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 Norwegian pilot project: get work-ready in the workplace

Norwegian pilot project: get work-ready in the workplace

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Nordic employment authorities usually use one of two approaches when trying to help people far removed from the labour market. The traditional one is to make the job seeker “job ready” before starting work. The other is to train people for the labour market in an actual workplace.

Now researchers at the Norwegian Work Research Institute AFI are launching a new model, where a new role is created to make it easier to help include people who face social, psychological or physical challenges into the labour market.

Norway’s Labour and Welfare Administration NAV already supports mentors, identified by employers, as well as employment specialists, who can offer supported employment services. The latter work for NAV or its external centres and specialise in handling challenges that might arise during inclusion work.

Good results

“Over the past three years we have been working on a project that has provided good results. A NAV employment officer acts as a guide for the mentors in a few of the cases in his or her portfolio, while keeping his or her role as a caseworker – the person who can instigate measures on behalf of NAV,” says Øystein Spjelkavik, the project head.

“It is important that the support comes in parallel with efforts to adapt the workplace.”

The project has been run in 39 different workplaces in Namdalen in Trøndelag and in Asker near Oslo. 43 NAV employees and 39 mentors volunteered in the project. 

Out of the 49 participating clients (or users as they are known in Norway), 36 were hired, two got an internship and two enrolled in studies.

“The question is how you maintain such good results. Experience has shown that you often get good results in workplace trials,” said Ane Stø from NAV as the project report was presented in Oslo.

“But this research project is very relevant to us at NAV,” she said.

Three-partite agreement on inclusion

Norway has had a tripartite agreement since 2001 where one of the aims has been to help people with physical or psychological challenges access the labour market. The agreement has been renegotiated five times. The latest agreement covers the period from 2019 to 2022. Results have been meagre, however. The report quotes NAV’s Head of Research Yngve Åsholt:

“If we look at the graph representing people outside of the labour market, it is quite honestly completely flat. This means we have a long way to go before we reach our target.” 

The main problem is that NAV caseworkers are often pressed for time and do not have the necessary knowledge about the workplaces, while mentors in the workplace lack the necessary experience needed for taking care of people with problems. There is also the risk that the job specialists involved take so much responsibility for the users that a long-term natural assimilation into the workplace will not materialise.

“The new hybrid role should really just complement what is already in place. It should not replace any of the existing roles,” says Øystein Spjelkavik.

Voluntary recruitment

The trial has seen NAV caseworkers volunteering to play a more important role in the workplace. Because they know which resources in terms of money and training NAV can provide, they can help improve the relationship with employers. Mentors from many different companies have also been given the chance to meet and exchange experiences.

It might seem easy, but these are two totally different approaches which often collide. NAV is part of a bureaucracy where it is important to treat all users according to the same principles and where each caseworker often manages a portfolio with hundreds of users while working in an office. 

The opposite is true for the inclusion work, where the individual is at the centre and each case is unique. The challenge is to find a solution that suits the user – not to adapt the user to standardised demands. Job specialists are field workers and are responsible for fewer users, perhaps around 20.

Problems that can only be handled

On a more philosophical level, this is about “tame” versus “wicked” problems. Tame problems can be complex but they only have one solution. Wicked problems cannot be solved, only handled. There is often no clear correlation between cause and effect. 

“We know a lot about how to get users into a workplace and finding them a job. But we don’t know how to get them to stay,” says Øystein Spjelkavik.

Most measures are time-limited, and this was seen by many participants as the greatest obstacle for achieving results. A company might get financial compensation for hiring mentors, or employers get support for hiring people who are far removed from the labour market.

The hybrid model allowed caseworkers to choose a small selection of users from their portfolios and follow them closely while maintaining a larger personal responsibility. 

Transfer of knowledge

Several of those who took part in the trial project said they experienced a transfer of knowledge between the different occupational groups and between NAV and the companies.

“We learned a lot from the mentors,” says Solrun Perminow Strand, who headed the sub-project at the Asker NAV office.

“The challenge for us was to stick to the project’s aim – to focus on the workplace and not fall back on expecting the user to adapt to the job.”

Due to integrity concerns, the researchers could not contact or interview the users directly. The report is therefore based on studies and interviews with the mentors, job specialists and caseworkers. 

A video from a nursery did, however, illustrate a positive story where one of the users found a job.

“Nobody else gets such close contact with the children as she does,” said Else Marit Nilsen, head of the Skoglyvegen nursery.

Different problems

Mona Kristin Rømold headed the sub-project for NAV Namdal, in Trøndelag county. She described one problem: everything seemed to go well, but as soon as the user was ready to be put on an ordinary, paid contract, you got a lot of absenteeism.

“Without the mentors, we would not have picked this up, or become aware that this is not an unusual thing to happen,” she says.

The report from the research project lists a large number of the many problems which might occur, but the general message from those who took part in the project – caseworkers from NAV and mentors – is a positive one.

"The trial shows that there is a strong will within NAV to try alternative ways of achieving inclusion," says Øystein Spjelkavik.

Some of the key people

in the project include Solrun Perminow Strand, NAV Asker; Ane Stø senior advisor at NAV; Øyvind Spjelkavik and Mona Kristin Rømold, NAV Namsdal.



The report is called Work Inclusion and Mentors – Inclusion Competency through Co-Creation, and was written by researchers Øystein Spjelkavik, Heidi Enehaug, Pål Klethagen and Angelika Schafft.

They all work at the Norwegian Work Research Institute, which is part of OsloMet – the Oslo Metropolitan University.

Read the entire report here (in Norwegian)



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