Public authorities in Iceland, led by the Directorate of Labour, have been putting increased emphasis on education and training as a tool to fight an unusually high unemployment, especially among young people with little formal training. Since autumn of 2011 it has been possible to study for one semester at upper secondary school or university and receive unemployment benefits at the same time. Immediately, over a thousand young people who had been unemployed for some time, signed up for the initiative. 55% of them went to upper secondary schools, 33% to universities and the remaining 12% to special bridging courses for people without the Matriculation exam who want to start university as soon as possible. After a semester of training while receiving unemployment benefits, VET and university students can apply for study loans which are subsidised by the state and thereby complete their degrees.
The popularity of VET is obvious in this initiative. Almost 90% of the participants who started upper secondary school chose VET schools or comprehensive schools which offer both VET and general education. Other initiatives have offered alternative types of education and training, like training at a workplace and voluntary work. Results from a 2010 survey carried out by the Social Science Institute demonstrate that young people were very happy with all the possibilities they were offered but the training possibilities which gave a formal qualification of any sort were the most appreciated ones. The new initiative is a response to this great desire for more formal training and the wish to complete a pathway directly linked to jobs.
The schools receiving these young people have done their utmost to assist them in completing their studies. Most of the young unemployed people have already tried upper secondary school but given up for one reason or another. Going back demands great courage and they will need tailor-made assistance from their teachers, guidance counsellors and other staff.