Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2004 i Theme: Preparing for a future labour market i Annette changes tack
Annette changes tack

Annette changes tack

| Text: Anders Jakobsen

Annette Pedersen decided she wanted to become an electrician. She simply changed tack to get out of unemployment.

She is 37 years old and lives alone with her child. Fifteen years ago she trained to become a technical assistant, but she only made use of that education for a relatively short time. She has had a variety of different short-term unskilled jobs, but she has also had periods of unemployment.

A couple of years ago she had the opportunity to sample
the electrician's profession, and decided to begin as an apprentice – in a profession normally regarded as a "man's job".

But she has no problems with that. The training takes four years, and she is currently hired as an apprentice in the recycling company KARA i/s, a local council-run business in Roskilde in the middle of Sjælland.

Career change

Becoming an electrician wasn't entirely her idea, she tells the Nordic Labour Journal (NLJ):
"I had been unemployed for a while, and the PES suggested I attended some career change courses. So that's what I did. I haven't regretted it, but I think I'll have to get used to the fact that there's quite a lot of "male talk" at that kind of work place, Annette Pedersen says with a smile.

She is now one of the relatively few, so far, who have killed two birds with one stone; she is about to enter a trade which will make her equal with men both professionally and with regards to pay. It can be as simple as that. But in
reality it is far from being that simple. Like the other Nordic countries, Denmark has used legislation and other methods to fight gender inequality in the labour market. But a clear gender division remains, manifesting itself in unequal pay and in who gets what job. These two issues are closely linked.

A new tool

A new tool which looks like it might push the process forward is now being tested on the Danish labour market: mainstreaming of the gender equalisation process, when the Public Employment Services (PES) staff give careers advice to jobseekers.

The plan is to completely integrate the strategy into the work of the Ministry of Employment. Anne-Marie Jacobsen is the gender equality officer at the National Labour Market Authority. She explains the strategy to NLJ:

"We started a few years ago with pilot projects in three PES regions. Then we ran pilot projects in three more PES regions and today the remaining eight regions are also included.

"It is all about matching the jobseekers with jobs by giving careers advice which takes into consideration all the jobseeker's qualifications.

"We have documented that through this method alone we have come some way to break down gender divisions in the work market. If your starting people's qualifications - rather than their sex or the gender "tradition" of the profession - you'll find many women who do have the qualifications that can get them the jobs which usually go to men – and the other way around.
"Another task is to make people change careers and aim for where jobs in fact can be found, and perhaps also a safer future. It can for instance be very difficult for office assistants to change tack and get a job in a different area of the work market altogether, but it is necessary.

"PES staff should be able to identify all the skills of the jobseekers. Knowing their title and what was their last job is not enough. You must ask questions to discover all the skills a person has.

"In the short run, people will get back to work faster. In the long run we will have a better way of finding the right people for the right jobs, which again provides a much better foundation for the work force. And the work force will be more flexible and prepared for career change, says Anne-Marie Jacobsen.

Local challenges

Kirsten Høyer and Kirsten Melbye are the two gender equality officers at the PES in Roskilde who helped Annette Pedersen. Their first objective has been to get more people back into work. But they have also worked hard to help break down the gender divisions in the work market. Introducing mainstreaming into daily careers advice, however, is definitely hard work and a long-term task.

"The whole office has to be involved, and you need not least the backing of the management, which we do have", says Kirsten Høyer. If a careers advisor wants to make the jobseeker change careers and break the pattern, the careers advice must change. Kirsten Melbye adds:

"We've tried to "mainstream" how people are brought back into the work market, by focusing on bottle-neck areas. It is especially important to get women to change tack – and trade. That's what Annette Pedersen did, amongst other things, when we suggested it to her.

"Our attempts got several jobseekers back to work in the bottle-neck areas – from 11 to 35 per cent. But it isn't easy to make people change careers. To take one example; it's not very difficult to make a female office assistant choose work in the social and health sectors. But it is very groundbreaking for her to become an electrician, says Kirsten Melbye.

Annette Pedersen has broken ground, and she is happy she did it. She can look forward to both a safer job and a considerably higher salary than the one she has taken home so far. But as a woman it will probably be harder for her than for her male colleagues to get promoted. Still different salaries The Danish Confederation of Trade Unions and the Danish Employers' Organisation have published a comprehensive study which shows there are still marked differences in salaries for men and women. It took into account work function, education, trade, experience, working hours, shift work, pregnancy leave, geography and children.

In manual work, men earn on average 15 per cent more than women. In non-manual work, men earn on average 20 per cent more than women.

The Nordic countries

The number of employed women in the Scandinavian countries is markedly higher than in most European countries. But the development towards more equal pay is not moving forwards. That is partly due to a trend towards a society more suited to the individual.

Jenny Lindblad, who works with gender equality at the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions, tells NLJ the progress towards equal pay has been very slow for the past 25 years. And in the 1990s pay negotiations became more decentralised, which did not help the cause of equal pay. "There have been some positive developments here lately, because again there's a tendency towards more collective pay agreements, which means it is easier to take such things into consideration", says Jenny Lindblad.

In Norway women earn on average 86 per cent of what men earn for the same work. The discrepancies are larger for older workers than for the younger – perhaps it will get better in the long run. Rita Lekang at the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions tells NLJ:

"Over the past 25 years, equal pay hasn't happened as fast as we've wished for. There's been progress in some areas, in others it's been the opposite – for instance in the public sector on council level, says Rita Lekang.


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment