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Iceland’s Starfatorgið: 50 percent found jobs or started studying

Iceland’s Starfatorgið: 50 percent found jobs or started studying

| Text: Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir, photo: Gunnar V. Andrésson

The financial crisis was tough on young Icelanders. Many were unemployed for so long that they no longer qualified for unemployment benefit, only welfare money. Between 2012 and 2014 they were sent to Starfatorgið (‘the labour exchange’). Over half of the young people participating in Starfatorgið got a job or started studying.

Young people in Iceland had great problems finding jobs after the 2008 financial crash. At the time unemployment was only 1.6 percent, but rose to eight percent by 2009 and tipped eight percent in 2010. In 2012 unemployment was just over six percent. 

It was not easy for 20-25 year olds to find a job. They had little experience from working life. Many had been away from working life for a long time. Young men struggled the most. 620 people participated in Starfatorgið during 2012, more than two thirds were male.

“It was tough,” says project leader Tryggvi Haraldsson at the job centre Vinnumálastofnun.

“There were very few new jobs. Young people represented a group at risk from being shut out from the labour market before we took action with the project Starfatorgið for young people,” he continues.

Using the Stockholm model

The Reykjavik city council decided to activate young people on social benefits. The city worked with the municipalities in the capital region as well as the employment service. The aim was to help young people find jobs or to study using a labour exchange (jobbtorg) at the Reykjavik employment service and in other places in the capital region. 

Iceland got the idea from Stockholm. Municipal social workers sent long term unemployed youths to the employment service. They were obliged to go there two to four times a week to see their personal advisor. Failing that, they would loose their benefit money. It was just like going to a place of work.


Tryggvi Haraldsson explains how six advisors at the employment service in reality gave personal coaching in how to apply for jobs. The employment service’s task was to find jobs for all age groups, but in this case they targeted the young in particular. They would get extra service because not only did they have no jobs, but no education or experience either. Some of them also struggled with substance abuse.

The social workers met the youths, talked to them and mapped their private circumstances. They would help them find suitable courses and develop their working ability. Sometimes role-play was used in order to prepare the youths and make it easier for them when they went to look for work in the real world.

Three young men get jobs

The company Áberandi makes signage and has cooperated with Starfatorgið. Áberandi has given three young men aged 17-19 jobs for one year or longer. They were involved in the production of different kinds of signage. 

“We felt a social responsibility to activate young people when the people from Starfatorgið contacted us. That’s why we decided to participate in the project,” says Áberandi’s leader Jón Ásgeir Einarsson.

“The boys did a good job. You could say it was a kind of job training, at least to begin with. It took time to train them,” continues Jón Ásgeir Einarsson.

“We’d be very happy for Jobbtorget to contact us again. It was fun to see how the boys developed into becoming good colleagues,” he says.

Starfatorgið recommended

Tryggvi Haraldsson is happy with what Starfatorgið has achieved. A Starfatorgið survey shows 92 percent of the young people would recommend Starfatorgið to their friends. Tryggvi says 60 percent of those who finished the project found work or started studying. 

“This is a good result if the group lacks any motivation,” says Tryggvi Haraldsson.

“People in this is group don’t easily get a job,” he says.

Half found work

85 percent of those who took part in Starfatorgið are no longer using the service. More than half have got jobs or are now studying and 14 percent are not able to work. The rest have either moved or joined some kind of rehab programme. 

Tryggvi Haraldsson thinks the Starfatorgið project has shown that it pays to focus on the weakest group among the unemployed. Starfatorgið will continue as part of Iceland’s employment service.

Happy with Starfatorgið

Arnór Ingi Jónsson (25) has just started work with the car dealership Bílabúð Benna. But before that he spent two to three months at Starfatorgið. 

Two years ago Arnór Ingi got a job with machine manufacturer Micro Ryðfrí Smíði via Starfatorgið in Reykjavik. He is happy with the service. 

Arnór Ingi got in touch with Starfatorgið for the first time two years ago. At that time Starfatorgið had reams of lists with all the companies which were looking to hire people. Young people sat down and leafed through the lists and applied for jobs. 

“It is a convenient way which makes job seeking easier,” he says.

Arnór Ingi is interested in cars and had finished a course in electric welding at the Borgarholtsskóli vocational school in Reykjavik. He soon found work at the machine manufacturer Micro, where he worked as a mechanic while studying for half a year. But he wanted to try working nights, and left Micro.

Night shifts

He worked nights at the food company Hollt og Gott, making sandwiches and salads. But despite the night shifts he kept waking up at seven in the morning, so the working hours did not really suit him. He also got paid less than the company had promised him. So Arnór Ingi ended up at Starfatorgið  again.

Starfatorgið gave Arnór Ingi the chance to get a machine operator education. He finished this in March and now he works for the car dealership Bílabúð Benna.

“I have worked for Bílabúð Benna before. When I met my former boss he offered me a job which I of course accepted,” says Arnór Ingi Jónsson happily. 

Arnór Ingi Jónsson

Arnór Ingi Jónsson likes bodybuilding on his free time. Photo: Private


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