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The necessary skills at the right time

| By Berit Kvam

Finding a good match is not always easy, especially in the labour market. As the labour market is transforming at lightning speed, the need for skills increases. The opportunity to get adult and continuing education becomes equally important. But how to do it? The Nordic Labour Journal looks at possibilities and practice in the Nordic region.

The question is equally hot across the Nordics: How do you secure that the labour market and individual workers get the skills needed? The answers vary. Is it the responsibility of the individual, the employer, or is the state responsible for access to adult and continuing education?

Stina Vrang Elias from Denmark has headed an assessment of the Danish adult and continuing education system. It is food for thought, she says, that society invests most of its education resources on people below 30. We live longer and must work longer, while the labour market changes continuously. You need people to learn all of their lives. Elias’ expert group proposes an education account for each worker modelled on pension funds, to make sure there is always money for further education when the need arises.

In Iceland the social partners have been running a training centre for people with low education levels since the year 2000, offering skills validation to highlight the informal and formal competencies which exist. Icelandic authorities also supports this system. Many trades which never used to need special skills now demand both computer knowledge and language skills. Much of the production in the fisheries sector is now digitalised. FISK Seafoods offered further education, and saw increased interest in the job. Management hopes the employees will stay.

Should increasing your competencies be a right if you need new knowledge and skills? Or should competencies be controlled by employers?

Some trades are particularly dependent on economic cycles and fashions. Not least fitness centres like Sats Elixia. What they offer changes all the time, as does the need for new instructors with the right skills. With some 200 newly trained instructors a year, they focus a lot on competency development like adult and continuing education together with the public education system. They also develop their own competency-building courses and educations.

In Finland it is mostly up to employers whether they want to offer employees the chance to access continuing education. The restaurant trade has already broken the language norm in order to attract people. When employers have to tempt people to come and work for them, there is also a chance to get more skills, like the English speaking waiter Victor Fernandez says: “I would like to be a barista. Our employer has said that we who work here will be allowed to take courses in order to develop our skills.”

The Åland Islands are home to Viking Line, which has carried passengers across the Baltic Sea since 1959. Now many of the crew are reaching retirement age, and the shipping company needs to recruit new people. The challenge is how to safeguard the existing knowledge before the older employees disembark.

In Sweden, trade validation is a particularly hot topic. This is competency validation matching the competency needs of the labour market. The social partners are represented alongside representatives from the authorities in a delegation which is developing holistic validation processes. Competitive industries are at the coalface of change. They need sharp tools for competency development and recruitment, and the parties have developed a system for trade validation linked to the national qualification framework, says Ingegerd Green from the validation delegation. She believes everyone can also learn from Norway, which has lifted competency policies to the top of the tripartite cooperation. 

“In Norway we have gone for the national competence strategy. We agree that there is a demand of more competence in an increasingly digitalised labour market, and workers must be given the chance to develop their skills,” says trade union leader Ragnhild Lied in Portrait.


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