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Norwegian employers: applicants with in-work training end up further down the pile

| Text: Björn Lindahl

Being unemployed as a young person has a stigmatising effect that can last for years. This is underpinned by comprehensive research. But is it always better to work, no matter what quality job you can get? Could it actually be better not to? Could a labour market course worsen your chance of employment?

So far it has been a widely accepted fact that having a job is better than not having one, and that a labour market course can improve unemployed people’s skills.

“The most used labour market measure for young people in Norway is in-work training. Newer analysis have documented that young people who have taken part in this are less likely to enter the labour market,” says Christer Hyggen, a researcher at the Centre for Welfare and Labour at OsloMet, the Oslo and Akershus University College.

Previous studies have shown the chances of getting hired fall by as much as 35 percent, compared with an unemployed person who has not taken part in any in-work training. But other things besides labour market measures can be stigmatising too. Jobs knows as ‘deskilling’ can have a similar effect. These jobs are so simple that they make any skills obsolete. A study from Norway and Switzerland shows that this is the case. Some employers in certain trades think it is better to be unemployed than to have worked for several years in a call centre.

What is less known, is the reason why the chance of getting a job shrinks because of in-work training or the wrong kind of job. In both cases it has partly to do with a locked-in effect – those taking part in in-work training or sit in a call centre are busy doing just that, and will not be applying for jobs as actively as those who are unemployed.

But could it also have something to do with employers’ attitudes? That hypothesis has been tested in an EU research project called NEGOTIATE, which has just ended. A total of 20,600 CVs were sent to 1,920 employers across five different trades in four European countries. The employers were asked how they would have classed an application from a person who had sent a CV like the one the researchers sent.

The employers were chosen because they had been advertising a service. They were first invited to class the applicant’s merits from a scale from zero to ten, where zero meant it was nearly impossible to hire such a candidate. Then they were asked to compare the three top candidates.

The fictitious applicants’ qualifications varied in experience, education, periods of unemployment and gender.

Since the four countries – Norway, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Greece – all have similarities and differences, the researchers could compare how different profiles were judged under different conditions. One hypothesis was that the stigmatisation stemming from having been unemployed is greater in countries with lower unemployment than in Greece, where it reached 50 percent for young people after the economic crisis.

At the same time the risk carried by an employer when hiring someone varies according to how strict the labour legislation is. In a country like Norway, where it is difficult to fire people, it should feel more risky for an employer to hire someone with a doubtful past than in Switzerland, where employment protection is not as strong.

One result from the study showed that Norway is the country where unemployment, defined as a period of 10 to 20 months, resulted in the highest level of stigmatisation. The candidates with a CV like that were ranged 1.1 points lower than others. In Switzerland the number was down 0.7 points. In Bulgaria and Greece the effect was so small that it boarded on being statistically insignificant, at 0.4 points an 0.3 points.

Unskilled work was defined as candidates having worked for five years in a call centre. Here the effects were considerably greater than for the shorter period of unemployment. The effect was still biggest in Norway, where candidates with a CV like that plummeted, losing 3.4 points. Bulgaria came a surprising second, down 3.3 points. The effect in Switzerland was down 2.4 points and in Greece 2.2 points.

In the study, Norwegian employers were also asked how they judged résumés indicating the candidate had taken part in labour market programmes organised by NAV, Norway’s Labour and Welfare Administration.

This too was interpreted by employers as being negative rather than positive. Such candidates were given 2.8 points less than those who had not taken part in any public labour market programmes.

In other words, according to Christer Hyggen’s analysis, when you measure the effect of in-work training it proves to have a significant negative effect on how employers assess that candidate.

“You can draw the conclusion that it is also important to study the supply side, i.e. the mechanisms on the employers’ side, and not only focus on the individual. It is also important that labour market measures are designed to allow you to also look at the quality of the jobs that are being offered,” says Christer Hyggen.

His research has led to a debate in Norway. Sigrun Vågeng, the NAV Director, believed the picture painted in the media was imbalanced:

“We can always improve, and labour market measures are no exception. But a lot of people do actually find jobs after starting in-work training,” she writes.

“We need more research on what works and what doesn’t, so that we can adapt the measures accordingly.

“Measures are no magic wand, but the right measure for the right person at the right time has a positive effect,” she wrote in an opinion piece for NRK Ytring.


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