The head of Austria’s Public Employment Service (AMS), Johannes Kopf on the Chancellor’s Plan A employment ideas and why careers are like trees

“There are lots of areas of work that are interesting, more than we think,” Johannes Kopf tells me, almost in a whisper. “And a lot of things get better as you do them.” So even if it’s not a “dream job” per se, it can still be fulfilling. Like his: As head of the AMS, his clients are unemployed Austrians, roughly 5.7 percent of the population.

“I never planned to become head of the AMS,” Kopf confided over a tea and orange juice at Café Prückel. The job involves understanding the needs and motivations of everyone, from high-school dropouts to under-employed physicists. As we talk about his work, I sensed he genuinely sympathizes with his customers and the challenges they face. Often it’s about options: “A lot of young people think if they make the wrong decision now, their whole life will go in the wrong direction,” says Kopf. “It’s more like a decision tree. Even if you start by taking a right, you might end up on the left side.”

A key, Kopf says, is not to neglect your interests, to find a middle ground between what your heart says and what the market demands. The goal is finding meaning in your work. Still, it’s often not the reality day to day. “There’s a reason why you get money for it!”

Young people do well here: Austria is number three in Europe in the number of employed youth, right behind the Netherlands and Germany (see Cover Story, p 18). But the long-term unemployed and the “50+” need a different strategy, beginning with a Mindestsicherung (guaranteed minimum income).

“Americans only get food stamps,” says Kopf. “So they were willing to work for minimum wage, doing jobs like guarding a parking lot that hadn’t been guarded before.” The U.S. statistics then say that 1.8 million jobs had been created and unemployment had been “slashed.”  So why is Mindestsicherung better than guarding a parking lot?

“Because there are people who can’t even do that. They can’t handle that job. They can’t do it emotionally.” Austria has a well-developed culture of protection. “In some ways, too well developed,” he admits. “And that certainly makes our jobseekers choosier, because they can afford to be.”

Presenting his “Plan A” in January, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern announced a proposal he would take to the EU, by which that Austrians would be given hiring priority over other EU citizens.  About 80 percent of the additional jobs created in Austria over the past few years have been filled by non-Austrian EU citizens – “mainly Hungarians, Germans and Romanians,” Kopf told me, “so it would have an immediate effect on the unemployment rate.”

“But these EU workers were not hired because they accepted lower pay. They were younger, better qualified and more willing.” So in the end, it’s the companies that suffer. Either they can’t fill the position, or they take someone less qualified, which helps unemployment numbers.” But not the employer. Needless to say, this is not an idea Kopf supports. First of all, he says the EU will never agree to it; it’s against the free movement of people – a core freedom of the Union. Secondly, even if they did, it could easily trigger a protectionist backlash, as in,“We don’t need your Römerquelle in Hungary, we have our own mineral water.”

A chain reaction like that could mean the end of the EU, he says. “I’m certainly biased, but Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” in part because of the internationalism brought by the EU.

New measures providing a federal 50/50 salary match are expected to lead to an estimated 70,000 new jobs. But of course the population isn’t shrinking either, so it’s business as usual for the AMS.

Where to Find Johannes Kopf in March

INIGO

A socio-economic employment project of the AMS: Long-term unemployed people cook and serve food and drinks. Kopf is proud to show foreign guests how well the reemployment
system works.
inigo.at

Zum Schwarzen Kameel

When Kopf wants to celebrate with his wife they go to this time-honored downtown hotspot. “The Kameel is very different depending on whether you’re at a table or in the standing area. It’s quite chi chi in front, and in the restaurant area you get delicious food.”
kameel.at

The Vienna Woods

It’s the only city of its size with UNESCO Biophere Reserve status. His wife works in nature preservation and the couple spends “lots of time” in the area. Whether hiking on Kahlenberg, dining at one of the many Gasthäuser, it’s not a bad next of the woods.
wienerwald.info
bpww.at

Hidden Kitchen
Kopf recommends this eatery very highly. They only do lunch and serve organic, veggie-­friendly meals as well as preparing picnic baskets in warm weather. Chef Lisa Rauchbüchl even shared a recipe with Metropole back in May 2016.
hiddenkitchen.at

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Margaret Childs is CEO and Editor in Chief of Metropole. Originally from New York, she has called Vienna home since high school. She is a board member of AustrianStartups, the independent non-profit platform, which aims to make Austria as famous for entrepreneurship as it is for skiing. She is known for loving Vienna passionately, talking too fast and inhaling coffee like there's no tomorrow. She tweets @mtmchildsPhoto: Michèle Pauty