COMCADES-2 3 years later

Over the past two decades, we have witnessed significant changes in Europe in terms of how services for disadvantaged groups are organised and delivered, particularly for people with disabilities. These services now must take into account new elements such as social inclusion, respect for the basic rights of the beneficiaries, the opening up of services to the social environment and proximity to the community. These new elements have an impact on the skills required from professionals working with people with special needs, as well as in terms of management of services, proving the need for specific training and professional development for professional of the Social Economy (SE) providing services for persons with disabilities. 

Following an initial analysis of the various professional training systems available in the social sector in Europe (COMCADES project), a group of organisations belonging to the ARFIE network undertook a new, innovative project (COMCADES-2) with the aim of analysing the training needs for the social sector, developing a European-wide professional training model aimed at the managers of the SE enterprises operating in the field of disabilities, and then test this training in dedicated pilots in each country involved.

Back in 2008, the COMCADES project (Specific Competencies for Managers and Leaders of the Social Economy) highlighted the diversity of training scenarios, through the lens of managerial training focused on social intervention. This project showed:

  • managers of social enterprises need to be trained on “agile” organizations, capable of facilitating team expression and creativity, and managing change;
  • the diversity of training situations for SE managers means that there is virtually no common reference framework;
  • the specific areas of competence identified deserve to be further developed through a common training repository, to remedy the weak European dimension of existing training courses.

During the quest the partnership did not find a “European perspective” in any of the training systems in the EU countries we studied. 

The project lasted 3 years, and it can be now seen as a good practice in terms of social innovation at European level. COMCADES-2 has been:

  • An experimental training project in the field of the social economy, specifically in the area of supporting people with special needs. 
  • An adventure involving partners from 6 different countries: Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal. 
  • A learning experience for a group of managers and trainers from 5 different countries, who tested the training programme and enriched their own individual skillset and unique professional background. 
  • A commitment to all stakeholders (employers’ federations, employers, managers, learner-managers, trainers and contributors) to anchor this experiment both in the real professional environment and in a response that closely fits the needs of the managers, to be developed along with the chosen theoretical and methodological contributions. 

This experience has involved a team of training professionals from the social sector, who have worked without interruption for three years in order to build and deliver a training model for social enterprise managers. 

A diagram of a process

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It is hard to envisage a solution that fits all, a single training type that could apply to all managers in the social sector in Europe, as the differences between countries and regions are often profound. During the research, it was not possible to identify a “European perspective” in any of the training systems in the countries considered; this means that the skills framework, in order to optimise the positioning of SE organisations in the European context, requires a general knowledge of the ‘social’ in Europe, of European laws and EU policy on the circular and social economy, especially with regard to the rights of people with disabilities, the UNCRPD and also EC priorities, and more generally, the ecosystem of European cooperation in the field of social services. 

However, with the aim of contributing to the thinking behind a ‘Social Europe’, one possibility would be a form of horizontal training based on the fundamentals of managing an organisation, the UN Convention, the EU fundamental rights and the guidelines issued by Institutions and Member States, such as the European strategy for people with disabilities; this could be enriched by on-the-ground discussions and visits in order to give a concrete dimension to management, applied to the specific reality in each country. These discussions and exchanges are among the strengths of this project, and have allowed us to see how managers in the social sector operate in the participating countries, thus improving the professional standing of the learners, with regard to:

  • Learning to ‘get to know yourself’ better as a manager. Reflecting on your role, position and standing. Gaining awareness of your scope of responsibility within your organisation and within society as a whole
  • Enriching your skills in order to experience and grow professionally. Promoting inclusive, participatory and co-productive practices.
  • Based on the various economic models already existing, understand the issues surrounding economic performance, and be a transmitter of innovation. Use these models to benefit the project and its aims: the inclusion of the service users within society. 
  • Developing the capacity to transmit, in every aspect of your activity, the values and ethics of the SE within the organisation and region, even during a period of crisis.

The work done in connection with COMCADES 2 has pinpointed and affirmed the priority areas for the construction of a European training pathway for SE professionals:

  • The need for professionalisation : professional roles must be trained and qualified in order to provide adequate support for the beneficiaries of services.
  • Inclusive society –there is a need to develop multi-disciplinarity, by linking different professional backgrounds and by favouring the construction of a common language among the professionals specialised in different areas of the service users’ lives.
  • The need to strengthen operational logistics: we are seeing an increase in the size of the support structures and the need to work through multiple centres or services, but also the wider extension of the offer, in order to cater for all the demands for services. 
  • The need for an adapted offer, in accordance with the UNCRPD 
  • The need to ensure efficient economic management without compromising the  
  • Validating management : There is a need to highlight the professional role of managers, who have to permanently adapt to the changing contexts and crisis situations such as the pandemic, and to complex and urgent scenarios. This requires agility, creativity or innovation.
  • Promoting on-the-ground exchanges and experiences : The response must be anchored in real professional environments, particularly in the form of on-the-ground visits and exchanges of good practices, which must be systematically organised in each module. 
  • Favouring a hybrid training approach.
  • Favouring the visibility of the social sector: it is important to draw attention – both at political level and in terms of public opinion – as to the importance of acquiring managerial skills in the field of the social and solidarity economy. 

The project lasted 3 years and the results, available at https://comcades.eu, prove the work done goes in the right direction in order to develop an effective European training for Social Economy managers managing social services for people with special needs. Partners are already discussing possible follow-up and how to structure the training…stay tuned to know more! 

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