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Continuing education gets huge push from Danish government and social partners

| Text: Marie Preisler

The Danish government and the social partners have agreed to spend nearly 2.5 billion Danish kroner (€335m) on continuing education for more workers. The agreement has broad political backing, but one labour market expert wonders whether it goes far enough.

Nearly 2.5 billion kroner is the sum which the Danish government and the social partners have agreed to spend on making adult and continuing education more attractive both for employers and employees. Many of the latter do not seek continuing education.

One in three Danish workers do not find it necessary to take continuing education, yet it is crucial that Danes keep learning throughout their working lives, say both the Danish government and the country’s major employer and trade unions. That is why they have joined forces in a so-called tripartite agreement containing a range of measures aimed at making it easier for employees to adapt to new working tasks.

Help to change track

One central element in the agreement is a so-called re-training fund, aimed at giving skilled and un-skilled workers the change to take adult and continuing education based on their own initiative. The Minister of Education Merete Riisager from the Liberal Alliance party has said the re-training fund is “a timely measure as the labour market is rapidly changing, and it will give individual workers more flexible opportunities to seek continuing education based on their own wishes and needs.”

Merete RiisagerThe tripartite agreement also eases access to training in reading, writing, numeracy, IT and English, and increases funds to improve the quality of the labour market training programme AMU, run by the Ministry of Education with the aim of improving skills among skilled and un-skilled workers. It will also become easier to find information about opportunities for continuing education, joining courses and seeking compensation for adult and continuing education.

The President of LO-Denmark, Lizette Risgaard, has called it “a really good agreement for wage-earners”, which accelerates their opportunities for taking adult and continuing education. She has been particularly positive to the 400 million kroner (€53.7m) set aside for skilled and un-skilled workers who need new competencies or a complete change of track, and the fact that there will be more help for the many workers who lack basic numeracy, writing and reading skills.    

Needs to be more than voluntary

Employers expect the agreement to lead to more people prioritising continuing education. Jacob Holbraad, Director General at the Confederation of Danish Employees, has said the agreement will lead to a more attractive and flexible continuing education system which has tools to secure the right competencies in the labour market at a time when there is a lack of skilled hands and heads.

The government can expect broad political backing for the agreement. Both the Social Democrats and the Danish People’s Party have said they are ready to support elements which will need legislative change.

Henning JørgensenYet the agreement alone is not enough, believes labour market researcher and professor Henning Jørgensen from the University of Aalborg. He told the Ritzau news agency that the parties had promised a major reform while only delivering small changes. He doubts the agreement will have any major effect. He thinks it is unfortunate that it is a voluntary agreement, and that it does not award the businesses that prioritise continuing education or penalise those that do not. He would also like to see some demands being put on municipalities, as these are responsible for the majority of employment measures.  

A large part of the Danish labour market does not make use of existing adult and continuing education, finding it irrelevant, according to a recent study. 37 percent of employees in Danish workplaces do not feel they need continuing education at all, and another 11 percent think they need it only to a small degree.

The tripartite agreement is valid for the next four years. It is the third tripartite agreement in less than two years. The two previous ones focused on integration and apprenticeships for young people.

Fact about the agreement

Central elements of the tripartite agreement

  • This is how the social partners wish to increase Danes’ use of continuing education:
  • Better re-training opportunities: Some 400 million kroner earmarked for a re-training fund, to give skilled and un-skilled workers the chance to take initiative for their own adult and continuing training.
  • Strengthening basic skills: Improved opportunities for reading, writing and numeracy education, plus a 10 million pot for increasing the awareness of what education is available. New courses in IT and English.
  • More than 400 million kroner to improve the quality of AMU courses.
  • A more flexible selection of AMU courses, tailored to individual businesses’ needs.
  • Higher compensation for everyone participating in AMU courses.
  • One portal for adult and continuing education, making it easier for businesses and employees to find information about continuing education opportunities, signing up for courses and applying for course compensation.

Source: The Danish Ministry of Education

The use of adult and continuing education (VEU)

More than half of Danish employees had no continuing education in 2016. 

Peer-to-peer training is the most common form of VEU. 68 percent of businesses have used peer-to-peer training in 2016. Next are 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.

Public sector business use VEU to a greater degree than private sector businesses.

Smaller private businesses rarely have a systematic approach to VEU and might lack the time and resources to send employees for VEU.

There are more non-skilled and skilled workers receiving 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’ main aim by offering VEU to employees is to maintain their qualifications and help them master new technology.

Businesses believe 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 losing their job to be a great risk.

Businesses that do not use VEU say the main reason is they do not see the need.

Source: Analysis of individuals’ and businesses’ use of adult and continuing education, the expert group for adult and continuing education, April 2017

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