Company: SabaCustomer: NKNSubmitted by: Grant Butler CoomberIn August a whole country changed the way it trains and reskills its people. An illustrious collection of the great and good from Norway’s government, business and education communities formally launched the Competence Network of Norwegian Business and Industry – or NKN for short. The plan is to provide more than four million Norwegian citizens – including government offices, trade unions, colleges and universities, as well as the private and public sector – with access to ongoing, personalised online training.
It should come as no surprise that it happened in Norway. Norway was one of the earliest adopters of the Internet and has remained consistently among the top five “most wired” countries in the world. Internet access there is cheap and plentiful and Norway has extended the benefits of Internet technology to its citizenry at large. For example, it is probably the world’s leader in telemedicine, where doctors in isolated parts of the country can use the internet to communicate with hospital specialists, thereby saving patients – and the state – long and expensive journeys.But that doesn’t mean that Norway is an e-paradise. There are social and industrial issues to address.
The traditional economic health of the country has been based on raw materials – oil, gas, timber, fish. But these industries – particularly oil – are not going to be around forever. The push is therefore on to reskill the population. Over the next few years, it is estimated that more than 85 per cent of all job positions will require skilled labour. Yet 500,000 Norwegians haven’t achieved higher levels of education and more are struggling with reading and writing difficulties.”There has been a global change of scene and the consequences of that change can be hard to comprehend,” says Grete Knudsen, the Norwegian minister for trade and industry.
“But Norwegian trade and industry has to learn to live with that change. We have to transform our wealth creation. We will face special challenges as our oil revenues dry up and some restructuring is essential. We need to be at the cutting edge of knowledge, so that Norway competes on quality and innovation rather than price. Every enterprise must concentrate on research and development.
The answer lies in new competencies – for every worker and every leader.”In other words, the Norwegians want to move ahead before their current economic model reaches its sell-by date. And the delivery mechanism for these new competencies – for every worker and every leader – is e-learning. It is, as Tony Blair might put it, a people’s reform.Which is why Knudsen was the person to formally launch NKN.
Although it was established as a coalition between – and is wholly owned by – the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO), NKN has the full engagement of the government. This is because it delivers on the government’s programme of “competence reform” for the whole population. This is an initiative to promote lifelong learning among Norwegians and to create a highly skilled and educated society. To this end, NKN serves as a training portal for an entire nation.So what does the average Norwegian citizen actually get from NKN? Logging onto nkn.
no, users will profile themselves to find out which training courses, packages and modules are most appropriate for their learning needs. (At the launch of NKN, there were 200 online offerings supplied by about 40 content providers – with an early emphasis on areas such as IT and health and safety, along with educational courses geared for those wishing to study at university. New offerings are being added daily and Sven Erik Skønberg, the managing director of NKN, expects the number to have reached 1,000 at the end of the year).The nature of the courses varies. There are standard, off-the-shelf packages that can be used by anyone who needs them.
There are courses that have been devised by one particular company for access by specific employees (in this instance, the NKN network is acting as a distribution channel). And there are industry-specific courses developed by trade bodies for use by companies in that particular sector.It is a dynamic catalogue of learning, and each individual has their own password- protected access to it. The site will then manage each individual’s learning progress; it can, for example, remind a citizen of what additional training he or she will need to achieve a particular accreditation. From a single location, an administrator can monitor use of the training network and assess how it is delivering on his or her organisation’s specific needs.
Based on that information, employees, students, government workers, or whoever, can take advantage of additional training to bring their skills up to par or can be re-educated to assume a different position within the organisation. And it all happens on a single infrastructure designed and deployed by Saba.The network is also designed to handle the many different media forms that online training can take – from simple web-based documents and chat rooms to video-streamed virtual classrooms. NKN is, in other words, a personal university. And it has massive support from the country’s leading organisations.
“We have a good level of education in Norway but most people now require several ‘refills’ of learning during their career,” says Tore Egil Holte, chairman of the board of NKN. “Workers need easy access to learning, in a way that is independent of geography and time.” So access to NKN will be actively encouraged in the workplace as well as at home. Indeed, legislation has been put in place to encourage learning at work. For example, employees have the right to have their skills, and any gaps in those skills, assessed; and the employer is obliged to pay for filling those gaps.Leif Frode Onarheim, president of the NHO, the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry, argues that training is not just about two-day retreats.
“The best training is locally based, close to work and home, and with colleagues.” NKN delivers on this.”It is a unique offering,” says Finn Bergesen, the chief executive of the NHO, “and it re-establishes the workplace as a place of learning.” All 16,000 member companies of the NHO will be shifting their employees’ learning and training requirements on to the NKN network. “It’s cost-effective, as people learn more per krone, and it will help all enterprises keep their competitive edge,” says Bergesen.
The other big push comes from the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions. Its 820,000 members will also be using the NKN network.It’s a fabulous opportunity for every citizen. But what about those who do not want to use it? What about those who hated school and have no desire to go back to a reconstituted electronic version? What about the technophobes?Skønberg is quite relaxed. “People are interested in learning.
Up until now, they may have had the motivation, but they didn’t know where to find the right tools. Now they have NKN. The technology will accelerate our society’s transformation.”In addition, employers and unions will put their weight behind the initiative. “Time was when we educated, we trained, we worked and then we retired,” says Bergesen. “But you can’t live like that any more.
Whether you are a bricklayer or a lawyer, you have to update your skills. It’s an employer’s responsibility, too. After all, if a workforce is not updated in its skills, then it will be the employer that goes out of business. There will be many workers who are reluctant to start schooling again – so NKN takes the school to the workplace.”The establishment of NKN, with its emphasis on workplace learning, certainly does beg questions of the traditional providers of learning – the universities.
“This is a sensation,” says Kare Rommeitveit of the University of Bergen. “Lifelong learning will not only be taught on campus but in the workplace, too. It’s not just about the blackboard, it’s about the web. Such a change requires a new response from the universities. People will expect more from us.
“The initiative also throws up a challenge to other organisations that create learning products. “It puts pressure and expectations on content suppliers,” says Boerre Pettersen of the Norwegian Workers’ Educational Association. “But this is an opportunity to provide Norwegian society with the competence to restructure and I think our society can adapt very quickly.”William Nygaard, who heads the country’s leading educational publisher, Aschehoug, believes that NKN “extends” and “rejuvenates” the nation’s capacity to learn. There has been all manner of talk about creating a knowledge society, he observes, and the NKN initiative helps to “make the definition of a knowledge society a little bit clearer.”For Bobby Yazdani, the chief executive of Saba, the Norwegian commitment is something special.
“The dream of an entrepreneur is to transform people’s lives,” he says, “so it’s a great day when we see that our vision is affecting an entire population. Our technology is being used to better the lives and performance of people.”It also bears out his belief that “true competitive advantage lies in people – how well and how fast they learn, and how they translate that learning into value. The battleground isn’t so much about access to information but about competency. And what Norway is doing is making a significant percentage of its citizens into a knowledge force. It will be a major boost for their economy.
” E-learning, he argues, is a win-win for society, as industry and citizens alike are the beneficiaries. “There’s nothing negative. You are not talking about replacing jobs with technology. E-learning means growth.”Powerful and compelling sentiments, indeed. Now, though, NKN has to deliver.
Technically, Yazdani is confident. “Never before has an entire country modelled itself on how major corporations learn,” he observes. The infrastructure that Saba has put in place is the one that supports huge – and exceptionally demanding – customers such as Cisco, Ford and GE.Skønberg, NKN’s managing director, isn’t daunted by the challenges that lay ahead either.
“We are moving at a fast speed,” he says. Indeed he anticipates more than 100,000 citizens could be using the NKN network by this time next year. They are beginning by addressing more than 50 per cent of Norway’s working population through different forms of business, mainly trade unions, the public sector and the bulk of the private sector.The eyes of many other nations, states and provinces will be firmly fixed on Norway in years to come.