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Alexandru Panican. Foto: Patrik Hekkala

Alexandru Panican

Docent | Universitetslektor | FD i socialt arbete

Alexandru Panican. Foto: Patrik Hekkala

Ungdomars väg från skola till arbetsliv - nordiska erfarenheter


  • Alexandru Panican
  • Jonas Olofsson

Summary, in English

This report highlights the conditions for young people trying to establish themselves in the labour market in the Nordic countries. The aim has been to examine similarities and differences with regard to specific aspects of the welfare systems with a focus on upper secondary school level and political initiatives in the labour market. The passage of students through upper secondary school, transition, has been at the forefront in the study of the countries.

In several chapters, the authors have referred to international youth research and working life research.

The aims of welfare policy in the Nordic countries are similar. However, the report shows that conditions for young people to be able to support themselves and establish themselves in the labour market are different. The Nordic countries have different systems to regulate the transition of young people from school to working life. There are large variations in both the design of vocational education at upper secondary school level and political initiatives in the labour market. The report shows that the design of the systems has an impact on the conditions for young people to establish themselves in the labour market. Some of the large variations that can be seen in transition, employment rates and relative rates of employment among young people and young adults in the Nordic countries can be reasonably explained by differences in the design of vocational education at upper secondary school level and labour market policy.

Labour market conditions for young people are less favourable in Finland and Sweden than in the other Nordic countries, although the situation in Finland has improved significantly in recent years. Conditions for young people are most favourable in Iceland, if only the unemployment rates and proportion of employed are taken into account. However, in Iceland there are still a relatively high proportion of young adults who have not completed upper secondary education and this can create problems in the future.

Similarities in vocational education and employment policy:

The proportion of young people who go on to study after the compulsory level is high in the Nordic countries. This also applies to the proportion of young people who have completed an upper secondary school education at the age of 24. But the range is quite large, from 90 percent in Finland to over 60 percent in Iceland.

In the Nordic countries young women are more successful in the educational system than young men. Young women achieve higher grades and are more likely to seek higher education. Young men are over-represented in upper secondary vocational education. In vocational education the distribution according to gender follows a traditional pattern.

In all countries there were greater transition problems in vocational education than in the theoretical education. This also reflects socio-economic conditions. Children of parents with a lower level of education and lower incomes generally perform less well in school and are over-represented in vocational education.

Young adults who have not completed upper secondary school education are heavily over-represented among the unemployed and inactive, with the exception of those from Iceland.

Labour market policy has been influenced by activation policy. The focus has increasingly been to break long-term dependency and provide vocational education for those who lack it. Subsidies have increasingly been made conditional. Youth Guarantees with promises of maximum unemployment periods and obligations to take action have been established in all Nordic countries except Iceland.

Differences in vocational education and employment policy:

In Finland and Sweden vocational education located in schools and designed to give general eligibility to higher education is the dominant form, even though apprenticeship programmes exist to a limited degree. The other countries have apprenticeship programmes that are connected to a regulated system for professional qualifications. In Denmark and Norway apprenticeship programmes have a very strong position, but are constructed according to very different models. In Iceland apprenticeship programmes as well as the vocational education located in schools generally have a much weaker position.

Apprenticeship programmes are no guarantee for high transition. Transition problems within the Danish youth education are greater than those in Finland, for example, although Finland has a school located vocational education that is more academically demanding. In Sweden, problems with the transition in upper secondary school are significant. The high proportion of pupils with immigrant backgrounds are likely to affect the results negatively relative to the other Nordic countries, but it is far from the only explanation as to why the transition problems seem to be particularly high in Sweden. What seems to help alleviate the problems in Denmark, Finland and Norway, compared to Sweden, is that there is a more diverse range of educational programmes at various levels. There is no upper age limit - or time limit- for upper secondary education, the fundamental idea is that everyone has the right to complete an education. More extensive efforts are made to prepare pupils for upper secondary education, including voluntary supplementary years, while the follow-up of those who drop out of school is more comprehensive and action-oriented. The Norwegian model for the responsibility of following–up those who drop out stands out as particularly interesting.

The conditions for young people to establish themselves in the labour market are also related to the size and alignment of labour market policy. Sweden spends relatively little real resources on specific youth activities within the framework of labour market policy. This is reflected not only in higher rates of youth unemployment, but also in a fairly large proportion of inactive young adults. Whilst in Denmark and Norway the unemployed and low skilled have been activated through various educational courses, long-term unemployment and long-term dependency on benefits has been more common amongst young people in Sweden. It should also be noted that Sweden stands out by differentiating to a greater degree between the regular educational system and political initiatives in the labour market. Regular education will not in principle be present within the framework of labour market policy. This reduces the discretion of labour market policy, at the same time the possibility of providing basic education for young adults is limited.

From the analysis of the study of the countries, we can present some preliminary conclusions:

Initiatives aimed at young people who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out of school and for young unemployed and inactive people, benefit from a closer coordination between different participants such as: schools, employment agencies and social services. A vague division of responsibility reduces the effectiveness of the initiatives.

In several Nordic countries there is a responsibility at the municipal level to follow-up young people who have dropped out of upper secondary school. However, experience has shown that it is not sufficient that municipalities are obliged to keep themselves informed of the activities of the young. This responsibility should be linked with activation initiatives.

Basic vocational education in various forms and at different levels should be offered within the framework of the upper secondary school. General eligibility for higher education need not be an obvious target for all courses and all students.

There should be more opportunities for young adults (about 20-29 years old) to participate in basic vocational education. This possibility is absent in several Nordic countries. Most of the vocational education offered to this age group is at post secondary level.

The distinction between employment policies and regular education should be reviewed. The fair division as well as powerful motivations for effectiveness justifies a more flexible use of those resources available to labour market policy.


  • Socialhögskolan






TemaNord 2008:584




Nordiska ministerrådet


  • Social Work


  • sysselsättning
  • försörjning
  • genomströmning
  • arbetsmarknadspolitiska insatser
  • ungdomars etableringsvillkor
  • yrkesutbildning
  • lärlingsutbildning
  • arbetsmarknad
  • utbildning
  • ungdomar




  • ISBN: 978-92-893-1750-4