Home > Drug use and labour market vulnerability.

Keane, Martin (2006) Drug use and labour market vulnerability. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 18, Summer 2006, p. 4.

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The National Economic Social Forum (NESF) recently published a report offering practical recommendations to help create opportunities for vulnerable people in accessing training, education and better quality jobs in the labour market.1

The report states that ‘labour market vulnerability is not an aberration or a left-over from the early 1990s – rather it continues to be generated today, even in a tight labour market’ (p. x). Four key policy arenas where barriers interact to produce vulnerability are identified: economic, social, labour market and personal. The report identifies people with drug and alcohol dependencies as one of the marginalised groups particularly prone to experiencing labour market vulnerability on the basis that they face employment barriers such as poor education levels, low skills inconsistent job histories and in some cases criminal records. In addition, the report states that there is a lack of employment support mechanisms to assist their progression.

We do not know a great deal about the association between substance misuse and labour market issues in Ireland as there is a research gap in this area. There is no mechanism currently available that systematically collects data on unemployment levels among individuals with substance misuse issues. However, we do have some information from the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) that indicates employment levels among individuals reporting for treatment for problematic drug use. According to Long et al.,2  the latest information suggests that employment levels among treated drug users aged 16–64 are much lower than those in the general population.

The 1996 report of the Ministerial Task Force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs,3 the National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008,4 and the Mid-Term Review of the National Drugs Strategy 20055 all highlight the need to link labour market training with drug treatment options. Since 1997/98, FÁS, the National Vocational Training Agency, has been responsible for providing the bulk of labour market training for individuals in treatment for their drug use through the Community Employment (CE) scheme. However, a recent review of this training highlighted the many difficulties involved in progressing individuals towards labour market employment.6 The review reported that, for a lot of individuals engaged in labour market training through the CE scheme, the issue of progression highlighted a fundamental contradiction, as what was in essence a labour market mechanism was being used to achieve rehabilitative objectives, sometimes at the most rudimentary level. For example, the review found that ‘much activity centres on defined needs around literacy, numeracy and basic life skills. Many participants report commencing CE having only recently emerged from periods of profound chaos in their lives’ (p. 42).

The NESF report also highlighted the key role that early school leaving plays in exposing marginalised groups such as drug users to labour market vulnerability. Drawing on a report by the European Commission, it states that the rate of early school leaving in Ireland remains above the EU average. Data from the NDTRS indicate that, between 1998 and 2002 inclusive, an average of 26% of all cases being treated for problematic drug misuse in Ireland reported leaving school before the age of 15.2

It can be seen that factors such as early school leaving and substance misuse play a large part in exposing individuals to labour market vulnerability. The NESF report recommends an approach that can be used to address this vulnerability and progress individuals in training towards labour market participation. However, as identified in the review of FÁS involvement with drug users, not all individuals can engage with labour market training at the same level. Some require longer periods to adjust to the demands of a structured intervention, and it is questionable whether the FÁS CE model of vocational training is suitable to the needs of this group. However, for those who can engage with specific training and education modules, the NESF report provides a framework that incorporates an appreciation of the interacting factors that increase labour market vulnerability and some suggested measures to increase progression. The report highlights a number of key components that can improve the pathway of progression to the labour market for individuals engaged with education and training initiatives. These include:

  • locally based, integrated and inter-agency approaches
  • client involvement in policy development and strategic planning
  • individual training plans and one-to-one assessment and support
  • input tailored to the educational and training needs and interests of the client

The report also recommends that service providers seek to match the skills and training needs of clients to the skills and job requirements of the labour market. In essence, this report provides a welcome opportunity for policy makers and drug treatment and reintegration service providers to consider ways of increasing progression opportunities for those individuals that are engaged with drug treatment services and are presenting for engagement in labour market training initiatives. 

 [1] . NESF (2006) Creating a more inclusive labour market. Report 33 Dublin: National Economic and Social Forum.

2. Long J, Lynn E and Kelly F (2005) Trends in treated problem drug use in Ireland, 1998 to 2002. Occasional Paper No. 17. Dublin: Health Research Board. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/11589/

3. Ministerial Task Force (1996) First report of the Ministerial Task Force on measures to reduce the demand for drugs. Dublin: Stationery Office.

4. Department of Tourism, Sport and Recreation (2001) Building on experience: National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008. Dublin: Stationery Office.

5.Steering group for the mid-term review of the National Drugs Strategy(2005) Mid-term review of the National Drugs Strategy 2001–2008. Dublin: Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

6.  Bruce A (2004) FÁS Community Employment schemes for local drugstask force areas.Dublin: Unpublished report for FÁS.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 18, Summer 2006
April 2006
Page Range
p. 4
Health Research Board
Issue 18, Summer 2006
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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