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Renewed vigour for working life

| Text: Anders Jakobsen, photo: Anette Jønsson

Denmark enjoys EU’s lowest unemployment rates among the young, but too few take higher education. NLJ explores how to get the young going by ”leading them by the hand”.

No other EU country gets as many young into work as Denmark. Figures from Eurostat show that Denmark enjoys the lowest unemployment rates among young people – 7.2 percent. The EU average is 20 percent, and only Holland and Ireland has less than 10 percent youth unemployment. The number for Sweden, for instance, is 17 percent.

But Denmark struggles to get young people to take further education. Around one in four 30 year-old Danes has no qualifying education. 

The low youth unemployment in Denmark is certainly the result of a rather restrictive policy introduced along with the labour market reform of 1996. It meant people between 18 and 25 only got half the normal unemployment benefit. And after only six months, young people have both the right and duty to get work. At the same time, there’s a follow-up of young people leaving secondary school to make sure they take further education – or at least get a job. The young are being kept on a short leash. In Greater Copenhagen unemployment among young people who are entitled to unemployment benefits is only 2.6 percent. When the reform was introduced in 1996, a lot was done in order to employ young people as early as possible. But it then transpired that very few secured a further education for themselves, and today a lot more is being done to get young people to do just that.

 In Greater Copenhagen, unemployment among young people who are entitled to unemployment benefits is only 2.6 percent. When the reform was introduced in 1996, a lot was done in order to employ young people as early as possible. But it then transpired that very few secured a further education for themselves, and today a lot more is being done to get young people to do just that.

Pizza deliverer-effect 

Torben D. Jensen, secretary general at the Association of Unemployment Insurance Funds in Denmark says one of the negative effects of the 1996 reform was the so-called “pizza deliverer-effect”:

"When you make it harder for young people to get access to unemployment benefits, they go to the local authorities for social assistance [outside the unemployment insurance fund system].

 "But it has also become harder for young people to get social assistance. When they ask for social assistance, they’re immediately asked to – or ‘forced’ into – getting some communal job or other. It’s called instant activation. 

”Those who don’t want that solution, find another job as a pizza deliverer or something, which often means bad salaries and bad working conditions. They end up in a “grey area” of the labour market, and they don’t count as being unemployed. This might well be the real reason why so many 30 year-old Danes lack further education. At the same time we see a dramatic decrease in the number of young people between 18 and 24 who seek membership with us, says Torben D. Jensen. 

Project Planeten 

Planeten (”the Planet”) in Copenhagen is one of the places where the young get solid help to get an education or to find work. The project is run by the college Technical Education Copenhagen, as part of the state education system. Planeten aims to shape the young into individuals who want to make something of themselves. 

There are no forced activation or other pre-historic methods here. It’s all about “breaking the code” – to find that one thing in the young which will motivate them to get an education or start their own business, says Lars Erhardt Gandsø, who runs Planeten: “In most cases the young know very well what they want when they come here. Planeten’s task is to coach them into working towards that goal themselves. We don’t push them, but help them keep focus on their project. 

”They are often young people with some experience and great ambitions of becoming actors, graphic artists, painters, musicians, police officers or something completely different. They always have a plan A, which they prioritise, as well as a plan B. If plan A won’t work, we get started on plan B."

Two types of young people 

”We’ve got two types of people here, generally speaking: those who really want to do something in particular, and those who don’t quite know what they want, only that they definitely want something – like all young people do.

“We do everything we can for that first group, to make their dream come true. The others we help to “break the code”, so that they can get an education or a job they like. That’s exactly the kind of people who could easily fall between two chairs, and perhaps end up in non-skilled labour for the rest of their lives, even though they could achieve much more. 

“They each keep a digital log about their lives, which is updated as we go along. It’s supposed to reveal what they are able to do, plus what they want to do and have the skills to fulfil. We don’t exclusively focus on education and previous employment. We help them find the right information about jobs, courses, economy and educations. We have a music studio, painting and graphic workshops and a lot more”, says Lars Erhardt Gandsø and shows us around. 

Airport worker

Karim Idrissi (27) is one of the young people at Planeten. He has got a degree from a commercial upper-secondary school and is married with one child. He’s been doing quite a few jobs before he came to Planeten a few months ago. He is aware that if he hadn’t come here, he might well have been stuck as an unskilled worker in various temporary jobs:

“Planeten has helped me figure out what it is that I want. I used to do jobs at the airport, which I thought was exciting, so now I’ve been accepted to do a course from October to be an airport worker."

”With help from the people here, I’ve found out that I can receive a trainee salary with support from the Job Centre, to help me afford getting this education. I would never have found that out by myself”, says Karim Idrissi.


Rachel Rasmussen (23) is sitting close by. Her dream is to be an undertaker. After finishing 10 years in basic school, she studied for one year to work in the social and health sector, and then spent three years working with elderly people for various employers.

”I haven’t been working since 2002, because I’ve had two children. Now I want to get started again, and my old dream is to be an undertaker. It is difficult and expensive, and the business seems to prefers more mature people."

”So I might well have to use my present skills for a few years to get some more experience, before I give the undertaker job a try again a bit later. In any case, I’ve had great help here at Planeten to sort out my situation”, says Rachel Rasmussen. 

Police academy 

David Haramija (25) has also spent time at Planeten. On 1 August he joined the police academy. ”It’s exciting to be here, even though there is quite a lot of theory to start with. But if I hadn’t spent time at Planeten I don’t think I would have started an education. I think I would have just taken various unskilled work.

”Planeten helped me find teachers and the right courses to improve my grades in languages and mathematics, which I had to do to join the police academy”, says David Haramija. 

Photo: Anette JønssonA bank job 

Faiza Khokhar (27) has taken part one of a higher business education and wants to go on to part two to learn about financial counselling. Meanwhile she has got a temporary job in the Alm. Brand Bank: 

”Earlier I had a job at the local council, but it didn’t work out that well. Then I joined a range of targeted courses, for instance personal development and some other subjects which improved my qualifications. And I learned to make good job applications. I now have many more opportunities, and I really feel the world has opened up for me”, says Faiza Khokhar.

“We really appreciate Faiza here at the bank. She’s very keen, dead loyal and hard-working – even though she’s ‘only’ a temp. It’s my impression that she’s become even more ambitious since she got a real job! says her team leader Morten Vestergaard.


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