Mission & Objectives

In 2009 the Smart Work Association and its partners launched an ongoing project "The development of a network of (tele)work centres to support risk groups in entering the labour market and employment". The project's aim was to improve the employment and individual development opportunities of risk groups in rural areas and small towns by launching a network of community work centres and promoting a wider use of flexible forms of working.

Key activities

During the project 5 pilot regional work centres were launched and provisions were made for the creation of further 10 centres. Training was provided for 30 potential work centre leaders, along with another 150 people from risk groups.

1. Search and training for work centre leaders

During the project, 30 potential leaders (managers) for regional work centres were identified and trained. We developed a leadership training programme, which included overviews of experiences from other countries, ICT solutions, legal framework, financial management, marketing and communications, self-motivation etc. The leaders were offered the opportunity to take part in study tours to the Netherlands, Scotland and Spain. Based on the tours we produced some training videos and materials which are all available on our Wiki page and everybody who is interested in starting up a work centre can freely access it all.
The SWA’s role is to coordinate the communication and cooperation between the centres in the network, as well as to develop joint services and assist in finding partners.

2. Training of risk groups

One of the most important tasks of our project is to provide training for risk groups and to facilitate their entering into the labour market through working at our regional work centres.

Because of the typical family model in rural areas, where the man is the main bread-winner and commutes to work, the primary audience of our training tends to be local women with young children. Such women face high barriers in entering the labour market due to their insufficient education and limited professional background, as well as their caring duties for young children.

There are not many employers in rural areas and travelling any distance to work is not practical because of child care responsibilities. In addition, employers are not interested in women with young children who often have no unique skills but require a lot of flexibility.

During our training programmes, we help people reach an understanding of what kind of work they want to do and in what format, and also what kind of skills they need to develop to achieve it. The communications training helps people to adapt to the world of speed and boosts confidence levels. An important focus on our training courses is on the skills of using a computer and computer accessories, as well as the skills of working over the Internet and the ability to efficiently learn to use various software programmes as it is a crucial precondition for working remotely. In addition, we have developed training programmes in response to some specific needs from employers, for example telephone customer service and carrying out a customer survey.

In 2011 the SWA joined the project organised by the foundation “Look at the World” (Vaata Maailma) and financed by Microsoft to create community computer clubs in rural areas and promote computer skills. Some good examples of women’s cooperation in that context are work centres in Paide (middle of Estonia) and Lahemaa (Northern Estonia) where women who first received the training themselves consequently trained up as ICT supporters and are now teaching computer skills to others. Other centres have also carried out computer and Internet training courses to the elderly and beginners in general.

3. Starting up regional work centres

During the project we have set up 5 pilot work centres to test various models of work centres.

In rural areas it is often a problem to find suitable rooms for public use – facilities owned by local governments are usually in a bad condition and in need of some investment.

The project invested in 3 regional centres which now have a decent working environment. The SWA has consulted other fledgling centres in getting funding and finding partners. All centres use modern ICT solutions and offer a fast and secure Internet access. The centres have been equipped with proper information systems and website building software solutions.

People who use (tele)centres can work in a safe environment to restore their work habits, develop competences as a team and compete jointly for jobs. At work centres people can work flexibly and support each other in personal matters, such as child care. Employers, at the same time, do not have to worry themselves with the complex administration of flexible work arrangements or work-life balance issues of staff – they just outsource a service from the work centre.
Besides work opportunities, another important function of these centres is to bring latest developments and knowledge in the form of training courses into rural areas. The focus is on teaching people to learn autonomously, consciously develop their career and to spread the information about the opportunities of e-learning.

4. Promotion of smart work and smart work centres

Promoting smart work and smart work centres is also an important part of our project. We have organised several conferences called “Inspiration days”, where we have introduced smart work topic to different target groups.

We have published booklets and articles, developed a website and a Wiki page on flexible forms of work and (tele)centres.
We have also produced two animations for children about smart work centres and four short films about our study tours and telework in Estonia.

Main results

The main result of our project is the creation of working and training centres. Here are four examples of the created centres.
Lahemaa Telework and Training Centresis a regional NGO actively developing a network of community work and training centres in rural areas of Northern Estonia in order to improve the local quality of life. In summer 2010 they renovated Kõnnu (70 inhab) village hall and in 2011 the building work on Kolga (500 inhab) multifunctional community centre started.

At Kõnnu they started one year ago with 5 women; there are now 12 of them and the number is growing. Women share their knowledge, jobs and childcare duties with each other, develop their competences as a team and compete as a unit for work in the labour market. Women with more extensive educational background, work experiences and social networks act as mentors bringing work to the centre, organise training courses and launch projects. The women who have worked in the centre longest also consult new recruits and help them integrate.

Some of the members of the NGO Lahemaa KKK are responsible for the ICT equipment and solutions; they offer ICT support not only to the members but also to the wider public. Employers and companies appreciate the centre’s ability to arrange its own work, to take responsibility and its high preparedness for complicated ICT solutions. Working for the centre helps women achieve the desired work and family life balance as their crucial job requirements – working close to home with flexible hours – are met. Furthermore, in addition to offering training and self-development the centre is also an important place for communication and social life.

Lahemaa KKK also offers its members organisational support like administrative assistance, book-keeping and e-identity (e-mail address and status) for carrying out their dream projects. For example, their members have organised environmental awareness courses for children, carried out heritage research projects and consulted local villages on their development plans.
A similar centre based on women’s cooperation is located in Southern Estonia – Abja Paluoja (1294 inhab). The Abja Telework Centre is situated in the centre of the town. Four active local women started the centre in August 2010. There are four shared work spaces, a fast Internet connection and complete office equipment.

The Abja Telework Centre has organised several training courses for local people and has provided services, such as administrative support, book-keeping, project management etc., to NGO-s and small enterprises. Some of the founders of the centre have found a permanent job in local companies, but still work for the centre as volunteers and help newcomers to integrate into the working life.

TheLaulasmaa Telework Centre piloted a work centre with a child care service. The Laulasmaa village (775 inhab) is close to Tallinn (ca 40 km) and many families are relocating to the village. As a result the village population is growing rapidly. Many of the new settlers are white-collar workers who commute to work and experience traffic jams every day. There is a great shortage of child care services. Thus, in 2009, two active women in cooperation with the local government started a work centre that also offered a child care service on premises.

In Paide (8981 inhab), in Central Estonia, two women started a call centre where 12 women found employment. In addition to the call centre, these women also run the club of book-keepers who work remotely for their clients as freelancers.

We believe that Kõnnu and Abja community work centre model would suit other small villages, which are not attractive to investors or employers but are highly regarded as green and safe living environments. Every work centre could have a different focus depending on the local people’s professional profile and interests – the most important things are cooperation and achieving synergy within local potential. Lahemaa KKK‘s experience shows that the critical factors for the sustainability of a centre are the support of the local government, the commitment of centre leaders and the cooperation with other centres and partners.

Partners and foundation

The project was carried out in partnership with the Estonian Employers' Confederation, Tallinn University, NGO Terve Maa, Keila rural municipality, Kanepi rural municipality and NPO Kanepi Communication Centre.

The project is funded by the European Social Fund.