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Employment specialist helped Norwegian Julia (17) find her dream job

Employment specialist helped Norwegian Julia (17) find her dream job

| Text and photo: Line Scheistrøen

Close cooperation between two public authorities in Norway is giving young people with mental health challenges a new chance in the classroom or in the labour market. Employment specialist Anne Tvedt helped Julia Engan Pettersen find her dream job.

“You see? Of course this is the dream job!”

Julia Engan Pettersen has opened the door to a small paradise for us who are interested in yarn, knitting, crocheting, textiles and sewing projects. We are visiting Julia’s workplace Stitsj – a mall, cosy sewing and knitting shop in the middle of Hamar city centre, run by two women. 

A few months ago, they were joined by Julia. It was not a given that it would turn out this way.

Looking for a new beginning

Julia comes from a small place in Sogn in Vestland County. Her school years did not turn out like they ought to have done. Julia tells us she was bullied. Her school attendance was poor. Life was difficult.

Julia is getting help to meet the challenges life has presented her with so far. She sees a psychologist among other things. One year ago, she moved to Hamar. 

“I wanted a fresh start. A change in my life. I wanted to try to live again,” says Julia. In Hamar, she was offered a place with IPS ung. Taking part is voluntary and Julia accepted. She met employmnet specialist Anne Tvedt. That became the beginning of a new and better life. 

Anne Tvedt and Julia Engan Pettersen

Employment specialist Anne Tvedt (left) and Julia Engan Pettersen are both very interested in yarn. Anne is going to knit a sweater and asks Julia for advice on colours.

Produces results

IPS ung was established in 2022 and still in its early stages. The Work Research Institute at OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University – has conducted an evaluation of IPS ung on behalf of the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration.

The results show that IPS ung helps more people start work, especially the oldest in the target group. 

“We see a noticeable increase in young people getting into work after participating in the programme. This is a very encouraging result,” says Professor Ira Malmberg-Heimonen at the Faculty of Social Sciences at OsloMet.

The majority of the participants are happy with IPS ung. Some of the things they say are:Ira Malmberg-Heimonen

  • That the employment specialist has helped them get into jobs and education
  • That they see the employment specialist as a strong and supportive person
  • That they feel heard, taken seriously and that they experience an improved quality of life as a result of the cooperation

Meeting in informal settings

Anne Tvedt has been a employment specialist with the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration NAV for nearly one year. She applied because she wanted to be able to follow up young people over time.

Julia was the first young person she met at the office. Or, not quite. They have never actually met at the office. Anne meets the young people in cafes, at the library or while taking a walk, depending on how the young person feels and what they prefer. The employment specialist is never far away from the young people. 

But while Anne has a close relationship with the young people she follows up, she is clear about her main mission:

“I am helping them with a job. I am not their psychologist. Other people have that role,” says Anne.

Opening, not closing, doors

Anne and Julia got on well straight away. They discovered they shared many common interests. And when they now both take out their knitting and chat about yarn, colours, patterns and their next knitting project, you would be excused for thinking they have been friends for years.

“I quickly realised the interest in handicraft was something we could build on,” says Anne. Although she did not immediately know of an employer in the handicraft business who might offer work for an untrained 17-year-old, they both aimed for something like that.

“My task as a job specialist is to open doors, not to close them. I call it a kind of IPS ung naivete – we must keep faith when others see no solutions,” says Anne.

Anne Tvedt

Anne Tvedt is employed by NAV. She believes employment specialists could also be employed in the health sector.   

As an employment specialist, she tries to find out the things the young people feel work and what is not OK, what are their interests and what motivates them.

“What is needed to succeed? Together we put together a plan for how we should proceed, and then we have follow-up meetings and remain close,” says Anne.

IPS ung employment specialists feel it is particularly challenging to help the youngest participants find a job. For many roles, employees have to be 18. 

“A kind of grief”

IPS ung aims to get young people into ordinary work. Another stated aim is to help young people finish their upper secondary education and apprenticeships. Some IPS ung teams mainly work with young people and schooling, while other teams work with youths who cannot deal with more education and who would rather try working.

For Julia, school is no longer an option. At least not for the time being.

It is sad, silly and upsetting, but I have accepted that school is not for me right now,” says Julia.

She finds it difficult not to be “like everybody else”, those who are in upper secondary school and through that are part of a community.

“It is quite heavy. I feel I am lagging behind and that something is lacking. It is a kind of grief. At the same time, I know that I cannot attend school right now,” says Julia.

“Super scary!”

While looking for a workplace suitable for Julia, Anne heard that Stitsj was looking for people – but preferably someone aged over 18. 

Anne challenged the employer on the age limit. They agreed that Julia could attend a job interview. Only the idea of meeting someone she did not know and also talking to them scared Julia senseless.

“It was super scary!”

Julia and Anne

When Julia (left) and Anne meet, they happily knit together while chatting. 

Before the job interview, Anne and Julia talked a lot together, about what was important to tell the employer, which chair Julia would want to use and what Anne should do if Julia could not manage to say anything at all.

They made each other safe in their roles. Julia knew she had Anne. Anne knew when she needed to help.

Talked about snails

On the day of the interview, Anne went to see Julia at home first. They would walk together to the workplace. 

“I would not have been able to get to that job interview on my own. Everything was chaos. I was about to pass out. When we left the house to walk to the job, I felt uneasy and stressed,” says Julia.

But on the way there, they did not talk about jobs or the interview. Because Julia had given Anne one important message: You have to talk about something else, all the way there! So Anne and Julia talked about snails.

“I had read up a bit on snails because I knew Julia and I could talk about this. And it worked,” says Anne. 

And the job interview, how did that go?

“It was scary but it went well. They were really nice and already showed me a lot of consideration. I have been really lucky – with the workplace and with Anne,” says Julia.

Today, Julia is employed at Stitsj part-time.

Like a small family

Anne says they have used some NAV resources in order to make this work. The employer has been given wage subsidies and is part of a mentor programme. The latter involves paying one of the staff for a few hours a week to give Julia some extra time and support.

“It is very safe. The people I work with here are very understanding. They are good at adapting things. We are like a small family at work,” says Julia.

She has good days and bad days. Sometimes it can be hard to get to work when she is supposed to. The colleagues show flexibility and sometimes they can swap shifts. Other times, they move her working hours. 

Julia with yarn

Julia has found her dream job among yarn and textiles. 

But Julia prefers to go to work.

“On those difficult days, it can be a struggle just getting out of bed. But it is important to have something to go to and something to do. I try to make it work. It is better to be at work and do something than sitting alone, thinking,” says Julia.


It is up to the employee, and in this instance the young person, how much information about their mental health they want to share with the employer. Not saying anything makes it harder for the employer to adapt things for the employee. 

“In my experience, most young people want to be open about their own mental health and many employers are inclusive,” says Anne.

For an employment specialist, the work is not done once the young person has found a job. Anne will now follow up Julia and her employer for a while. The aim is permanent work, but this does not always happen after the first try.

Challenges to be solved

There are challenges with the model when it is applied to young people, but the researchers behind the IPS ung evaluation believe this is the right way to do things.

“There is no doubt that the IPS model works when it comes to getting young people into work and to finish their education,” says researcher Kjetil Frøyland at the Work Research Institute at OsloMet.

Some of the challenges identified in the researchers’ report include: Kjetil Frøyland

  • Time-consuming. For the employment specialists, it is more time-consuming to work with young people compared to adults.
  • Many partners. They do not always speak the same “language”.
  • Cross-sector. The health authorities and employment specialists need to improve their cooperation.
  • Two systems. Employment specialists find it challenging to navigate between NAV and health services, with different professional traditions, requirements, and goals.
  • New arena. Employment specialists believe more must be done to improve collaboration with schools. Schools have systems and regulations that many job specialists are not familiar with.

School or work?

Thea-Lee Westerberg Östlin from Oslo has always struggled to settle into the school environment. 

“I have always had real problems with school, ever since elementary school. I dropped out in year 6, I hardly attended any classes. I have always had the opportunity to go to school but it has been difficult and challenging for me.

Tonje Kathrine Kretschmer Thue (t.v) og Thea-Lee Westerberg Östlin

Tonje Kathrine Kretschmer Thue (left) and Thea-Lee Westerberg Östlin often meet at a café to work. Today, they are updating Thea-Lee's CV and look for jobs she can apply for.

“I actually love subjects like Norwegian and maths, but there is something about school and school work which I cannot deal with,” says Thea-Lee. She is 17. 

Even though school was so hard for her, she went on to go to upper secondary school. She started studying health and upbringing. 

“At one stage I wanted to become a psychologist. Because I know what it is like to struggle. I wanted to become one of those psychologists who understand children."

But her health and upbringing course was not quite what she had hoped for. Thea-Lee dropped out of school. 

Prefered to work

Last autumn, Thea-Lee and Tonje met for the first time, and this was actually in school. Tonje Kathrine Kretschmer Thue has been working with IPS and adults since 20215, and with IPS ung since it started up. Tonje works at IPS ung in Oslo city centre.

Together they try to find the path forward for Thea-Lee. One of the main aims for IPS ung in Oslo is to get young people to finish their upper secondary education.

This has turned out to be difficult for Thea-Lee. She has tried a programme which means she spends four days a week working and one day in school. She has been working in a café and a grocery store.

“I would rather work and have something to do than sit at school and concentrate. I enjoyed working in a café. I got to do different things. Every day was different. It kept me motivated,” says Thea-Lee.

Too much focus on school?

Today, Thea-Lee has no job, but she wants to get back into the labour market. Both she and Tonje believe it will become easier to get a job once Thea-Lee turns 18. That will happen in May.

“We are at some sort of crossroads. All the experiences we gain teach us something new, and then we hope to do better next time,” says Tonje. She feels that they are back in the consideration phase – should Thea-Lee go back to school or should she apply for an ordinary job? 

“There is a lot of focus on school at IPS ung Oslo. But not everyone fits into a school situation. I feel it is bordering on hysteria with all this focus on getting everyone to finish upper secondary education. Of course, it is possible to get a job without. It is important to be aware of the opportunities. If you work with young people, you need to build them up and not tear them down,” says Tonje. 

Tonje and Thea-Lee

There is often laughter when Tonje Kathrine Kretschmer Thue (left) and Thea-Lee Westerberg Östlin meet.  

Tough when you are alone

Together they try to find a new path for Thea-Lee.

“To begin with, I thought it was a bit strange this thing with Tonje. Because I already have a psychologist. So why Tonje too? But now I have grown very fond of her. If it weren’t for her, I would have dropped out of everything and stayed in bed at home.  

“Not only does Tonje do her job, but I can talk to her about anything. She guides me and motivates me. I feel that I can talk to her about whatever and get in touch with her whenever,” says Thea-Lee.

“I don’t see Tonje as a NAV person, but as a guide, psychologist and friend. It will be tough when I have to go out into the world alone,” says Thea-Lee.

“We have been through a lot of things you and I. Of course we will manage, the two of us,” says Tonje.

Evaluation of IPS ung


An evaluation of IPS ung, by Ira Malmberg-Heimonen, Magne Bråthen, Kjetil Frøyland, Øystein Spjelkavik, Anne Grete Tøge, the Work Research Institute, OsloMet (in Norwegian).
IPS and IPS ung
  • IPS is an international model for work inclusion, and is short for “Individual Placement and Support”. 
  • The main aim is to get people quickly into jobs even if they have health issues. Working is part of the treatment.
  • Out of the Nordic countries, Norway has been the one using the IPS model the most. 
  • IPS has led to good results in terms of work participation.
  • IPS ung is an adapted IPS model. IPS ung was set up in early 2022 and provides measures aimed at people under 30 who are undergoing active treatment and have reduced work or functional capability, who suffer from moderate to serious mental health issues and/or have substance abuse problems.
  • IPS ung is a joint initiative between Norway’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Care Services. The programme is operating in all of Norway’s counties.
  • The aim is to help more young people get ordinary employment and to increase the completion of education and apprenticeship programmes. 

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