In February and March 2021, we launch a field experiment designed in cooperation and implemented by the Public Employment Service (PES) of Lower Austria (Arbeitsmarktservice Niederösterreich (AMS NÖ)). The aim is to increase training and employment among the unemployed by increasing participation in and completion of training programs. Unemployed receive an email newsletter,
which for some contains a training voucher and additional information. In the first intervention, we designed multiple different treatment arms to separate out direct effects of raising awareness, supporting reciprocity, and strengthening perceived autonomy. In the second intervention, we send out variations of the training voucher email, which are informed by a pre-intervention survey.
The newsletters for the first intervention are sent out in three waves, to which the unemployed are assigned based on their unemployment duration (6-9 months, 9-12 months, and 2-4 months). Here, only those with a valid email-address can be contacted as the newsletters are sent solely via email.
Three different treatment arms vary the type of information provided and the perceived autonomy that the unemployed have in choosing a training program. The different treatment conditions are as follows:
1. Group: control
2. Group: treatment with newsletter
3. Group: treatment with newsletter, and voucher
4. Group: treatment with newsletter, voucher, and information prime
Group 1 functions as the control group and is not contacted at all.
Group 2 receives a newsletter that includes an invitation to a consultation to discuss potential training programs with the PES' job counselor and provides information about existing financial incentives to start a training program.
In addition, groups 3 and 4 receive a voucher (Figure 2) worth € 15.000,-, which can be redeemed to take part in training programs provided by the PES. Alternatively, the voucher can be redeemed in consultation with the PES for any outside training for up to € 3.000,-. The groups receiving the voucher further obtain a list of typical training programs as part of the newsletter. This should motivate the unemployed in these two groups to already think about their preferred training program before the consultation at the PES. Finally, job counselors are instructed to take serious the voucher received by unemployed. The treatment is designed to increase self-initiative for the unemployed and raise awareness for the financial value of such training programs, thus inducing reciprocity.
Finally, group 4 receives in addition to the voucher an information treatment consisting of a list of occupations with the highest number of job vacancies. This information treatment is intended to counteract a frequently mentioned concern related to asymmetric information in the use of training vouchers: unemployed allegedly do not have enough information to make an informed choice about their optimal training program (Strittmatter, 2016). It will additionally increase (perceived) autonomy as it encourages even more to think about potential course choices before the consultation at the PES.
In general, all groups (including the control group) have access to the same training programs, both provided by the PES as well as outside training. The intervention, thus, consists of the variation in the type of information provided. Additionally, it varies the perceived autonomy that the unemployed have in choosing their courses. Importantly, the control group refers to the status quo without intervention, meaning that they are not made worse off by our intervention.
Intervention 2 includes all unemployed, who have been registered unemployed for at least 12 months, with or without email-address. Those without an email-address receive the newsletters from the second intervention by post. Additionally, those without an email-address, who would have been included in the first intervention, because of their unemployment duration, also receive the second intervention treatments.
To target the second intervention in the best way possible, we ran a pre-intervention survey, which is sent to all who were unemployed longer than a year and had a valid email address. The aim of the survey is to get a better understanding of why unemployed do not participate in training, to then address these reasons and possible solutions more directly in the second newsletter treatment.
The second intervention consists again of sending different variations of a newsletter. To maximize the positive effects on participants, we use the most successful newsletter variation from the first intervention, group 3, as a baseline (see Figure 5). On top, we include additional information as treatment variation. Each treatment consists of a few lines that help tackling a specific concern of unemployed to not
participate in training. The pre-intervention survey informs the treatment selection and design. The findings point to three reasons that seem most prevalent in preventing or motivating unemployed to take up PES offered training opportunities, which are backed up by anecdotal evidence by PES experts. The treatment variation is:
1. Group: Baseline including newsletter with voucher. The baseline group receives the newsletter with the voucher from the first intervention (from group 3), as this seemed to be the most effective in this short time frame.
2. Group: Baseline plus information on financial support: Financial constraints prevent unemployed from participating in longer term training offered by the PES. Therefore, we strengthen the information on financial support during course participation, making clear that the financial assistance provided by the PES amounts to at least 1000€ a month.
3. Group: Baseline plus information on benefits of training: Unemployed aspire to quickly find a job, and ideally a better one after having completed a training course. Therefore, we provide additional information on the the benefits of training programs. These include average re-employent rates and lower likelihood to become unemployed again after course completion.
4. Group: Baseline plus information on individualistic support: In the survey, unemployed were sceptical that the PES would offer well-matching training programs. Unemployed seek more tailor-made consultations or course offers. Therefore, we emphasize that consultations will be adjusted to fit best the individual needs and skills of the unemployed.
Treatment assignment in both interventions is random and stratified on unemployment duration, gender, age, region, education, and sending procedure (mail or post in the 2nd intervention).