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Denmark strengthens vocational education

| Text: Marie Preisler

Few young Danes are outside of the labour market. Improved vocational education should get even more of them into training and jobs.

Denmark is doing better than most other European countries when it comes to preventing young people remaining outside of the labour market. Only six percent of young Danes between 15 and 24 are neither in work, training or internships, which means Denmark ranks a proud third in the EU.

Only Luxembourg and the Netherlands have a lower number of young people who are not in education or working, and the EU average is far higher; 13 percent of EU youths are not working or in education. In countries like Italy, Bulgaria and Greece matters are even worse, where more than one in five young people has no job and does not study.

The figures come from, an employment newsletter from the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment, which is part of the Ministry of Employment. Per Kongshøj Madsen is one of Denmark’s leading labour market researchers. He believes the reason so few young Danes are without jobs, education or internships is Denmark’s low unemployment rate in a European context. But he also thinks the bar for entering the labour market is lower for young people in Denmark compared to many other EU countries.  

Kongshøj Madsen, who is a Professor at the Department of Political Science and Government at the Aalborg University, points to the fact that Denmark has an active policy of following vulnerable young people on their journey from secondary school to further education at for instance schools of production, where training is based on practical work and production. There is also a strong tradition in Denmark for linking young people in training to the labour market:

“Many studies are designed to be practical and involve periods of internships, and young people often work while they study. This gives them an early introduction to working life,” he tells

Reform for better vocational education

Yet Danish vocational education and accompanying internships have been heavily criticised for many years, partly because som students do not get the chance to get an internship, which is normally a central element in the training. One in ten have to make do with a so-called school internship, which does not give them the same work experience. Some students can’t get any work experience at all.

The government now wants to change this. A broad majority in parliament passed a comprehensive vocational education reform in February 2014. The reform comes into effect after the summer holiday in 2015 and will introduce a range of improvements to vocational educations. Entrance exams will be introduced along with more teaching hours, improved further training for teachers and more will be done to offer students internships. 

The Ministry of Education has hired teaching consultants as part of the vocational training reform, who will advise vocational schools that struggle with teaching quality. They will also advise Danish vocational schools on skills development and spread general knowledge.

A drive for more internships

80,000 Danish youths are in vocational training in the school year of 2014-2015. 90 percent of them have a trainee agreement with an employer. The rest — one in ten students — must make do with school internships for now. This is becoming more common, because it is hard to find internships in real workplaces. There has even been a lack of school internships.

The government expects the reform to strengthen businesses’ desire to set up internships, because the education is getting better and as a result the students are better qualified, ready and motivated and more attractive for businesses which are considering taking on a student. Vocational schools should also get better at helping students find internships, the country’s municipalities have agreed to establish more internships and more school internships will also be created.

Future need for skilled workers

The Minister for Education, Christine Antorini (Social Democrats), says the vocational education reform is aimed at making Danish youths the best both behind a desk and at on the shop floor:

“Some people think we Danes are so clever that we can do without using our hands, and only use our head. This is not right. Denmark is both a knowledge and production country. That’s why Denmark’s vocational educations are now given a huge lift which will give us even better skilled workers for the future.”

She says it is crucial to get more young people to apply for and finish one of the 107 vocational training programmes available and that they acquire the skills which are needed in the labour market. 

“Older and sick people will get help from the most skilled social and health care assistants. Our industries’ high-tech machines will be operated by the best process operators. Buildings, bridges and roads will be built by the most skilled bricklayers and builders,” the Minister said, commenting on the coming reform.


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