stof January, 2020, when people with disabilities who are evaluated to having a working capacity of up to 25% are registered as unemployed. I would like to point out that until the beginning of this year these people were registered as people with disabiliy.
Generally speaking, unemployment among people with disabilities is a complex problem that depends on several factors: the characteristics of respective people (health, motivation etc.), the attitude of employers, the socio-economic situation of the country, legal framework in force etc.
In Lithuania, employers are sceptical about providing employment opportunities for people with mental and intellectual disabilities, and about the ability of this social category to work in general. If we consider people with severe disabilities, unfortunately, a very limited number of jobs is available to them. Additionally, we face inflexible attitudes of employers regarding the creation of favorable working conditions for people with disabilities.
Reporter: What are the main problems of young people with disabilities in your country?
Some of them are common problems, of which we could mention: lack of self-confidence, lack of independence, reluctance and sometimes even fear of working, lack of professional experience. All of these are strong reasons for long-term unemployment.
Moreover, as for young Lithuanians, there is a fear of losing social benefits, such as social assistance pensions and state compensation for hot water and heating. Another important problem is the lack of education, professional or general skills. For example, in my country, in the 2018-2019 school year, only 420 people with disabilities studied in higher education institutions, out of which 279 in universities and 141 in colleges.
Also, it is worth mentioning that other influencing factors include: insufficient cooperation between the state, municipal institutions and establishments, and organisations representing people with disabilities and the state of inactivity of vocational rehabilitation.
Reporter: What do you think will be the main threat in the next period of time?
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic crisis, the main threat is the rising rate of unemployment. At the end of 2019, in my country, the unemployment rate was about 8%. On the 23rd of March this year, there were 163.3 thousand unemployed people (9% of the country’s active population). Compared to the 1st of March, 2020, the number of unemployed people increased by 1704 people, and the registered unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points. Therefore, we are going through a difficult period for everyone, which will require from us, those who work with people with disabilities, a greater ability to adapt, a proactive attitude and innovative solutions.
Reporter: What has been the biggest challenge during the implementation of LEAD project in Lithuania?
The main challenge we faced during the project implementation was the unsuccessful encounter with the Director of an educational institution where young adults with various disabilities are being taught a profession. The reasons for refusal indicated were: protection of personal data of young adults with disabilities and minors; psychological vulnerability; possible negative effects on learning, discipline, attendance to classes; complaints from parents if the an individual is recruited in a position inconceivable to them.
The positive thing is that we learned a lesson: we can’t get good results every time. The best thing we can do is to analyse in depth each situation: the partnership, what each of us can offer and what are the needs of each party, but also the common aspects we share. Also, we can improve negotiation skills: the ability to hear keywords, emotion management, understanding the interlocutor’s expectations, looking for opportunities for further cooperation. In other words, if you failed today, you need to look for other ways to get the result you want!
Reporter: How will the implementation of this project change the life of your beneficiaries?
On one hand, working with employers and employment professionals will contribute to a positive attitude towards providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. On the other hand, the parents of these young adults will benefit from our valuable information and will gain specific skills in order to motivate their disabled children to work.
These aspects of our activity are complementary to our work with young adults with disabilities: discovering their interests and what they do best, identifying a suitable job, preparing for the interview (writing a CV and a motivation letter), pre and post employment support. It is a difficult job, but full of rewarding satisfaction. We are proud of every young adult who got employed with the support of our team and who maintains their job and has a fulfilled life.
Thank you and I wish you success!