Employers and unions are working together in Norway to ensure the success of a national on-line learning system. Dominique Hammond compares its experience with the UK’s efforts
Norway, land of the northern lights and the midnight sun, sits on the outer edge of Europe, not far from the Arctic circle. It has a smaller population than most of its counterparts, at just 4 million, but like Britain and the rest of the Western world, Norway is facing the challenges of a changing economy.
The oil and gas fields that have kept it afloat for generations are drying up and it has realised that if it is to find other ways of competing in the global marketplace, it needs a highly-skilled workforce.
To achieve this, trade and industry minister Grete Knudsen has launched a national training project. It is the Norwegian Competence Network (NKN), a nationwide on-line learning system launched in August which will be accessible to all 1.2 million workers, through computer terminals in their workplaces.
“We have a very good education system in Norway, but the pace of change is so rapid that it is necessary for people to get refills several times through their careers,” says Tore Egil Holte, chairman of NKN.
“For both the employer and the employee this is a way that everyone can get the learning they need flexibly.”
The project has massive support from the government. It passed a law in 1998 giving every person in Norway born before 1978 the right to free secondary education through their workplace and to on-going training. This law kick-started the scheme, but it is business and the unions that own it.
In an impressive example of partnership, the project has been developed and paid for jointly by the Norwegian Confederation of Business and Industry (NHO) and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). Between them they have put up half of the 20m kroner (£1.5m) development cost. The rest came from research councils and regional development funds.
This alliance has not always been comfortable. There has been an on-going row over who should pay what and they have refused to divulge the final split. Yet the benefits are considered so important to both sid