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Re-connecting the unemployed: information and communication technology and services for job seekers in rural areas

McQuaid, Ronald and Lindsay, Colin and Greig, Malcolm (2004) Re-connecting the unemployed: information and communication technology and services for job seekers in rural areas. Information, Communication and Society, 7 (3). pp. 364-388. ISSN 1369-118X

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Abstract

This paper discusses the potential uses of the Internet and other forms of information and communication technology (ICT) as a tool for delivering information services for unemployed people, comparing the experiences and attitudes of jobseekers in peri-urban and remote rural labour markets. The analysis is based upon research carried out in two areas: the first combining a remote rural town with a much larger, more sparsely populated, rural ‘travel-to-work area’; the second, a centrally located peri-urban labour market. Survey research undertaken in the study areas gathered responses from 490 unemployed jobseekers. Emerging issues were then followed up during twelve focus groups. The study found that the use of ICT for job seeking remained a marginal activity for most unemployed people, but was much more important in remote rural communities. In these areas, jobseekers were more likely to use the Internet as a search tool and were particularly dependent on telephone helplines provided by the public employment service (PES). However, the study also found that a ‘digital divide’ was evident within the unemployed client group. Those with low educational attainment, the long-term unemployed, young people and those perceiving their ICT skills to be ‘poor’ were less likely to use the Internet. Although respondents in rural areas were more likely to use ICT to look for work, they also pointed to the overriding importance of informal, social networks as a means of sharing job information in remote communities. We conclude that ICT may have a future role in the delivery of services for jobseekers, especially in rural areas. However, policies are required to ensure that information provided through ICT-based services is locally relevant, and disadvantaged groups have access to the facilities and training they require.