Most Norwegian Prime Ministers in recent times have visited the industrial plant at Herøya. Even the mighty Soviet leader Nikita Kruschev was here in 1964, together with Einer Gerhardsen. The last Tuesday in February it was the turn of Prime Minister Erna Solberg to visit the industrial park.
The Prime Minister and Education Minister in conversation with the two apprentices Tommy Kåsene and Petter Dreier Andersen together with Kjetil Groa from Bilfinger.
With her, the Prime Minister had Minister for Education Torbjørn Røe Isaksen. The purpose of the visit was to gain first-hand knowledge of the project “From talent to tradesperson”. Plastics technician apprentice Tommy Kåsene and sheet metal worker apprentice Petter Dreier Andersen are members of the project, which aims to help potential school drop-outs to achieve a vocational qualification. Both are apprentices at Bilfinger Industrial Services Norway at Herøya.
In the plastics workshop “What’s that used for?” “What do you get to do?” “Is this is a special material?” The questions came thick and fast from Prime Minister Erna Solberg, as apprentice Tommy Kåsene showed the prominent guest round his workplace.
“The Plastics Workshop must be a great place to be an apprentice, as there are so many manual processes,” the Prime Minister offered, and was backed up by Tommy. “We can see the point of learning maths through the practical work we do here. That’s very motivating. Especially for those of us who were sick to death of school when we were taken in as apprentices at Bilfinger.”
“From talent to tradesperson” The project, a cooperative venture between Telemark County Council, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions, the Ministry of Education and Research and several further education colleges, is one of a kind in Norway. Bilfinger is helping the two youngsters to serve an apprenticeship and obtain a vocational qualification without the two years of formal training at a further education college. Instead the young people spend four years as an apprentice.
The Prime Minister and Education Minister both arrived in black government cars with a large retinue and police escorts. Outside the reception, guests were greeted by Director of Herøya Industrial park Thor Oscar Bolstad, Leader of Porsgrunn Municipality Øystein Beyer and Director of Bilfinger Paul Rune Aasrum. After a safety talk and distribution of helmets, the Workshops Manager Gunnar Bråthen invited the guests into the Plastics Workshop. Here the Ministers were met by Workshop Manager Kjetil Groa and the two apprentices, who gave the guided tour.
Capable apprentices get jobs “We had more or less had it with school,” Tommy says, who with a slightly embarrassed smile admits to a poor attendance record at secondary school. “But now it’s entirely different. There’s not much absenteeism now.”
“Apprentices who can get up in the morning, show an interest in their trade and do a good job – they end up with a job with us,” Paul Rune Aasrum interjects.
“It seems to me, you’ve got a good deal here,” Prime Minister Solberg rejoins. “I can see that the journalists here have noted down that promise, so now it’s up to you to seize the opportunity,” she continues, before someone in her retinue reminds her of the next item on the programme for this Telemark visit.
Before the guided tour was over, Aasrum and Bråthen had managed to explain to the Prime Minister the problems of recruiting tradespersons, and the efforts industry is making to acquire sufficient qualified workers.
“In the future, the country is going to need more young people with a vocational background,” Solberg concluded. “And it’s important not to lose the young people who are struggling at school. We now have to learn from the best projects initiated by the Counties in cooperation with business and other partners. We are drawing the threads together now and will take decisions on that basis”, the Prime Minister said.
Nervous What was it like showing the Prime Minister round the workshop?
“Very weird,” the two apprentices answer almost in chorus. “We were scared of saying something wrong, but I think we made a good job of it,” Petter says. “We hadn’t prepared anything in particular, because we couldn’t know what the Prime Minister would ask. Fortunately, she didn’t catch us out with any difficult questions. We just explained what we do and what we learn.”
So you weren’t ‘star-struck’ from having to show two of the country’s top politicians round the workshop?
“Actually, no,” Tommy answers. “At the NHO Annual Conference I spoke to the Crown Prince and Princess about this scheme, so it wasn’t so hair-raising meeting the Prime Minister.”