Click on the image below to download my book on rural employment.

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Selected additional papers:

• Fieldsend, A.F. (2011): New sources of rural employment in the European Union beyond agriculture. Economics and Rural Development: Research Papers 7 (1), 18-26.

• Fieldsend, A.F. (2011): Rural Europe 2+2+: A conceptual framework for a rural employment policy. Studies in Agricultural Economics 113 (2), 145-151.

• Fieldsend, A.F. and Kerekes, K. (2011): Contrasting prospects for new sources of rural employment in two regions of the European Union. Rural Areas and Development Series 8, Rural Development: Quo Vadis? 7-21

• Fieldsend, A.F. (2010): Indicators for the assessment of the potential for employment creation in rural areas. Studies in Agricultural Economics 111, 49-64.

• Fieldsend, A.F. and and Boone, J.M. (2008): The PRAXIS project - 'Making Rural Entrepreneurship Work': Featuring the Rural Entrepreneurship Toolkit – A Practical Guide to Stimulating Entrepreneurship in Rural Areas. Journal of Rural Enterprise and Management 4 (2), 62-77.


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Employment in Rural Areas

In December 2006 the European Commission published its first call for project proposals under the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology theme of the new Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (‘Framework 7’). It included the topic ‘New sources of employment in rural areas’. Five proposals were submitted from which the project entitled New Sources of Employment to Promote the Wealth-Generating Capacity of Rural Communities (acronym 'RuralJobs') was selected for funding.

Introduction

The RuralJobs consortium was composed of partners from Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, Spain and the UK. The expected impact of the project, according to the call for proposals, was to “allow a better targeting of rural development measures and future evolution of rural development policies in line with the Lisbon Strategy”. The research was based on three hypotheses:

  • That a territorial approach to improving the wealth-generating ability of rural areas through the creation of new sources of employment is required, whilst recognising the uniquely important role of agriculture and other land-based industries in the rural economy;
  • Initiatives to create new sources of employment in rural areas must take full account of the existence of markets for the products of labour, whether these are in the primary, secondary or tertiary sectors. Frequently, the largest markets are in urban areas;
  • Rural areas in different parts of the European Union (EU) are fundamentally different from each other in many respects and that a single, EU-wide ‘solution’ or ‘strategy’ for the creation of rural employment is not appropriate.

Methodology

The RuralJobs research was conducted in five contrasting NUTS 2 statistical regions across the EU. The case study areas were sub-NUTS 3 level as labour market areas were used as the unit of study where possible. There were two case study areas in France, Hungary and the UK, and one in each of Bulgaria and Romania. The source material for the research consisted of • information gathered from semi-structured interviews with local actors/key experts; • quantitative data sets; and • previously published (mainly local) studies. Approximately 20 interviews were conducted in each case study area, and interviewees included representatives of • decision makers; • local government experts; • NGOs / community organisations; • other experts (e.g. academics, consultants); and • the business sector (e.g. Chamber of Commerce, Farmers’ Union).

In each case study area, a SWOT analysis of rural employment potential was conducted from the results of the field research. The internal audit, i.e. the Strengths and Weaknesses, was based on the ‘assets’ of the case study area (human, social, physical, financial and natural capital). The external audit, i.e. the Opportunities and Threats, was based on factors influencing change in the rural economy (and thus rural employment) in the case study area. Opportunities could be the basis of ‘new sources of employment’, while Threats are factors which are leading to a decline in employment in rural areas.

From the lists of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for each case study area, the most important factors with respect to rural employment creation and sustainable economic prosperity were identified for use in a Strategic Orientation Round (SOR) analysis. A number of operational objectives were identified which were then clustered into a set of strategic orientations which could be the focus for future rural employment strategies in the case study area. These strategic orientations then formed the basis of the five ‘composite’ EU-wide strategic orientations for rural job creation which are described in this paper and which are aligned with the five ‘capitals’ listed above.

Results

The RuralJobs research reaffirmed not only that most if not all sectors provide employment in rural areas, but that there is potential to create new jobs in most sectors in many rural areas. Any attempt to define 'rural employment' by sector would therefore be both fruitless and misleading. How, then, can the concept of rural employment be interpreted for policy purposes? What, if anything, sets rural employment apart from employment in general? In line with the view that natural capital (a stock of renewable or non-renewable natural resources used for production) is common to all rural areas, the research showed that natural capital still strongly characterises the profile of rural employment and underpins the central contribution of rural areas to the functioning of the regional economy. But this effect now goes far beyond the traditional rural sector of agriculture.

Rural Europe 2+2+

Thus, creating jobs in rural areas which are driven in different ways by natural capital can be considered to be the rural dimension of a regional employment strategy. The drivers of rural employment which arise from the sustainable exploitation of natural capital consist of two groups of two (hence Rural Europe 2+2+), as follows:

  • Production using • renewable (e.g. land, sunlight, wind, water and tidal power) or • non-renewable (e.g. coal, gas, oil and other minerals) natural resources. These uses are especially relevant to the agri-food and energy supply chains, but also provide raw materials for construction and other sectors;
  • Consumption by • non-residents of the territory including visitors and • residents of the territory. The latter is a commonly overlooked aspect, but natural capital is an important factor in encouraging people (including entrepreneurs who set up their own businesses and the retired) to remain in, or relocate to, rural areas. The consumption role of rural areas is therefore relevant not just to the tourism sector but also to several others such as Knowledge Intensive Business Services and health and social work.

The four other capitals, namely the financial, human, physical and social capital in rural areas, must be developed in parallel with the natural capital. The five strategic orientations formulated by the RuralJobs consortium focus on the most important policy targets for employment creation across the EU. These were found to be widely applicable across the case study areas:

  • SO1 (Encourage the development of key growth sectors) is to focus on the development of industry sectors linked to natural capital, as described above. The precise mix of sectors will vary from region to region;
  • SO2 (Reinforce the local rural economy) develops the synergy between natural capital and financial capital (money used by entrepreneurs and businesses to buy what they need to make their products or provide their services). Several actions were identified which could help to establish, develop and sustain rural businesses, as well as to improve their competitiveness;
  • SO3 (Improve skills and labour market participation in rural areas). Here, the synergies between natural capital and human capital (the skills and knowledge possessed by workers; workers acquire these skills both through formal education and through on-the-job and life experiences) are developed. This reflects the need to create more and better jobs in rural areas;
  • SO4 (Develop infrastructure and services). The focus here is on developing the synergies between natural capital and physical capital (any non-human asset made by humans and then used in production); and
  • SO5 (Ensure proper implementation of the strategy through support actions). Here the link between natural capital and social capital-related issues (the networks of relationships among persons, firms and institutions in a society, together with associated norms of behaviour, trust, cooperation, etc., that enable a society to function effectively) is explored, for example by encouraging community participation in rural economic development.

The DPSIR model

Furthermore, RuralJobs used the driving force, pressure, state, impact and response (DPSIR) model as a tool to show the link between driving forces which affect employment and economic prosperity (human, social, physical, financial and natural capital), and policy responses. In brief, rural employment (jobs per person of working age) represents the state in the model. Employment has an impact on economic prosperity (which is one of the four key objectives of the EU Sustainable Development Strategy) and other issues such as social cohesion, and these in turn influence policy (and other, such as socio-economic,) responses. These responses may be targeted either at the driving forces which in turn influence the pressures on employment, i.e. supply of labour (working age population) and supply of jobs (economic activity), or directly at the creation of more and better jobs.

Responses can take two forms, socio economic responses and policy responses.

For the former, where the number of jobs in a locality is insufficient, the working age population may respond by commuting to urban centres or by temporarily or permanently migrating.

Policies to increase economic prosperity can be targeted at the pressures of working age population or number of jobs. For example, government proposals in several EU Member States to raise the retirement age will lead to an increase in the supply of labour. The supply of jobs can also be directly increased by government intervention, such as through subsidies for job creation (the Hungarian Út a munkához programme being an example) although in many such schemes the jobs are not economically sustainable after the funding ends.

Policies can also be targeted directly at the state of employment (i.e. employment rate and associated factors such as underemployment) by connecting ‘offer’ with the ‘demand’, one approach being through the funding of ‘job (search) centres’.

However, the recommendations arising from the RuralJobs research are mainly targeted at the driving forces in the DPSIR framework. An approach which integrates exploiting natural capital in a sustainable way with the development of the other ‘capitals’ of the territory (i.e. via a place-based or territorial policy approach) can create jobs and encourage working age people either to stay in, or relocate to, rural areas.

Conclusion

It can be concluded that, through the implementation of the Rural Europe 2+2+ strategy and hence the creation of new sources of employment, rural areas in the EU can be part of a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy delivering high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion in line with the priorities of the EU's Europe 2020 strategy.

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