The Basic Competence in Working Life Programme

Country Profile: Norway


5,083,000 (2013)

Official Language

Bokmal Norwegian, Nynorsk Norwegian

Other spoken languages

Sami and Finnish

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP

7.32% (2012)

Adult Literacy Rate (2013)

PIAAC test results – percentage of adults scoring at each proficiency level in literacy – Level 1 represents the lowest level of proficiency, Level 5 the highest):

Below Level 1: 3%
Level 1: 9.3%
Level 2: 30.2%
Level 3: 41.6%
Level 4: 13.1%
Level 5: 0.6%

Statistical Sources

  • UNESCO Institute for Statistics UIS
  • OECD
  • Programme Overview

    Programme TitleThe Basic Competence in Working Life Programme
    Implementing Organization Vox, Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning - An agency of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research
    Language of InstructionNorwegian
    FundingThe National Budget via the Ministry of Education and Research
    Date of Inception2006


    Background and Context

    Norway has taken part in two large international surveys concerning basic literacy skills among adults. Basic skills are not only the foundation for further learning but are necessary in order to be an active participant in working life and in society in general. These skills allow individuals to acquire new knowledge throughout their lives, to benefit from new opportunities and adapt to change with less difficulty.

    The two surveys, the International Adult Survey (IALS) and the Adult Literacy and Life Skill Survey (ALL), showed that despite the relatively high rates of basic skills among Norwegians, there are more than 400 000 adults at risk of not being able to participate in working life and society because of their poor levels of basic skills. This gives cause for concern. With the level of skills demanded continually rising, these people may have serious difficulties meeting the needs of modern working life and society in general.

    A previous initiative developed to further education in the workplace, the Competence Development Programme (KUP), demonstrated a positive effect for those who participated. Only to a limited extent did this programme include employees with weak basic skills. Therefore, the Basic Competence in Working Life Programme directs its attention towards businesses which have employees who lack basic skills and who wish to make this type of learning available for them.

    The Basic Competence in Working Life Programme (BCWL)

    In 2006 the government, established the BCWL to deal with these challenges. Through the programme, business enterprises can apply for support for training measures for reading, writing, arithmetic and the use of ICT. Since its creation, the number of applicants for the BCWL programme has steadily increased from 167 to 498 applications in 2012. Unfortunately the government is unable to accept every applicant; nonetheless, in 2012 Vox is able to support 369 projects. Since a number of applications involved clusters of enterprises, nearly 700 enterprises benefit from the grant.

    The total amount allocated to this programme has increased from 14.5 million NOK in 2006 to 105 million NOK (14.8 million Euro) in 2012.

    Funding for the BCWL comes from the Ministry of Education and Research. Vox is responsible for the design and the development of adequate tools for the practical implementation the programme, as well as documentation of its results.


    Vox, Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning, is an agency of the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. One of the agency’s objectives is to improve basic skills; reading, writing, numeracy and digital skills for adults in Norway. Through contact with European partners, Vox takes part in the exchange of experience and examples of adaptable good practice and the discussion of possible policy changes.

    Vox controls the curriculum development for the BCWL. And Vox has been given the responsibility for running the programme, which entails receiving and assessing applications, distributing funds to successful applicants, monitoring and assessing projects and providing assistance, support and advice to businesses and training providers.

    Project Implementation – Approaches and Methods

    The BCWL programme, as defined by Vox, considers basic skills to mean literacy (reading and writing), numeracy (everyday mathematics) and ICT skills. Any business in Norway, public or private, can apply for funding from the programme, but only those whose project corresponds to a certain number of criteria defined by the Ministry of Education and Research are eligible for financial support.

    Training through Competence Goals

    All providers must design their courses on the basis of a framework put in place by Vox. The Framework for Basic Skills for Adults, approved by the Ministry in 2007, establishes national standards for reading and writing, mathematics, ICT skills and oral communication. A description of the competence goals for each of the basic skills is divided into three levels.

    Literacy Numeracy Digital competence Oral Communication
    Level 1. Basic decoding, reading, writing and spelling skills for everyday life Minimum competence needed for performing simple mathematical tasks in familiar contexts Minimum competence needed to utilize public and private services to one´s own ends Covers basic communication in familiar situations like taking messages/asking for help
    Level 2. Coherent, fluent, relatively quick reading and writing skills Adult responds actively to mathematical information – children´s school work up to 4th form Independent and competent in using various web-based services Skills necessary to take active part in communication in familiar topics of personal and professional interest
    Level 3. Skills required for handling various texts found at work and in society generally Adult independently uses and responds to more complex mathematical information through symbols, graphs, figures Can exploit potential of new technology independently and actively Skills necessary for flexible and efficient communication in familiar and unfamiliar situations

    Examples of educational tools used by Vox

    Maths Aid

    Maths Aid is a digital learning tool consisting of tasks with topics from adult everyday life. It includes interactive tasks with topics from a variety of arenas including recipes, online shopping, working life and personal economy. The objective is to give people an opportunity to refresh their own maths skills and also to improve their ability to help their children with their homework. In addition, the learning tool offers explanation of fundamental rules in maths through animations and different types of calculations.

    ABC PC

    ABC pc is an interactive training programme for basic PC skills. It comprises the use of mouse and keyboard, writing texts, using the Internet and e-mail. The programme is aimed at adults who want to improve their basic ICT skills. ABC pc is available in Norwegian and English. It is possible to download and translate the resource into other languages.


    InterAct is a web-based model based on role play and problem solving. The aim is to motivate learning at work. The activity is relatively short-term (lasting 4 – 6 weeks), giving various learning outcomes and creating a starting point for more learning. The model was developed in an international Leonardo project coordinated by Vox. The objective of the project was to improve basic skills for employees with little formal education and low ICT skills.

    Each course is designed individually to meet the needs of the group. The level, length and content vary from course to course. Some courses may be ICT-related, others focus on reading and writing, and there are others which combine these different elements of basic skills. Larger companies will normally organize the courses on site, which not only allows the course to be conveniently located, but has the advantage of avoiding a school-like environment, which some participants appreciate as they may have a negative perception of school.

    The experience gathered in the programme’s first years led to establishing the possibility of dividing each project in two phases: 1) motivation and mapping needs, 2) implementation. Projects can now apply for funding for a motivational and information phase, where the need for training of potential participants is assessed. Depending on the results of this phase, participant companies can adjust the number of participants they are applying for funding for.

    Target group

    The BWCL programme targets working adults who wish to improve their skills in the workplace. Course providers are trained to ensure that the course contents are relevant to the professional development of the workers. According to an evaluation report from 2012, more than 61% of the participants are over the age of 40 and at least 68% only had upper secondary school as their highest completed level of formal education (22% unknown). The majority of the participants in ICT courses are women while men tend to receive more training in the reading and writing courses. However, access to all courses is available to whoever wishes to participate.

    Project Objective

    The BCWL programme has been designed specifically at increasing the competence of employees with low levels of education. Through this programme, the government wishes to help prevent people being excluded from an increasingly knowledge-based working life and society due to a lack of basic skills in reading, writing, arithmetic and use of ICT. The BCWL programme assists adults in improving their basic skills and self confidence in the workplace. One of the main objectives of the BCWL programme is to ensure that adults have access to flexible courses tailored to the needs of the workplace as well as for the individual. A long term objective is to increase both the offer and the demand of basic skills training for adults.

    Impact and Challenges

    The number of participants has steadily increased. Since the programme was established in 2006, more than 30 000 people have participated. Vox has developed a set of test tools to help measure learning outcomes.

    Most participants have improved their performance in basic skills and are motivated for further learning. ICT courses proved useful and popular and most of the participants agree that the learning was adapted to their individual needs. In evaluation reports many participants make a point of highlighting some secondary outcomes of the training course such as a boost in self-confidence and making use of new technology to take on new tasks. In addition, individuals report more confidence in meeting challenges in the workplace.


    A database has been established in order to supply up-to-date reports on the progress of the programme. The database also includes detailed information on participants (gender, formal education, industry etc) and thereby makes it possible to monitor the programme and to ascertain whether it reaches the intended target groups. The database will also make it easier to evaluate the long term impact of the programme.


    The major challenge noted by participating businesses is motivating and recruiting employees for the courses, especially for reading and writing classes. Measures have been taken to meet these challenges, like the funding of a motivation phase (see above).

    The problem of reaching sectors of working life that traditionally employ people with low basic skills has been addressed through systematic collaboration with relevant sectoral federations


    Since its inception, the number of applicants and the number of project grants have steadily increased. This increase has not only confirmed the success of the programme but has also contributed to increasing the competence level of the workforce in Norway. The government has been a reliable source of funding and continues to be with 105million NOK invested into the programme in 2012.

    Lessons Learned



    Graciela Sbertoli
    Olaf Helsets Vei 5B
    Pb 6139 Etterstad, 0602 Oslo
    E-mail: graciela.sbertoli (at)