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Mona Sahlin, Social Democratic Party, Sweden

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Bottlenecks in the labour market? 

The objective of Swedish economic policy is full employment. In the second quarter of 2000 the proportion of people in regular employment was 77.5 per cent, while unemployment was at 4.7 per cent.

I believe that it is important that we make sure that all of us who want to and can work, have a job before we start talking about labour force immigration. There may be a lack of skilled manpower in certain parts of the labour market. In that case it might be difficult resolving this within the country in the short term.

In cases where this lack cannot either be remedied by recruitment within the Nordic countries or other countries in the EEA, labour force immigration from other countries can come into consideration.

An example of this is the care sector, for which doctors are now being recruited from Poland. I believe that lifelong learning, i.e. skills development at all levels and throughout working life, is a prerequisite for being able to respond to the rapid changes in the working life. IT training at the leading edge and on a broad front are very significant factors in facilitating the development of advanced technology. Since, nowadays, there are increasing demands for IT skills on the labour market, it would be logical that all students should have the opportunity to train themselves in the use of IT, regardless of the type of course.

When it comes to employees, the responsibility for skills development lies largely with the employers.

A labour market for all? 

Nowadays, IT is used as a tool within all sorts of professions. In order not to exclude groups of people from the labour market, it is therefore extremely important that everybody be given access to the new technology and the necessary training.

I am thinking particularly of women, but also of those groups where the new technology is not currently a natural part of their day-to-day activities. Labour market policy is, together with adult education, society's most powerful instrument against the demarcation lines created in working life between those that have jobs and those that are unemployed.

A good example of this is provided by the special IT courses aimed at enabling unemployed people to get jobs in the IT sector. Another example is the 'computer tech' courses in which unemployed people are given computer training and participate in various projects oriented to the labour market.

I consider that extension of features such as the Internet cannot be carried out solely on a commercial basis, as otherwise remote areas would run the risk of being disadvantaged in terms of urban areas. The Swedish government has therefore set aside funds for a backbone network covering all municipalities throughout the country.

In spite of the fact that the use of IT has increased at all levels of working life, the lack of IT skills in small businesses has been highlighted. For these companies, IT knowledge represents an essential investment. The government has therefore proposed that funds be appropriated for a national programme. The primary aim is to be able to offer information and advice on the use of IT in practice. 

Cooperation within the Nordic…? 

No, I do not believe that cooperation within the EU can take over the role that cooperation within the Nordic countries has played. Cooperation within the Nordic countries is based on nurturing and developing the special common Nordic criteria that exist, such as our culture and our attitude to the welfare state.

The Nordic countries have a lot to contribute to the EU through our long experience of a free labour market and an active labour market policy. The Nordic countries also have a long tradition of fruitful cooperation and exchange of experience in respect of labour market policy, which should serve as a model for the EU.

The role of the public employment?

I envisage a labour market where people change their workplaces more and more often, and it will become even more usual to change professions than it is at the moment.

Against this background, there are grounds for believing that the demand for a smooth-running PES will be even greater than it is at present. The private employment bureaus are expanding and play an important role but their market share will be hardly more than 10 per cent in the next few years.

With the ambition we have of a labour market for all, I also consider it natural that the government takes responsibility for a comprehensive employment service. The measures taken by society to support those with the weakest position on the labour market will of course be most effective if they can be coordinated with the matching of job vacancies and job seekers on the normal labour market. I thus envisage the main responsibility for an effective labour market policy that facilitates the adaptation of the labour market will also in the future rest with the PES.

Answers from:

Ove Hygum, Social Democratic Party, Denmar

Tarja Filatov, Social Democratic Party, Finland

Páll Pétursson, Progress Party, Iceland

Jørgen Kosmo, Labour Party, Norway

Mona Sahlin, Social Democratic Party, Sweden

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