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Immigrant women ready for work in record time

Immigrant women ready for work in record time

Published 27 January 2016
Poorly educated immigrant women qualify rapidly for a life in work as part of a Norwegian pilot project involving an "all-in-one" language tuition and vocational training programme.
A vicious circle is being broken. Refugees who have arrived in Norway with poor reading and writing skills rapidly become qualified for employment as a result of a multi-innovative training project. Photo: Leif Gabrielsen/Samfoto
A vicious circle is being broken. Refugees who have arrived in Norway with poor reading and writing skills rapidly become qualified for employment as a result of a multi-innovative training project. Photo: Leif Gabrielsen/Samfoto

“Nobel Prize winner Malala gave them a face – the women who were deprived of the opportunity to go to school”.

This is a translation of the first sentence of a feature article that appeared in the Norwegian business daily Dagens Næringsliv. The article reports on an innovative and promising integration project now being carried out in Levanger, and is written by two members of the project team.

At centre stage are refugees who arrived in Norway with little or no reading or writing skills. In the space of just two years they have become qualified to work in industries that will require a great deal of manpower in the years ahead.

The recipe for success is a training programme in which Norwegian language tuition and vocational training go hand in hand.

Portrett av kvinne

Tove Håpnes is a Senior Research Scientist at SINTEF Technology and Society.

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Portrett av kvinne

Toril Sundal Leirset is a Project Manager at the Levanger Adult Education and Training Centre.

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Levanger municipality, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV), SINTEF and a select group of employers have joined forces to implement the programme. In an article in Dagens Næringsliv on Saturday 24 January, SINTEF researcher Tove Håpnes and Project Manager Toril S. Leirset from the Levanger adult education and training centre reported on their results.

Here is the article, reproduced with the permission of Dagens Næringsliv:

“Nobel Prize winner Malala gave them a face – the women who were deprived of the opportunity to go to school. It is common that these women are the ones left without work or educational opportunities once they have completed their immigrant induction programmes after arriving in Norway. In a pilot project in Levanger we have shown that it is possible to break this vicious circle.

The secret lies in practical and targeted skills training integrated with language tuition.

Almost no reading or writing skills

We have tailored a training programme that crosses the public-private sector divide, and it has a single objective – to make it easier for poorly educated immigrant women to obtain ordinary jobs in Norway. The pilot project consists of a class of 12 students. All of them are refugees who had little or no reading or writing skills when they arrived in Norway. In the space of just two years they have become qualified to work in industries that will require a great deal of manpower in the years ahead.

We have been offering skills training courses focusing on the cleaning and health sectors since we started up in 2014. One of our students from the first class has already secured a permanent job. Three others are engaged as long-term temporary staff, three have temporary jobs under mentoring, and three more are involved in shorter-term work experience arrangements. Only two have failed to complete the programme.

Small change

The programme has been developed as a collaborative effort involving Levanger municipality, NAV, SINTEF and a select group of employers. The municipality provides the students with a one-year extension to their two-year introductory programme. Furthermore, NAV finances the mentoring and guidance provided by the employers as part of the training programme.

But these outlays are small change when compared to the support that the public purse would have to provide if these women had to remain unemployed for the rest of their lives.

Motivated students

The promising results from this project are due to many supporting factors. These include the motivation of the students. Those who want to join our programme have to submit an application themselves. For the subsequent interview, we select students with little or no education in their native countries. Everything that happens after that is based on the principle of a close integration between vocational skills training and language tuition.

SINTEF acts as an advisor and ensures that the results are documented. The project has received funding from NAV’s programme for research and research activities, and from the Directorate for Integration and Diversity. The project has also caught the attention of the OECD.

All in one

The Levanger project combines language tuition and employment experience in an all-in-one integrated package. The initial level offers the participants 20 hours of knowledge about working life in Norway, combined with 60 hours of practical skills training at a relevant workplace. Here, they receive individual training by a skilled employee up until the time when the skills criteria set out in the training plan have been met.

In the classroom, Norwegian language teachers provide training in skills terminology and verbal expressions linked to the skills in question, as well as exercises in workplace communication. The teacher moves between the classroom and the employers’ premises which function as learning arenas.

Work experience under guidance

When the students have satisfied their skills criteria, they will have the knowledge they need to begin the next level, during which they obtain more work experience. The aim of the second phase is to provide the students with more knowledge about work procedures and communication, combined with a familiarity of working life that will enable them eventually to move into a permanent job.

At the work experience site, each student is assigned a mentor who has specific responsibility for making sure that learning linked to the workplace and work culture is included. At the same time, the language teacher continues with tuition in Norwegian in support of the work experience initiatives.

Goal number 1 – a vocational training certificate

The final level involves a work experience placement at a company where the students receive training in the performance of real work tasks at production speeds. It is here they will learn how to function in a workplace community.

A vocational training certificate is the first step on the road towards a formal vocational education which will become a realistic target for all those who complete the programme. The hope is that they will, after having secured ordinary jobs, develop the motivation to take their craft proficiency certificates.

The recipe for success

There are many reasons for the success of this training programme.

  • We have employed an educational method by which much is explained by means of examples, and during which language tuition is intimately linked to theory and practice. This approach conforms to European research results (the CLIL “learning by doing” principle) which makes it clear that both skills and languages are learned better according to this method.
  • We have developed the skills training plans in close collaboration with local employers, and an effective collaboration has been established between the municipality, NAV and local companies.
  • We encounter a lot of enthusiasm from participating employers. We haven’t asked them “to help Norway integrate its immigrants”. Instead, we have encouraged them to welcome motivated and qualified trainees to sectors that will require a great deal of manpower in the years ahead.

It is here that we can identify some of the most important lessons for those intending to follow in the footsteps of the pilot project called “Levanger Arena Arbeid” (Levanger Employment Arena).”

Senior Research Scientist