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How do you motivate adult Danes to retrain?
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How do you motivate adult Danes to retrain?

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Dea

The Danish adult and continuing education system is being reorganised in order to get more Danes to choose to take part in continuing training. One in three say they are not interested.

More than one in three Danish workers do not see the need to take part in continuing education. This worries the government and the social partners, who believe it is crucial that Danes keep training and learning throughout their working lives. 

The government and the major employer and employee organisations all agree that there is a great need for Danes to do this. Since this spring they have held tripartite talks with the aim to strengthen the opportunities for people to take adult and continuing education, allowing all Danes to be better prepared for the future labour market.

The tripartite negotiations, which are set to end in October, are focusing especially on how workers with basic training can access general and trade-specific adult and continuing education, while also strengthening the link to upper secondary school adult and continuing education programmes. 

At the launch of the tripartite talks, the Minister for Employment Troels Lund Poulsen (Venstre, Liberal Party of Denmark) underlined the importance for workers with no or little experience to get training:

“There is no doubt that the increased need for skills means workers with little or no education will face challenges in terms of their competencies. And we will take care of this – we want to include everyone.”

Modernising the system

The government’s goal is to reach an agreement which will better motivate Danes to further improve their skills and adapt in step with developments in the labour market. Many lack that motivation today, a new study shows. It says a large part of the labour market fails to use the opportunities for adult and continuing education which do exist, feeling it is not relevant. 

37 percent of workers in Danish workplaces do not at all feel they have a need for continuing education, and another 11 percent only feel that they need it to a lesser degree. That means nearly half of Danish workers do not see the need to improve their skills, and among unskilled workers there are even fewer who understand the importance of continuing education, according to the study. It has been carried out by an expert group on adult and continuing education in preparation for the tripartite negotiations. 

The lack of continuing education begs the question whether Denmark’s adult and further education system works the way it should, thinks the Minister of Education Merete Riisager from the Liberal Alliance party.

“When more than one in three workers do not at all feel the need for further training, we must admit that the entire adult and continuing training system is being challenged. We need to carry out some fundamental changes,” she said in a comment to the study. 

That is why the government now wants to change the continuing education system, making continuing education offers far better targeted and more flexible for workers and businesses than they are today. 

A need for transparency and flexibility 

The expert group for adult and continuing education proposes the same thing. On commission from the government and the social partners, it has analysed how adult and continuing education works today, and developed a set of recommendations for improvements.

The experts concluded that the entire system needs a comprehensive modernisation, explains the head of the expert group Stina Vrang Elias, who also heads the DEA think tank.

Graph Workplaces not using VEU

VEU is the Danish acronym for Adult and Continuing Education

“Denmark has a long and proud tradition for adult and continuing education, but there is a need now for some radical new thinking, because the labour market is changing so rapidly.”

One of the studies she and the expert group carried out shows that neither workers nor businesses are particularly knowledgeable about the need for adult and continuing education. 

“You could say that they lack the crisis awareness which you perhaps ought to have when you look at how the labour market is developing. We need to fix that paradox and make sure adult and continuing education moves far higher up on the agenda for Danish workers and businesses,” says Stina Vrang Elias.

The expert group points out that users need a far more transparent and comprehensive system, and it needs to be accessible thorough their working lives. The expert group has provided the government with 13 concrete proposals for how to do this, including establishing one single portal which will offer easy access to information about what courses are available and how to apply. 

The expert group also suggests developing agreements where workers pay into their own training accounts in the same way they pay into their pension funds. This will secure the financing needed for skills development whenever this is needed.

Life-long learning

The expert group also wants to reduce the number of labour market training courses, and instead focus on the existing public core services, which again would create better economic conditions for these.  

“This will increase quality and secure delivery. Trough narrower but better services we will secure that there once more will be demand for labour market training, which has been a core element for the Danish labour market,” says Stina Vrang Elias.

She also sees a great need to make it easier to combine different courses, which can solve the specific needs of workers and businesses:

“There are for instance half a million Danes who struggle with reading. For them we should be able to create a course which is both trade relevant and which helps them improve their reading,” she says.

She believes getting used to the idea of learning new skills throughout your working life should be a new premise in working life.

“This is a natural consequence of the many opportunities arising from new technology, digitalisation and globalisation, while we live for longer and will be in the labour market for longer. In this perspective it is remarkable that we use the majority of our training resources – individually and as a society – only until we reach 30. We need skills development to become a far more natural part of everyday life, also when we become older.”

About the use of adult and continuing education (VEU)

Peer-to-peer training is the most common form of VEU. 68 percent of businesses have used peer-to-peer training in 2016. Next is intensive courses – 45 percent. 43 percent of businesses have used private VEU courses.

Public VEU courses are the least used among businesses. AMU (labour market training) is the most used public training offering, followed by upper secondary school courses and training, which is being used by 15 percent of businesses. 

Non-skilled and skilled workers receive training through obligatory certification courses, while workers with upper secondary education to a greater degree participate in specialised or general further training courses.

Many workers with upper secondary education consider VEU to be a personnel bonus and part of their career path. 

Businesses belive VEU participation is particularly beneficial to workers’ motivation, efficiency and quality of work. AMU is the exception, as businesses say AMU has the least effect on efficiency, quality and innovation. 

More than half of the workers think they have sufficient opportunities for continuing education during working hours or in their spare time. Those who do not feel there are enough opportunities during working hours, say this is because of a lack of time, they are indispensable or the business does not have sufficient means. 

More than half of the workers do not or very rarely feel they need continuing education, most of these have elementary education and most are men over 50. They do not consider loosing their job to be a great risk.

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Stina Vrang Elias

is head of the DEA think tank and has led the expert group which has assessed the Danish adult and continuing education system.

The expert group’s proposals for strengthening adult and continuing education:
  1. A single portal into an adult and continuing education system
  2. More use of real competence assessments
  3. A national system for analysis and surveillance
  4. Providing skills to competence clusters
  5. Linking adult and continuing training with the upper secondary school system
  6. Increased flexibility in digital execution and adaptation
  7. Improving basic skills
  8. A personal training account
  9. Targeting public services and improved flexibility
  10. Testing the documentation of benefits from the adult and continuing education system
  11. Changing services control of labour market education programmes 
  12. Simplified allowance payments
  13. New roles for the partners
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