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.

Polish Classes Offered to School Staff in Reykjanes


Teachers and other staff at schools on the Reykjanes peninsula in South Iceland have been offered the opportunity to attend courses in Polish in order to better communicate with Polish-speaking students and parents, RÚV reports.

The largest percentage of foreign nationals settled in Iceland, or 26%, live in the Reykjanesbær municipality, which comprises the towns of Keflavík and Njarðvík, as well as the village of Hafnir. The percentage is similar in the whole of Reykjanes: 24% or one in four of the peninsula’s residents are from other countries. Overall, there are around 50,000 immigrants living in Iceland, 19,000 of whom are Poles.

The Polish classes are being offered by the Center for Continuing Education in Reykjanes. Project manager Kristín Hjartadóttir says that they have been arranged at the request of upper secondary school teachers in Reykjanesbær with the belief that a basic knowledge of Polish will come in handy in their day to day work.“Both that and we maybe have students who are starting to speak Icelandic, but whose parents don’t understand Icelandic or English,” she explained.

The classes will then give teachers and parents a better chance of communicating with one another without always needing to resort to an interpreter. Kristín emphasized that the addition of Polish classes are in no way reflective of an intention to undermine Icelandic instruction, simply an added resource for educators.

Author Visits Promote Literary Engagement Among Students

A new program launched by the Icelandic Literature Center will send prominent authors to visit upper secondary schools to meet students and discuss their books with them. Per a press release issued by the Center, these author visits are intended to encourage students to read as well as increase their understanding of what a writer actually does.

Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð, Menntaskólinn við Sund, Tækniskólinn, and Kvennaskólinn í Reykjavík are the four upper secondary schools that will be taking part in the initiative this spring. Each school chose one author to visit their campus, namely: Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, Kristín Helga Gunnarsdóttir, Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir, and Sigríður Hagalín. Each author will hold a reading during their visit and then take part in a discussion with students. In preparation, students will read at least one pre-selected book by their guest so as to be able to ask questions and offer their own reflections on the text.

The initiative is a collaboration between the Icelandic Literature Center and both the Icelandic Writer’s Union and the Society of Icelandic Principals and is supported by a grant from the Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture.

If all goes well, four new schools will be chosen to take part in the author visit program for the coming fall semester and potentially even more schools in semesters after that.


Fewer Immigrants Graduate from Upper Secondary Schools

Reykjavík school

New data published by Statistics Iceland shows that graduation rates among students in Iceland’s upper secondary schools vary depending on student’s origin.

According to the report, “[w]hen examining all graduates at the upper secondary level in 2016-2017, as a share of the population aged 18-22, then almost 24% of the population with Icelandic background graduated this year. On the other hand, 16.5% of those born abroad with one parent born abroad graduated this year, and just over 8% of immigrants.” Immigrants, in this study, are people who were born abroad and have both parents of foreign origin.

There were 5,098 graduates at the upper secondary and tertiary levels combined in 2016-2017, which is 617 fewer graduates overall than the previous year. Of these, 5,630 were graduates from upper secondary school, which is 645 fewer upper secondary graduates than the year before. The study coordinators say that this can partially be credited to the fact that there were changes to the curriculum at the upper secondary level which led to fewer students graduating from two-year business certificate programs.

The study also found that fewer students graduated at the tertiary, or university level: 4,479 graduates, which is 2.3% fewer than the year before. Of these, 2,664 received undergraduate degrees, 1, 275 received master’s degrees, and 62 received PhDs. Women comprised 66.3% of university graduates.