VET in Iceland comprises the following main features:
- almost all VET is offered at upper secondary level;
- almost all initial VET in Iceland comprises certified trades and is built on an apprentice system, where most of the education takes place at school, but workplace training is also necessary;
- social partners play an important role in shaping VET policies;
- participation in lifelong learning (and its VET component) is at 23.6% for 25 to 64 year olds, which is above the EU-28 average and the equivalent European education and training 2020 benchmark of 15%.
Distinctive features ()
Study programmes vary in length from one school year to four years of combined school and workplace training.
The participation rate of young people in VET aged 15 to 24 is among the lowest in Europe at 23.8%. Looking at all upper secondary learners, however, the proportion is around 30% vis-à-vis general studies, reflecting the higher average age of VET learners, many of whom had enrolled in general studies before switching to VET programmes.
Most learners in workplace training receive salaries, at an increasing percentage of fully qualified workers’ salaries. Enterprises training learners can apply to the education ministry for a subsidy to fund the training.
Learners can finish upper secondary school with a vocational and a general degree (matriculation exam), which is the prerequisite for higher education.
In 2014, the education ministry published the White Paper on Education Reform (). Concerning VET, the following measures were emphasised by the ministry:
- restructuring VET with simpler basic studies, with study programmes built on different steps and learning outcomes as well as cutting study time;
- all VET should include workplace learning, but the quality assessments, responsibilities and financing should be revised;
- the legal and institutional framework for VET after upper secondary school should be revised and it should be investigated whether a special VET university ( ) should be established;
- the governance and administration of VET should be improved by evaluating the functions of committees and councils and defining the roles of each of them;
- guidance and counselling should be enhanced, both in the last classes of compulsory schools and the first in upper secondary schools, and more students should be encouraged to choose VET.
Work is underway within the education ministry to simplify the governance and administration of VET and school counselling has been strengthened, not least with a view to draw more learners’ attention to VET. However, the proportion of learners choosing VET has not risen ().
Population in 2018: 348 450 ()
It increased since 2013 by 8.3% due to immigration. According to national data the proportion of foreign citizens was 12.2% of the entire population in late 2018 ().
The average age of the nation is increasing, from 36.4 years in 2010 to 38.1 years on 1 January 2019 ().
Icelandic VET participation rates have for many years been low compared to European rates and the proportion has been slowly decreasing in recent years, as well as the total number of learners at upper secondary level. The average age of the nation is increasing (from 36.4 years in 2010 to 38.1 years on 1 January 2019) () but the number of inhabitants has also been increasing for over a hundred years, with the exception of 2009 (due to emigration in an economic crisis). This may suggest a demographic impact on numbers of learners at upper secondary level, but does not explain the low ratio of learners choosing VET.
Most companies are small- and medium-sized (less than 250 employees). They constitute 99% of all companies in the country ().
Main economic sectors.
In terms of export revenues the main economic sectors are:
- tourism (39%);
- manufacturing industry (24%);
- fisheries (18%).
These sectors are all heavily dependent upon labour with VET qualifications, such as chefs, electricians and marine captains.
The labour market is considered flexible in terms of labour mobility.
The Icelandic economy can be defined as small but open with a well-established and regulated system of cooperation between social partners and the government, with the social partners negotiating through collective bargaining to control wage levels and influence prices.
Holding a VET qualification is highly valued by the labour market. However, a certificate is legally necessary only for certified trades such as electricians, masons, builders, plumbers etc.
Total unemployment () (2018): 2.1% (6% in EU-28). It has increased by 0.2 percentage points since 2008 ( ).
Unemployment rate (aged 15-24 and 25-64) by education attainment level in 2008-18
NB: Data based on ISCED 2011; breaks in time series; low reliability for ISCED 3-4, age 15-24 and ISCED 5-8, both age groups.
ISCED 0-2 = less than primary, primary and lower secondary education.
ISCED 3-4 = upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education.
ISCED 5-8 = tertiary education.
Source: Eurostat, lfsa_urgaed [extracted 16.5.2019].
The gap in employment between those with low and medium qualifications is small. Unemployment rates are only slightly higher than in the pre-crisis period. For people with medium-level qualifications, including most VET graduates (ISCED levels 3 and 4), it is 0.6 percentage points higher in 2018 compared to 2008.
Despite this, the ever growing demand for more qualified personnel will have an impact not only on people with low qualifications but also on VET graduates as they will need to upgrade their skills.
Employment rate of 20 to 34 year-old VET graduates increased from 90.8% in 2014 to 96.8% in 2017.
Employment rate of VET graduates (20 to 34 years old, ISCED levels 3 and 4)
NB: Data based on ISCED 2011; breaks in time series.
ISCED 3-4 = upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education.
Source: Eurostat, edat_lfse_24 [extracted 16.5.2019].
The increase (+6.0 pp) in employment of 20 to 34 year-old VET graduates in 2014-2017 was lower compared to the increase in employment of all 20 to 34 year-old graduates (+6.6 pp) in the same period in Iceland ().
The share of the population aged up to 64 with higher education (43.8%) is higher than the EU-28 average, and the share of people with a low qualification or without a qualification is among the highest in the EU. The share of people with a medium qualification (ISCED levels 3 and 4), including those in VET, is one of the lowest in the EU.
Population (aged 25 to 64) by highest education level attained in 2018
NB: Data based on ISCED 2011. Low reliability for ‘No response’ in Czechia, Iceland, Latvia and Poland.
ISCED 0-2 = less than primary, primary and lower secondary education.
ISCED 3-4 = upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education.
ISCED 5-8 = tertiary education.
Source: Eurostat, lfsa_pgaed [extracted 16.5.2019].
Share of learners in VET by level in 2017
NB: Data based on ISCED 2011.
Source: Eurostat, educ_uoe_enrs01, educ_uoe_enrs04 and educ_uoe_enrs07 [extracted 16.5.2019].
Share of initial VET learners from total learners at upper secondary level (ISCED level 3), 2017
NB: Data based on ISCED 2011.
Source: Eurostat, educ_uoe_enrs04 [extracted 16.5.2019].
Almost two-thirds (63.9%) of those who choose VET are males, dominating many of the most popular study programmes, such as for various electrical, building and mechanical studies. Females, on the other hand, dominate popular study programmes such as for social service and health care assistants, as well as hair styling and cosmetology.
The share of early leavers from education and training has increased from 21.3% in 2009 to 21.5% in 2018. It is worse than the EU-28 average of 10.6%.
Early leavers from education and training in 2009-18
NB: Share of the population aged 18 to 24 with at most lower secondary education and not in further education or training; break in series. Source: Eurostat, edat_lfse_14 [extracted 16.5.2019] and European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/info/2018-european-semester-national-reform-programmes-and-stability-convergence-programmes_en [accessed 14.11.2018].
Dropout rate from VET (%)
In 2016, the dropout rate from VET was a staggering 37.5% (). No doubt a part of this group will return and finish their study programmes at some point, as the average graduation age in VET is around 27 years old.
Lifelong learning offers training opportunities for adults, either employed or unemployed.
Participation in lifelong learning in 2014-18
NB: Share of adult population aged 25 to 64 participating in education and training.
Source: Eurostat, trng_lfse_01 [extracted 16.5.2019].
Participation in lifelong learning is high and above the EU-28 average but has slightly decreased since 2014.
An important feature in terms of upgrading the skills of employees (and, therefore, of participation in lifelong learning) is that in 2017 35% of employees received some kind of training ().
Information from Statistics Iceland on VET learners by age is mostly focused on the age of first-year learners, but the average graduation age is around 27 years old. As can be seen from the graph below, first-year learners are predominantly in the age group 19 years old and younger. In fact, 70-74% of first-year learners are normally aged 16 but the dropout rate is very high, a staggering 37.5%.
First-year VET learners by age group
NB: Data from Statistics Iceland.
The education and training system comprises:
- preschool education (ISCED level 0);
- integrated primary and lower secondary education (EQF levels 1-2, ISCED levels 244) (hereafter basic/compulsory education);
- upper secondary education (EQF 4, ISCED levels 344, 351, 353);
- post-secondary non-tertiary education (EQF 5, ISCED levels 453, 454);
- higher education (EQF levels 6, 7, 8, ISCED levels 554, 665, 766, 768, 864).
Compulsory education starts at the age of 6 and includes ten years of basic education (or until June of the year a learner reaches the age of 16).
Integrated primary and lower secondary education is the responsibility of the municipalities.
Upper secondary education (either general or vocational) is steered by the State. Only a few of the 37 upper secondary schools do not offer VET programmes.
Post-secondary non-tertiary education is offered for limited specialties (e.g. tour guides and masters of crafts).
Higher education is in line with the Bologna process offering three-year bachelor, two-year master and three-year PhD programmes.
Almost all initial VET in Iceland is in certified trades and built on an apprentice system, where most of the education takes place in school, but workplace training is also necessary. The duration of the time spent in school and the time spent at the workplace varies between programmes and branches. In addition, there are a small number of VET programmes where all the education and training takes place in school and are not certified trades, such as in computer technology and various arts.
The most common duration of VET studies in certified trades is four years. An example would be the electrician programmes, which are either six semesters in school and 48 weeks in apprenticeship, or seven semesters in school and 30 weeks in apprenticeship, after which time the pupil is ready to complete a journeyman’s examination. An example of a shorter programme is a cook programme with two semesters in school and 34 weeks in work-based training, or a social care assistant programme comprising five semesters, of which the last 2 to 3 take place in work-based training.
VET at post-secondary non-tertiary level is mostly composed of master of crafts’ programmes where a journeyman’s certificate (in the relevant study programme such as electrical, building or mechanical studies) is a prerequisite for enrolment.
Certified tradesmen (with a journeyman’s examination) can also enter (90 ECTS) diploma studies in construction, mechanical or electrical engineering at tertiary level, earning them the professional title of a certified technician.
Continuing VET (CVET) programmes are available for adults and are usually offered by:
- institutions ( ) owned by social partners. Courses offered are aimed at upgrading skills. These courses are usually of short duration. People in the labour market with VET qualifications can get financial support from the social partners’ training funds for these courses;
- other continuing VET centres ( ), which are much smaller than the social partners’ institutions and offer more specialised training.
Workplace training is also offered to employees mainly on security, environmental protection, new working techniques, etc.
According to the framework legislation on upper secondary schooling, a prerequisite for doing qualified VET workplace training is having a contract with a company that is willing and able to offer training in a VET subject. Many prerequisites for such a contract to be signed must be met, including that of the workplace having a certified master in the trade in question.
Two types of contracts are possible:
- a contract between the school and the company, in which the training content must be made as per regulation issued by the education minister, and which contains detailed provision concerning contracts for on-the-job training;
- a traditional apprenticeship contract between the company and the learner, stipulating the rights and obligations of the workplace and the learner respectively, as well as the objective of the training, quality control and the handling of possible disputes. The learner becomes an employee and receives a marginal salary during the training, in line with labour market agreements where the number of working hours is also set.
For several trades, the education ministry has allocated the overall management of the training contracts to a common education centre portal hosted by IDAN education centre (), which offers continuous education for several VET sectors, where contracts have been streamlined and modularised and guidelines issued to workplaces. Still in production in summer 2019 is a digital VET logbook where the student in question, as well as the trainer, record all details of the teaching process and the knowledge, skills and competences acquired for the job at the workplace. The digital logbook system will be launched in autumn 2019 for several trades. In the end, the teacher or the institution must certify each step of the teaching process and that specific competences have been achieved.
The length of the workplace training varies from 3 to 126 weeks, depending on the VET study programme. The reasons for this difference are first and foremost: the overall length of the programme on the one hand, and the tradition in each sector on the other. Similar training takes place for professionals in electricity and electronics at Rafmennt VET centre, i.e. the VET centre which specialises in training for electricians.
Learn more about apprenticeships in the national context from the European database on apprenticeship schemes by Cedefop: http://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/publications-and-resources/data-visualisations/apprenticeship-schemes/scheme-fiches
Education is steered centrally by the education ministry. The ministry oversees and provides curriculum for all school levels, including VET.
All upper secondary schools have ’school curricula‘ where education aims, intended learning outcomes, assessment, content and the connections between these elements are listed.
New VET study programmes are proposed by the upper secondary schools, in cooperation with the occupational councils (which are composed of representatives of the relevant social partners, i.e. trade unions and employers’ associations and professional associations). The initiative is often that of the occupational councils, which also define the quality, competences, skills and knowledge requirements and work descriptions. The directorate of education liaises between the two and the education ministry, which confirms new study programmes.
The main principle for funding the upper secondary school system and VET is that the education ministry makes a contract with each school concerning the number of enrolled students and then pays a certain amount, based on a formula that considers the actual cost per learner in the relevant subject per year. The amount differs between study programmes and is higher for VET learners in comparison to general education learners. This applies both to public and private schools.
According to the education ministry, the average cost per VET learner is IKR 1 300 000 (approximately EUR 9 600) per year. The number of VET students at upper secondary level was 7 070 in 2017 making the total amount around IKR 9.2 billion (approximately EUR 67.5 million), or 0.6% of GDP and 1.1% of government spending.
On-the-job training is funded by the companies which train learners, but they can apply for a subsidy from a state-financed workplace training fund (). The fund was founded in 2012 and supports companies with a particular amount per learner per week. In 2018, the fund supported companies with IKR 14 000 (approximately EUR 104) per learner per week, supporting in total 15.328 learner-weeks with IKR 199.3 million (approximately EUR 1.48 million).
All apprentices are entitled to salaries during their training periods, albeit much lower than those of the fully qualified staff. In the certified trades, the minimum wage for apprentices ranges from IKR 253 000 to IKR 278 000 (around EUR 2 060) per month, or IKR 1 500 to 1 600 (around EUR 12) per hour (in regular daytime work, otherwise higher), the amount increasing gradually for more weeks at the workplace ().
Continuing VET (CVET) programmes are usually short in duration and funded either by the relevant workplaces, by social partners, by the state or a combination of two or three of the above to varying degrees.
In VET, there are:
- general subject teachers;
- teachers of vocational subjects;
- trainers at the workplace.
General subject teachers must have a master degree in education from a university.
Teachers of vocational subjects must be masters of craft in the relevant profession and have taken a minimum of 60 ECTS () in pedagogy at a university.
Trainers at the workplace must be masters of craft in the relevant profession.
Although salaries for VET teachers have increased, the teacher population is ageing. Attracting young people to the profession remains a challenge.
Teachers can receive various scholarships to finance further university studies and for work, school visits at home or abroad, conference fees, study leave etc. The official funds are financed by the schools/employers but managed by the teachers’ unions. Teachers can apply to the education ministry for up to a year’s study leave on full salary, but most teachers are not granted this more than once and then usually only after more than 20 years at work.
Various other options are available, such as scholarships to finance part-time studies or shorter periods of study leave. Teachers are also expected to spend two weeks per year in continuous education, outside the school year; they have access to various other funds and options for continuous education on the basis of their wage agreements with the state. Choosing the relevant study programmes, conferences etc. is mostly up to the teachers and trainers themselves, and the programmes and training are provided by lifelong learning institutions (e.g. in the electricity sector) and universities, among others, and via study visits at home or abroad.
More information is available in the Cedefop ReferNet thematic perspective on teachers and trainers ().
The role of the Occupational Council is (among other duties) to advise the Minister of Education, Science and Culture, and to provide opinion on the categorisation and division of occupations between the twelve Occupational Councils.
Due to the small size of the labour market, most trades are based on a broad level of competences, so that graduates have a wider possibility of employment. The exams at the end of each study validates whether this is indeed the case. Thus, the studies can rather be termed output based than input based, even though studies are defined in the hours it takes to complete them.
When assessing future skills needs, the twelve occupational councils are the strongest link between the education ministry and industry. The councils operate under the responsibility of the ministry and are composed of representatives of the relevant social partners and trade associations for different vocational trades. Each council has the role to define the needs of a particular trade in respect to the knowledge and ability required, the aims and structure of the education and the curriculum guidelines. The councils often initiate or suggest new VET study programmes or changes to existing ones, but it is up to the upper secondary schools to propose such programmes and the Directorate of Education to liaise between the two, while it is up to the education ministry to confirm new study programmes.
Unlike many countries, no authority in Iceland has made systematic estimates or forecasts regarding skills anticipation and needs in the labour market or for certain trades. At the time of writing the minister for labour affairs is considering ways to change this situation, following a report written for the ministry in 2018 by a group of experts from social partners, statistics Iceland and the directorate of labour. The occupational councils sometimes attempt to estimate future demand but not in a coordinated and systemic manner, as have certain social partners, education institutions and public institutions on a mostly ad hoc basis for particular trades and industries, but not in a systematic manner.
See also Cedefop’s skills forecast () and European skills index ( ).
Due to the small size of the labour market, most trades are based on a broad level of competences, so that graduates have a wider possibility of employment. The examinations at the end of each study validate whether this is, indeed, the case. Thus, the studies can rather be termed output- based than input-based, even though studies are defined by the hours it takes to complete them.
According to the education ministry’s national curriculum guide for upper secondary schools (), the education institutions may develop new study programmes, although subject to approval and validation by the ministry after consultation with the relevant occupational council, in the case of a VET programme. All upper secondary schools have a school curriculum where education aims, intended learning outcomes, assessment, content and the connections between these elements are listed. Individual schools are responsible for all study programmes they offer but can use study programmes from other schools as well.
Once approved by the education ministry, new study programmes become part of the curricula for upper secondary schools when published in the legislator’s legal journal.
The twelve occupational councils, composed of representatives of the relevant social partners and professional associations for different vocational trades, discuss the demand for new study programmes and the need for updating existing ones in terms of: qualifications demands, basic structure, competences, skills and knowledge requirements of work descriptions, which they define and gradually update. Typically, they report the need for new study programmes or updates to existing ones to individual schools or to the directorate for education. The upper secondary schools do, however, have the task of proposing new study programmes or updating them, including the curricula, often at the initiative of the occupational councils but sometimes also at their own initiative based on their estimate of existing demand. The schools’ ideas are then put before the relevant occupational council to discuss the desirable qualification demands and structure, and the directorate of education liaises between the two before the education ministry finally approves the study programme.
This process can vary, in terms of processes, initiatives and procedures, between schools, occupational councils, individual teachers/trainers and study programmes. It is, however, always a result of a liaison between the schools and the occupational councils, always developed within the framework of the national curriculum guide and always subject to approval of the education ministry.
The education ministry validates the study programmes for all upper secondary education and training, which become part of the curricula for upper secondary schools when published in the legislator’s legal journal.
The VET study programmes for all trades are developed in cooperation with members of each occupation’s association through twelve occupational councils. Job descriptions, knowledge, skills and competences are gradually revised by the occupational councils.
All upper secondary schools are subject to a quality evaluation performed by outside parties once every five years. The quality criteria are defined by the education ministry. The schools are requested to report on their performance according to the ministry’s quality criteria (internal evaluation) and the directorate of education hires independent consultants to perform a quality evaluation based on the same criteria. The independent consultants’ reports are published openly on the directorate of education’s website, but prior to that the schools are given a chance to respond to a draft report and the consultants may adjust their report accordingly. Follow-up to the evaluation reports is the responsibility of the education ministry and of course the schools themselves.
Training providers must be formally accredited by the directorate of education, on behalf of the education ministry, to obtain a licence to teach courses for adults giving credits that can be used for further training at upper secondary schools.
The accreditation is based on the evaluation of the following:
- teaching and learning facilities;
- organisation and supervision of studies;
- curricula or course descriptions;
- the competences of adult education providers, with regard to their knowledge and experience;
- financial issues and insurance;
- the existence of a quality control system focused on adult education.
The accreditation does not entail commitment for public funding to the education provider in question or responsibility for the education and training provider’s liabilities.
For several trades, the education ministry has allocated the overall management of the training contracts to a common education centre portal hosted by IDAN education centre (), which offers continuous education for several VET sectors, where contracts have been streamlined and modularised and guidelines issued to the workplaces.
A VET logbook is gradually being made digital in 2019. The student in question, as well as the trainer, record in the logbook all details of the teaching process and the knowledge, skills and competences acquired for the job at the workplace. In the end, the teacher or the institution must certify each step of the teaching process and that the specific competences have been achieved.
Real competence validation/accreditation of prior learning () is a system organised by the social partners and the education ministry to validate non-formal and informal learning. People who have acquired some skills at workplaces, for example, can get them validated through a formal process, which may shorten their study periods towards. a journeyman’s examination in a trade, for example. They also get valuable assistance (counselling and study aid) if they have dyslexia, for example, or other learning problems. Real competence validations are available in several trades. Social partners and the education ministry are working on expanding the offers.
For more information about arrangements for the validation of non-formal and informal learning please visit Cedefop’s European database ().
- The Icelandic study loan fund offers subsistence loans with subsidised interest rates to VET students after the first two years of studies, while students of general education at this level are not entitled to such loans. The basic amount (for 2018-19) is ISK 492 900 (approximately EUR 3 650) per semester, but additional amounts are granted based on, for example, their housing situation and their number of dependants.
- In recent years, increased emphasis has been put on vocational and education counselling to help students choose their study paths, and thus drawing their attention to often less visible VET study and training options where applicable.
On-the-job training is funded by the companies which train learners, but they can apply for a subsidy from a state-financed workplace training fund. The fund was founded in 2012 and supports companies with a particular amount per learner per week. In 2018, the fund supported companies with IKR 14 000 (approximately EUR 104) per learner per week, altogether supporting 15 328 learner-weeks with IKR 199.3 million (approximately EUR 1.48 million). This makes a big difference, especially for small companies which would otherwise not be able to afford training costs.
The education ministry has an ongoing contract with skills Iceland (), charging this organization with the responsibility of supervising the Icelandic Skills Competition every other year, as well as to enable participation of VET learners in Euro Skills.
In recent years, increased emphasis has been put on vocational and education counselling to help students choose their study paths. For example, at grammar school level VET subjects were introduced in an attempt to increase VET attractiveness. Work is in progress to enhance VET counselling and guidance.
- guidance and outreach Iceland national report ( );
- Cedefop’s labour market intelligence toolkit ( ).