Guest post: Student Career Adventures in Iceland

Thank you to Justine Pretorius for agreeing to write a guest post on her international student placement experience in Iceland. A longer version of this article will appear in the June issue of Careers Matters. If you are interested in all things Nordic you might want to have a look at Career and Career Guidance in the Nordic Countries.

I am one for adventure, so when I realised my postgraduate career guidance and development course at University West of Scotland offered the opportunity to take part in an international placement in January 2020, I put myself forward. My destination would be Reykjavik, Iceland. It was important to me, for my personal development, to seek out as many opportunities as possible whilst on the course. Being a student member of the Career Development Institute, I also have a responsibility to seek out additional learning experiences, as an aspiring professional in the sector.

Cross cultural comparisons

Iceland’s career provision is excellent. This is evidenced by the island’s low unemployment rate, which according to the OECD is similar to the UK rate, at 3.5%. Career staff were modest about this and always determined it could be improved upon. However, one remaining issue, is the volume of young people not completing secondary school. The current dropout rate is 28% (Statistics Iceland, 2014). Despite secondary school being compulsory, barriers deter pupils; who must travel long distances to reach secondary schools. Also, the low gap in wages between skilled and unskilled work, leaves little incentive for young people to stick it out at school.

Lifelong learning

To support unqualified working adults who may have left secondary school early, IDAN provide a successful validation and retraining service for over 3000 participants. Iceland’s career services focus on the value of lifelong learning, having 14 centres and initiatives for outreach.

Back home, it seems career professionals appreciate the value of outreach as an effective strategy for CIAG delivery. However, this seems to be something that hasn’t yet been implemented. I believe we could learn from Iceland’s innovative outreach methods, in order to breakdown barriers for adults accessing education and training.

More information on lifelong learning and adult guidance services in Iceland is available from the Valmynd website.

Higher Education

Similarly to the UK, Iceland’s universities provide one-to-one interviews and groupwork career guidance, as well as employment and study support. One thing that did stand out for me was the lack of uptake of group career services. Reportedly, most students preferred one to one career services, they could access in their own time. With current trends in the UK in favour of group CEIAG, this reminded me that delivery methods should be person centred and not driven by cost cutting.

More information about career counselling at the University of Iceland is available on the University’s website.

Iceland’s labour market

Iceland is renowned for its creative industries, booming with fine art, gaming, designers, film makers, authors and musicians. It is a country full of creative and entrepreneurial people, who draw inspiration from the island’s natural surroundings. However, Iceland faces issues of underemployment. Like the UK, university graduates with business degrees (and various others), continue to face a lack of opportunities in the labour market. Iceland also shared in reported shortages of nurses and medical staff. In the current context of the coronavirus pandemic, this is a global labour market issue, sadly affecting us all and requiring much attention.

A collaborative approach to best practice

The trip supported my understanding of the similarities and differences of CEIAG in other countries and the importance of working across cultures, in order to inform best practice. I also learned so much about Iceland’s diverse people, who still carry on the traditional trades which hold true to the tradition and history of the island, whilst encouraging and promoting innovation and creativity. The experience has supported my understanding of the importance of collaboration and learning from best practice across EEA (European Economic Area) countries and beyond.

I want to say thank you to everyone for hosting me and a special thank you to Emma Bolger and Marjorie McCrory from the University of the West of Scotland, for making the opportunity available. This was a once in a lifetime learning experience.

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