Young, Unskilled Workers Need Targeted Educational Support

A new study shows that a third of Icelandic jobs will change significantly in coming years as unskilled workers currently in the labour force go back to school to further their educations, RÚV reports.

According to Guðbjörg Vilhjálmsdóttir, professor of academic and vocational guidance counselling at the University of Iceland, the biggest professional changes will be seen among those who only have completed grunnskóli, or mandatory basic education up to the age of 16. She estimates that 45% of the jobs completed by this demographic will either undergo significant changes or disappear entirely.

In February, Guðbjörg conducted a study of 154 young people aged 18-29 who had been working during the previous six months. These individuals had no more than an upper secondary education and did not attend junior college or university. They were only able to secure jobs in unskilled labour professions; most of them work long hours in the service industry.

These young people reported that they dropped out of school for a number of reasons that ranged from a lack of interest in pursuing higher education to poverty. These reasons are in line with other studies that have been previously conducted in this field.

Fewer young women believe they are doing ‘decent work’

According to Guðbjörg’s findings, young men seem to secure more complex work than young women—jobs related to machinery and maintenance, as well as in the agricultural sector. She says this may account for the boost in young women’s applications to university; in order to get a skilled job, they must have a higher education.

Guðbjörg also asked her respondents whether they thought they were doing “decent work.” This is a coinage of the International Labour Organization, which explains that “decent work… involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.”

It came as a surprise, Guðbjörg says, that the young women she spoke to were less likely to think themselves doing decent work than young men.

Targeted support needed to meet unskilled young people’s educational needs

This demographic is worse situated than other Icelanders, Guðbjörg says, because by and large, they are not fully aware of their situation and have trouble determining what to do in their work life in order to improve their future prospects. They tend to have difficulty planning out their next step and lack support, as they often come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds. When asked what kind of work they would like to do if there weren’t any roadblocks in their path, most of Guðbjörg’s respondents said they would go into specialist and technical positions.

Younger participants in the study tended to want to continue their studies more than participants on the older end of the spectrum. It also tends to be easier for these younger individuals to return to school so soon after leaving upper secondary school.

Although study participants were shown to think it less and less likely that they would go back to school the older they got, 71% of respondents intended to return to school with the belief that they would finish their degrees. Guðbjörg says that this group of unskilled workers needs particular support to acquire an education that is based around their needs.