Tripartite committee issues report on continuing training

In February 2006, an official committee made up of representatives from ministries and social partner organisations published an extensive report on Denmark's current programmes and measures in the field of further and continuing training. The report contains a joint recommendation to expand the scope and coverage of adult and vocational training in the coming years, in particular in relation to vulnerable groups on the labour market.

An official tripartite committee on 'lifelong upgrading of skills and qualification and education/training for all groups on the labour market' was set up in September 2004 for the purpose of mapping out and analysing present programmes and activities in the field of adult and continuing training in Denmark. On 2 February 2006, the results of its work were published in a report of more than 1,000 pages. On the basis of its analysis, the committee strongly recommends a strengthening of activities and programmes in the field of adult and continuing training and proposes different models of financing this initiative. The committee in particular recommends a strengthening of measures in relation to the most disadvantaged groups on the labour market, including people with inadequate literacy and/or numeracy skills.

Terms of reference

In September 2004, the government discussed the need for a strengthening of adult and continuing training activities with the social partners, in the light of the effects of globalisation on the Danish labour market (DK0410106F). Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen made it clear that an important question in this regard was to find possibilities of financing adult and continuing training on the basis of collective agreements, in the same way as the social partners have implemented through collective bargaining a 'labour market' occupational pension scheme (DK0310103F). As a result, it wanted a tripartite committee to take on the major tasks of overhauling radically the whole field of education and training. The committee was to examine the financing and effects of current education and training programmes and the rights to education and training set out in collective agreements. The results would form the basis for further discussions between the government and the social partners concerning the possibilities for promoting the objective of lifelong upgrading of skills and training for all.

The committee was given the task of analysing and assessing present activities and programmes in the field of adult and continuing training in the light of future challenges, and on this basis of proposing different models for strengthening the necessary development of the skills and qualifications of the workforce through an interplay between employer, employees and public authorities. There was to be a special focus on groups of employees with low levels of skills and other groups for whom the demand for upgrading and training can be expected to increase due, among other factors, to globalisation and introduction of new technologies.

The work of the committee covered adult and continuing training (ACT) for all people on the labour market, including the relationship with ordinary education and training programmes and general education programmes for adults.

Comprehensive study

On the basis of its terms of reference, the committee conducted a comprehensive fact-finding mission that included the following issues:

  • scope, development, content, users, conditions and barriers to participation, costs, financing, management and provision of both publicly financed and ACT programmes and other competence-development activities financed and/or organised by enterprises and employees without the involvement of public authorities;
  • comparisons with adult and training activities in other countries as regards both scope and institutional and financial frameworks; and
  • provisions in collective agreements concerning ACT programmes, take-up rates and the interplay between provisions in collective agreements and public initiatives and programmes; and
  • motivating factors in connection with participation in ACT and the effects of ACT programmes.

The committee also analysed the expected impact on the labour market of globalisation and technological developments in the coming years, including the demand for different types of labour.

On this basis, the committee drew up a list of, and assessed, different models for strengthening the necessary development of the competences of the workforce through interplay between employers, employees and public authorities. In Denmark, the financing of continuing training is mainly the responsibility of the state and, according to the committee's terms of reference, it was a requirement that the solutions were not to impose permanent additional costs on the state.

ACT in collective agreements

One of subjects analysed by the committee was provisions concerning continuing training laid down in collective agreements, which in Denmark cover about 85% of the labour market. The committee's work involved more than 1,000 agreements.

The committee's analysis of the agreements found wide differences in the ways of dealing with the question of adult and vocational training and the employees’ right to adult and vocational training. Differences can mainly be identified between the public and the private sector as regards both the development and content of provisions concerning ACT.

According to the report, collective agreements in the public sector offer a number of possibilities in the field of ACT, but the general agreements in the public sector do not establish any specific individual right to participation in continuing or further training. The agreements in the private sector are less general and in certain respects more detailed than public sector agreements concerning ACT. According to the report, it is a common feature of private sector agreements that they lay down timeframes for the right to continuous training and that certain seniority requirements apply to this right. Seniority requirements may have a certain importance for the scope of training activities in sectors with high job mobility.

Who pays?

The committee's report concludes that although Denmark is the European country that spends by far the most resources on continuous training, there is nevertheless a marked imbalance. The possibilities for continuous training seems to be taken up mainly by those groups that already have a higher level of education or training, while people with a short education or training background do not take up or are not offered the possibility of continuous training as a means to upgrade their skills and qualifications. In the light of this fact, the committee recommends a strengthening of education and training opportunities focusing on those with the lowest skill levels and, in particular, the 500,000 or so people who are estimated to have literacy problems; of these, 150,000 have such problems to a serious degree. Furthermore, access to and information about education/training should be more specifically focused on different groups. Too many people know too little about their rights in this field or what they can do in practice.

It thus seems clear that efforts in the field of education and training should be strengthened and more specifically targeted, but the committee does not propose any clear-cut distribution model for the financing and management of future activities in this field. A number of different models - or savings accounts - for saving up funds for education and training, which all are intended to increase the employees’ motivation and demand for continuous training, are presented as a basis for the further discussions - see the table below.

Possible schemes for funding continuing training
. Collective central fund Enterprise-based central fund Individual schemes
Description Common funds for education/training activities covering occupational sectors or the entire labour market . Common funds for education/training covering the individual enterprise/workplace Personal training account that follows the individual person even when they change job
Administered by The social partners Enterprises alone or in cooperation with the employees/employee representatives The individual employee has a free choice from a list of training programmes; the right to absence from work is agreed with the employer
Advantages Possibility for benefiting groups with special training needs. 'More training for the money' Better targeting of continuing training activities Strengthens the motivation of the individual. Better targeting of continuing training activities
Disadvantages Weaker strengthening of motivation than in the case with an individual solution Risk that enterprises use the scheme to finance existing continuing training activities Risk that those with the greatest need will not use the scheme. Costly scheme

Source: Weekly A4 newsletter (published by the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions, Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) on the basis of the report published by the tripartite committee, February 2006.

Commentary

A strengthening of continuing training activities or education/training generally has been a much-debated theme in Denmark in recent years in connection with meeting the challenges posed by globalisation. Many unskilled jobs have been 'offshored', though analysis has found that the relocated unskilled jobs are replaced by new skilled jobs, so the final 'job-sum' is the same (DK0506102F). This development, however, takes place at the cost of unskilled workers and it is seen as evident by experts that a strong upgrading of the skills and qualifications of unskilled and low skilled workers, combined with an ongoing updating of the skills of the entire workforce, is a necessity if Denmark is to maintain its economic position as one of wealthiest countries in the world.

The political negotiations between the social partners and the government about the recommendations made in the report will start on 21 March 2006. Under the present circumstances, the government is of the opinion that there should be no increase in the state’s expenditure on continuous training. A reprioritisation should take place of the existing funds and the money should be spent more efficiently. The employers are of the opinion that a strengthening of training activities should not impose further costs on them. The state should make more funds available and use the existing resources more efficiently. The employers are furthermore in favour of a decentralised model attached to individual workplaces. The trade unions believe that all parties should contribute and that the social partners should bear a significant part of the responsibility. In this connection the unions suggest that education and training should be placed on at the top of the agenda during the next collective bargaining rounds in order to improve the right and access to continuous training. This is a new signal, from the big trade unions especially. Before the current discussion started in 2004, they were of the opinion that continuing training was solely the responsibility of the public authorities. However, in connection with the publication of the committee's report the major unions have expressed the strong wish that continuing training should be a main subject in the collective bargaining rounds in 2007. Prior to setting up the tripartite committee in 2004, the Prime Minister himself had, supported by reports from labour market researchers, called for such an initiative to be taken by the social partners. Thus a repetition of the collective agreement-based solution found in the early 1990s for labour market pensions is not unlikely to take place in connection with improving access to training in a continuous lifelong learning perspective. (Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS)

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