Ministry of Labour launches vocational training campaign

On 3 March 1997 the Ministry of Labour launched a nationwide vocational training campaign, aimed at increasing public awareness and encouraging more companies to formulate individual training plans for their employees. The campaign, with the slogan "Vocational training worth working on", will run until mid-June 1997 and will be carried out in close collaboration with 265 local vocational training centres and with the support of the Danish Employers' Confederation (DA) and the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO).

The campaign is the latest in a series of political initiatives aimed at improving the Danish vocational training system. Throughout the second half of the 1990s, the Danish Government has reformed the system by increasing its market and demand orientation, accompanied by increased financial allowances for employees attending training. In the 1997 Financial Act, expenditure to support companies undertaking projects aimed at planning vocational training activities was raised from DKK 40 million to DKK 65 million. A further sum of DDK 105 million is available to support companies which wish to improve working life.

The main objective of the national campaign is to increase public awareness and to encourage a more positive attitude among those who feel reluctant to pursue continuing vocational training. National television spots, newspaper advertisements and posters will be used to publicise the campaign. The regional campaign addresses 17,000 companies in clothing, printing, timber, and the building sector, employing between five and 200 workers. Each company will receive an information package which encourages managers and employees to work together to improve continuing vocational training and also sets out guidelines how this could be achieved. Companies have been invited to contact one of the 43 geographical networks containing some 265 vocational training centres, which enable companies not only to obtain information on the courses available but also to discuss the relevance of these courses to their own individual requirements.

According to the Ministry of Labour, despite the fact that the number of companies providing individual plans for the vocational training of employees has increased from 35% in 1995 to almost 50% in 1996, smaller companies are lagging behind. Whereas 80%-90% of companies with more then 100 employees provide vocational training plans for their employees, less than 50% of companies with fewer than 100 employees do so.

Danish companies are becoming more aware of the need to provide plans for the vocational training of their employees. In comparison with their European counterparts, Danish companies provide more continuing vocational training. According to a survey carried out byEurostat in 1993 ( Population and Social Conditions 1996/97), nine out of 10 Danish companies with over 10 employees provide some form of continuing vocational training. This compares favourably with other countries in theEU. For example, in Spain, Greece, Italy andPortugal, only 27% companies at best provided some form of continuing vocational training, and the provision of such training was dependent upon company size. In contrast, continuing vocational training is only dependant upon company size in Danish companies in the formulation of vocational training plans.

Although more Danish companies are providing both continual vocational training and training programmes for individual employees, and although vocational training is increasingly featured on the collective bargaining agenda, tremendous challenges to vocational training are posed by demographic changes, the accelerating pace of new technology and the changing pattern of production.

The three-fold challenge of the future

Over the course of the next decade or so Denmark will experience a radical demographic change. Up to 2010, the number of new entrants to the labour market aged between 20 and 35 will decrease by 200,000 and the number of persons over the age of 50 will increase by 210,000. Consequently, more than 75% of those who will be in the Danish workforce by 2010 are already in the labour market today. The decrease in the number of newly-qualified entrants and an ageing labour force emphasises the importance of vocational training for those already in the labour market.

In addition to the demographic challenge to vocational training, there is also the challenge stemming from the rapid introduction of new technology. According to a recent survey from Eurostat Employment in Europe, by 2007 80% of the technology in present use will be obsolete, and will be replaced with new, more advanced technologies. By that time, 80% of the workforce will be working on the basis of formal education and training qualifications which will be more than 10 years out of date.

A third challenge emanates from the changing pattern of sectoral employment and production, which will threaten the future employment of lower- and unskilled workers. The clear implication is that such changes are reducing the demand for low skilled workers whilst at the same time increasing the demand for more highly educated employees. More than half of all Danish jobs created during the 1980s in the private sector were in sectors which relied on highly-skilled and highly-educated employees. In the same period 60% of jobs were lost in sectors which traditionally had a large proportion of unskilled workers. According to the European Commission's White Paper on Teaching and Learning, between 1983 and 1991 the numbers of people classified as managerial, professional and technical workers expanded by more than 25% a year, while total employment growth in the EU was only some 1% a year. Even though the number of semi-skilled and unskilled workers in the labour force is decreasing, 40% of the Danish labour force will still be either semi- or unskilled by 2010. The shortage of qualified labour, the difficulty of enhancing the skills of less-qualified workers, and rising unemployment levels among lower-skilled employees will be a big problem in the future.

In a recent discussion paper presented at its executive committee, the LO emphasised that the participation of its members in vocational training falls far short of the levels required to take account of the demographic, technological and sectoral challenges. It recognised that the trade union movement bears a responsibility for advancing continuing vocational training. Apart from the more structural and economic issues related to vocational training, the primary concern of LO is find ways of encouraging its members to improve continuing vocational training at company level. One method, currently under consideration, is to appoint shop stewards who would be directly responsible for continuous vocational training - motivating their colleagues to undertake training programmes and to take part in producing vocational training programmes at the workplace. (Kåre FV Petersen, FAOS)

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