Work first versus human capital development in employability programs

Lindsay, Colin; Klehe, Ute-Christine and van Hooft, Edwin A.J., eds. (2014) Work first versus human capital development in employability programs. In: The Oxford Handbook of Job Loss and Job Search. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 9780199764921 (

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Policymakers across advanced welfare states have prioritized programs to enhance the employability of unemployed people and help them to find and sustain work. In this regard, analysts have drawn attention to the difference between Work First and Human Capital Development (HCD) models. The former seek to direct people to any available job as quickly as possible; the latter seek to improve long-term employability through investments in human capital (typically via education and training). This chapter deploys a framework for comparing Work First‒ and HCD-oriented approaches to employability, identifying differences in rationales, content, and outcomes. A key conclusion is that policymakers (and indeed researchers) need to adopt a broader, more holistic view of the factors affecting the unemployed. A better understanding can inform the development of programs that combine Work First and HCD elements and address the problems that explain why some people face prolonged periods excluded from the workplace.