Keeping older workers in employment: a report on a Careers Exchange Placement in Oslo
[ACADEMIA PROGRAMME] (May 2003)
Paul McGill (Freelance Careers Adviser/Writer)
A shortened version of Paul McGill's report appears in News and Views (Winter 2003) pp15-16. Here we produce Paul's day by day diary.
This report provides summarised details of a one-week Careers Exchange placement funded by the Leonardo da Vinci programme. The placement took place over a working week (Monday-Friday) in May 2003 and its main theme was "keeping older workers in employment." The issues covered in fact stretched beyond this, and took a wider focus, covering for example disadvantaged groups in the labour market, such as asylum seekers and refuges and the disabled; access to IT amongst those previously excluded, and the Norwegian education system.
On day one we were welcomed by our Norwegian hosts in the city centre offices of (aetat), the Norwegian equivalent of the Employment Service in the UK. Guidance practitioners from Ireland, Italy, France and Spain joined me. There were two of us from the UK, the other being Marva March, an adult guidance worker from for Lambeth Council in London. Adult guidance provision in England differs from Scotland, so I think that the programme benefited from having both England and Scotland represented.
Our hosts provided an outline for the week, followed by a presentation about their work within (aetat). We were all given the opportunity to introduce ourselves, including offering some information about our backgrounds and current work activities. Information and views were shared informally throughout the week and it was useful to learn about guidance issues not only in Norway, but in England, Italy, Ireland, France and Spain.
A short presentation was delivered on the activities of euroguidance and web-based tools available for guidance workers in Europe. Euroguidance operates as a service to guidance practitioners all over Europe. There are 65 centres and aetat is the Norwegian national euroguidance centre, while in the UK it's Careers Europe, Bradford.
The purpose is to provide information sharing amongst members so that there is support for the movement of people across Europe, including pre-accession and EEA countries. Advisers can make use of the services as a means of gaining general information about education, employment and guidance provision in other countries. This information can also help in supporting clients migrating within the European continent.
Guidenet has been set up by some members of the euroguidance network to offer a fast information resource in a range of languages to guidance practitioners. This offer useful information such as funding for study, information about exchanges and further contacts relating to applying for employment, training or education in the country concerned.
Useful web addresses:
There was a short presentation about education for young people in Norway. State schooling is considered to be struggling in resource terms. The private sector schools receive 85% of their funding from the state - this is currently an area of debate in Norway.
In secondary schools in Norway young people enter upper secondary at the age of 16 and may remain until aged 19. There is a common first year of upper secondary, although there are a few options offered, such as creative subjects or psychology. Then there is progression to Advanced Course I and II. The advanced course II can be done either in school or within industry. The system also gives flexibility in terms of movement from selecting a curriculum with vocational subjects, while later being able to return to academic subjects to open up higher education as an option.
Schools have the responsibility for placing students into suitable two-year apprenticeship training if they have not secured employment and are not continuing in upper secondary academic education.
Higher education: there are four general institutions and several specialist ones across the country, such as the State Academy of Music and the Veterinary Science College.
There are over 80,000 students in Norway, amongst a national population of around 4.5 million. More than half of the students within higher education are women (around 58%). Around 15,000 Norwegians are study on degree programmes overseas in any one year.
State colleges offer courses between 2 and 4 years in length. These are vocationally oriented, e.g. teaching, engineering and nursing.
Entrants to higher education courses must have completed 3 years of upper secondary education. A high standard of Norwegian is needed; English is a requirement, along with a spread of other subjects.
There are particular initiatives to encourage older adults to access learning opportunities in general. These are referred to later in the report.
Solution-focused counselling model
A presentation followed by a discussion took place about the application of this type of approach being applied to vocational guidance. The methodology emerged from the tradition in the United States called "solution-focused brief therapy". Its philosophy is that change is inevitable and that a series of small changes to someone's life can lead to greater longer-term change, and the unleashing of their potential and enhancing their self-esteem. There was consensus amongst the group that this kind of approach to guidance is particularly useful when dealing with clients lacking in self-confidence and whose difficulties may be varied.
Visit to "Senter for Seniorpolitikk": "How to stimulate and develop good senior policies in private and public enterprises". Presentation and discussion.
We were taken to the Centre for Senior Policy, funded by the Norwegian government from 1992 to take forward strategies to help better meet the needs of older workers (those aged over 45). Like other Western countries, Norway faces demographic problems related to a low birth rate over the past few decades. However, there is a high participation rate in the workplace amongst older people. Although the official retirement age is 67, around 60% of workers retire at 62 years of age, when it is possible to start receiving a state pension.
The discussion included reference to research that work can be shown to be good for the health of older people, as well as for maintaining social networks. A strategic plan was put in place for the period 2001-2005. The philosophy behind this is that it is necessary to tackle the demographic issues by targeting younger workers, to raise awareness before they reach their final years of employment.
The project aims to:
The project works closely with employers and part of the strategy is to build up companies' policies on senior workers, via educating the HR professionals, consultants and union representatives. The real challenge for the project in the coming years is convincing enough of the very large numbers of small employers about the need to implement senior policies.
A website has been set up to highlight the issues surrounding older workers and the ageing workforce. This is updated weekly and includes case studies of companies that have developed good senior policies.
Visit to Rikstrygdeverket, Senter for Inkluderende Arbeidsliv,dir Tone Mørk"An including working life - status, interim evaluation and strategy for further activities". Presentation and discussion.
This visit was to a government department dealing with National Insurance administration. An initiative has been set up within this department known as an inclusive workplace project. This has established in response to Norway's increasing sickness problem since the 1990's, which has meant a rise in benefits payments to those who are ill and people with disabilities and of course lost national revenue in terms of income taxes. This has been compounded by the problem of people taking retirement several years before the age of 67.
The project aims to reduce the number of people dependent upon sickness and disability benefits by 20% by the year 2005. It aims to get more people with functional impairments into employment and to increase the average age at which people are taking retirement.
Working Life Centres have been set up in 19 regions across the country. Employers are offered advice by staff in these centres free of charge. The service provided helps employers to create inclusive working practices, such as making efforts to recruit people with disabilities and having a fair policy for those having leave of absence due to illness.
Around 4,000 organisations have signed agreements with their local Working Life Centre, which takes in more than half a million employees. This has been achieved in less than two years. The centres have over 400 advisers who approach local employers to promote the initiative. Once again, the challenge is meeting the needs of all the small employers and convincing them to participate.
Visit to Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO) "Initiatives and actions".
This organisation is the Norwegian equivalent of the CBI in the UK.
There are 16,000 member organisations of the NHO set up in 17 regional organisations, making it the largest employers' institution in Norway.
We were advised that 80% of employers in Norway have fewer than 20 employees and that Norway has the highest participation rate in working life of all the OECD nations. It has the lowest unemployment at about 3.9%.
The NHO has been heavily involved in senior policy and works closely with the Ministry of Employment. A major government consultation about pensions is set to reach a conclusion late in 2003. At present those over 62 pay less in National Insurance contributions, but this may have to change given the demographic problems in the country.
Vestfold State College: "Livsfasestudiet - a study focusing on the different stages of working life".
On day three we travelled for about two hours by bus to Vestfold County, south of Oslo. There we were taken to a Viking Visitor Centre amongst lush green countryside and agricultural lands. After a short presentation about Viking travels and ways of life, we were ushered into a room to hear about an innovative higher education course aimed at those concerned with senior policy within employers.
The course manager of this flexible part-time programme told us that it was set up as a response to the need for having a look at the life cycle in relation to the workforce. Participants in the programme are all employed and tend to be leaders of private and public sector organisations. Currently there are 20-25 students on the programme, who bring a range of experiences and are from various ages.
The issue of the ageing workforce could, we were told be looked upon as a goldmine: we have "a growing experience" [as a country]. Clearly the course organiser was enthusiastic about the course and about the issue of having a workforce with a higher age profile.
The course is delivered as a distance learning course over one academic year, although there are four meetings over the year lasting 2-3 days each. Most students are from large organisations such as local government (human resources managers, middle and senior managers). There are a few from small organisations.
The main messages from the course are that ageism needs to be combated and that there is a need to look at and promote lifelong learning and development, not just the "problem of older workers".
"Arbeidslivssenteret i Vestfold and/or a local enterprise partner in the "including working life"-project'
In the afternoon we were taken to a town near the Viking Centre called Tonsberg, in Vestfold County. There we heard from two advisers (Jon and Chris) about a major government drive to alleviate the problem of high absenteeism in the workplace, as well as trying to increase the number of people with disabilities in employment. The scheme was set up by the Norwegian government against a background of increasing insecurity in the workplace and a feeling that people now tend to be less committed to a particular employer. The group discussed this for some time and it seemed to be something that was common in all the countries represented. It was stated that Norway has an absentee rate 50% higher than the EU average. (Two factors to bear in mind here however are that unemployment is very low and women's participation in the labour market is very high compared with most EU states).
There are 19 centres across Norway responsible for promoting the project. Vestfold Region has 13 advisers who are involved in approaching employers to encourage them to sign an agreement about a policy on illness and disability. Dialogue is encouraged even before there is an issue around an employee's absence. It is believed that the level of absenteeism can be affected by the employer's attitude to the issue. The regional centre concerned is there to negotiate between the employee and the employer. One conclusion might be that the worker continues to work for the organisation, but on a part-time if they are long-term sick, or have a disability that means that full-time employment would be too demanding. The focus of the initiative is on the person's capabilities and the employers are encouraged to engage in a tri-partite dialogue with the worker and the regional inclusive centre.
The remaining part of the day was taken up with a cultural visit. We were taken to Asgarstrand, a village at the shore of the Oslo fiord. We were given a guided tour of the village and visited the house of the Norwegian artist Eduard Munch. It was cold, but pleasant and interesting.
Visit to Aetat Intro - "How do we take care of our foreign citizens, to provide jobs and to assist them in keeping their job?
In the morning we were taken to the base in Oslo of a project aiming to support ethnic minority groups. Aetat, the Norwegian equivalent of the Employment Service has taken on the responsibility for meeting the labour support needs of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Aetat has specially trained advisers to work closely with ethnic minority groups.
Assistance is offered in finding and keeping employment. 6.9% of Norway's population is foreign. Open immigration has been stopped since 1978. There are now stricter laws in place to control the flow of migrants, although citizens from the EU can enter Norway freely to seek employment.
Aetat Intro offers immigrants:
Most immigrants who require support are from Pakistan, Vietnam, Turkey, Bosnia, Iran and Iraq. Most of these are refugees and asylum seekers. In Oslo alone there are 12,000 registered for work with aetat, this makes up almost 40% of all registered unemployed immigrants in Norway. Two thirds of all participants in aetat labour market programmes are immigrants. The benefits offered to asylum seekers in Norway are more generous than in other countries.
The main challenges are:
accreditation of foreign education
many are unaccustomed to competing for a job
no local references or work experience
small or no social networks
many refugees have a traumatic background
Visit to Rosenhof - "Do foreign citizens need more or/and new qualification in order to adjust and be competitive on the Norwegian job market?"
We were whisked away by mini bus to Rosenhof, a government-funded adult education centre in Oslo. The major area of work of the centre is language tuition for adult immigrants. It is Norway's largest language training centre for immigrants. We were given a tour of the facilities and shown around the small IT drop-in facility, where students are encouraged to access Norwegian books and newspapers too.
Key features of language provision:
The need for Norwegian language is now more vital than before, since new legislation means that newcomers must find employment within two years. Rosenhof has set up a website for newcomers offering information about the education system in Norway and gives links to other relevant information. Support is also offered in Rosenhof for job-search.
There seemed to be consensus amongst the group that Rosenhof was an excellent facility for ethnic minority groups. The provision is thorough and students appeared to be happy and mixing well with each other.
Visit to the Akershus University College - Special pedagogy with an emphasis on a person's work and career abilities the everyday abilities. Elements of importance here are rehabilitation and an inclusive attitude in the workplace.
Contacts: Marit Stenberg/ Gerd Kvernmo
Akershus University in Oslo offers a range of degree courses such as Product Design, Nursing, Social Education and technical and Vocational Teacher Education. It aims to attract foreign students and has adjusted courses to suit with the ECTS programme - it hoped to offer joint degrees with other institutions within Europe. Most of the courses are offered on apart-time basis. This is attractive to adults who are in employment.
There is a policy to offer special consideration to students over 25. If they have worked for 5 years (2 years if holding a trade certificate) they do not have to meet academic requirements, so long as they have sufficient knowledge of Norwegian. Their abilities are be assessed by the university, but formal qualifications would not be necessary.
We were given a detailed presentation about a course for those working to support people with disabilities enter and stay in the labour market.
Visit to Vox (Norwegian Institute for Adult Education)
There was no respite on the final day of a packed programme. We took a mini bus to the base of Vox (www.vox.no), an adult education centre. Vox has played a key role in providing IT tuition to older people - both those in employment and those who have retired. One example of specialist provision that we were told about was a course for women, who were between the ages of 63 and 82. They had the chance to follow a course for 5 weeks giving them a basic introduction to IT.
The following points summarise the course:
We were given a tour of the site and shown a very impressive library, a facility that is well used by ethnic minority groups in particular who are studying the Norwegian language as part of their settling process in Norway.
"Dill@" is a CD-rom which has been mass-produced for beginners in IT. It aims to get more people using PC's; preventing exclusion from IT and is particularly targeted at those on low incomes, the low qualified and in the age group 30-60.
It offers basic support in:
The government sponsored a major national television, press and billboard advertising campaign for the Dill@ initiative in autumn 2002. The CD-rom became available in libraries, community centres and colleges. People could call a freephone number and order the CD-rom. Evaluation so far has been very positive and people like the fact that the CD-rom is free of charge.
The final part of the placement was spent discussing the value of the Academia programme and other European programmes and initiatives in guidance, as well as talking more about the issues facing national governments in relation to meeting the needs of the ageing labour force. There was a consensus amongst the group that the placement was very successful and that Norway is ahead of EU countries as far as addressing such real and challenging demographic concerns.