Project Articles

Nordplus Horizontal

Done on the labour market or an asset for society?

31 March 2017
AUTHOR: Joan Rask
collaborating countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Iceland

If you are 55 years old or older then it is a waste of resources to further educate you, and, actually, we would preferably not hire you. This attitude pervades the Baltic states and, to a certain degree, Finland as well. Barely half of the 55-64 year olds have a job. So tells Mona Riska, manager at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the Åbo Akademi University in Finland. She has been the project coordinator on the project ‘Sustainable and inclusive working life for 55+’ onwhich the three Baltic states, Iceland, and Finland have cooperated.

“We ended up looking at the pension schemes, comparing the pull and push factors, and examining how the labour market works,” says Mona Riska.

The result of their work is laid out in a rich report. The differences between the nations made a big impression on Pekka Tenhonen who also works at the Centre for Lifelong Learning in Åbo.

“The first thing that comes to mind is how different the thinking is in Iceland. They don’t want to retire – they want a salary instead of a pension,” Pekka Tenhonen says.

Raised accountability

Unfortunately, many people over 55 years of age do not have the possibility to work – that is, if they are not living in Iceland – because the employers will not employ them. The reasons for this, studies show, are their lack of language - and IT proficiencies, and that, at the same time, employers fear that employees have more sick leaves.

The latter is a myth, Mona Riska points out:

“We know that, in Finland, the workforce of 55-64 year olds are not ill any more than their younger colleagues are.”

Fact is that it is hard to find a job for the oldest part of the workforce. Statistics show that there is approximately ten percent higher unemployment in all the participating countries when you look at the group that is 55-64 years old. Behind these numbers there is one more problem. In Finland e.g., they are struggling with hidden unemployment among the oldest and youngest groups of the workforce. They can only get part time jobs and the number of people in part time jobs increased with 28 percent in just one year (2013-2014).

No further education

A common feature among the Baltic states is that further education is close to non-existent once employees have reached the age of 55. Irina Kulitane from Latvia has a dream. She is the CEO of the company Konso Ltd, and she wants to chance this situation.

“When every single company educates and takes care of their workforce, regardless of age, then we will have reached our goal – but that will not happen in our lifetime,” Irina Kulitane says.

She advices both public institutions and larger companies in strategy-, research-, and development projects and handles project coordination in numerous projects. Therefore, she is greatly in contact with both the public- and private sector in Latvia.

She tells that normally only the biggest companies prioritise further education, but that smaller companies might have other options.

“Not that many people know about this project, but some do. I keep on telling about it – and I believe that changes in society must develop through snowballing. It will – I think and hope – but it is important to keep it going; it cannot stop,” she says.

Lack of initiative

Irina Kulitane points to the fact that a change in attitude towards work is needed too.

“We have to directly do something to the target group. Sometimes they lack initiative so much, and sometimes the problem isn’t about skills and professionalism. Sometimes you just have to do something to improve the situation for yourself and the people around you,” Irina Kulitane says.

She is sure that many would thrive in a more active working life.

“Many people are lonely. A job helps you keep on board in society,” she explains.

In Latvia and the other Baltic states, the most senior part of the workforce often battle poverty in a very real way.

“I wouldn’t call the employment rate low. Still many people have to work because the pension is insubstantial. You can’t survive if you live solely on a state pension,” Irina Kulitane says.

You can find the report here:

The pension system and labour market for 55+ in the Baltic and Nordic countries

Project details 

The ideas from the project have already developed new courses

It was a common interest which united them in a Nordplus project. First it led to personal connections, lots of dialogue, enthusiasm and joint Nordic idea generation.

When you bring people from different social backgrounds together something very novel develops. These are the words of Irina Kulitane, Latvia. She took part in the Nordplus project 'Sustainable and inclusive working life for 55+' with partners from the other Baltic states, Iceland, and Finland.

“I think we learned to listen and take something that contradict our own opinion into consideration – and that is a beautiful thing: We do not have to think the same way,” says Irina Kulitane, owner and CEO of Konso Ltd.

She is certain that the cross-cultural cooperation made the difference.

“This enables us to bring up more ideas and to improve the work which we do for our customers,” she says.

Something suggests that she is right. Ülle Kesli, Head of Continuing Education Centre at Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Tartu, Estonia, is already in the process of redevelopment.

“Cooperating with the other nationalities was so inspiring that it gave us input to develop new courses,” she says.

In fact, it was also the systematic run-through of the Estonian pension scheme, the projection of retirement age, and the comparison to other countries which sparked the idea.

“It gave me information that I did not have before, and I started wondering “what can I do myself to keep my skills up to date,” Ülle Kesli says.

It has resulted in Tartu University now offering new courses. There have been seminars about the results, and Ülle Kesli is already participating in a new international project about e-learning and Lifelong Learning.

“It was so inspiring to learn how other people from different cultures were working,” she says.

Irina Kulitane agrees.

“When you are working in a closed local environment, you can lose perspective on what is going on around you. Here, we were with people from universities and companies from more developed welfare systems. It was so useful,” says Irina Kulitane.

Facts: Statistics on pension age, unemployment and employment

Source: The pension system and labour market for 55+ in the Baltic and Nordic countries

More information about other Nordic countries can be found here via Eurostat.