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Back to the Future

A growing number of vocational training programs are catering to people’s future. We have paid two of them a visit: A speciality coffee shop & a design hotel.

The coffee grinder is growling. A bag of beans labelled «Ethiopia» from Supreme Roastworks is being crushed to suit a French Press. The smell of citrus, berries and herbs carry out into the shop. Outside, a tow truck is roaring. Two hungry blue-collar workers are lining up at the bar. «A sandwich and a black coffee, please.» «Same for me», the other one nods. «And make that a double latte».

You’ll find the coffee shop Brenneriet just up the hill from Blå (a notorious club and concert arena), almost hidden behind the three rusty steal letters: BR5: Six seats, two employees, four employees with special needs and a handful of social workers.

– The more the merrier, says Harald Stenbekk, a barista who has worked at Brenneriet from the day the coffee shop opened its doors just over two years ago.

– I am a coffee lover myself, so it feels great to be able to work with both coffee and food. This is an excellent place to work, Harald says while grabbing a seat. His colleague makes him a double mocha, his favourite. Harald can easily have four of them a day.

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Most people //

Brenneriet opened its doors in January 2014. In addition to being a coffee shop, it doubles as a social work space for four of the residents at Ullevålsveien 34, St. Hanshaugen – a housing initiative by the welfare department catering for people with special needs. Jobb 34 is a model of employment where the goal is income generation through special customized work. The most common services provided by Jobb 34 are running a canteen, janitorial work and moving services. When the real estate agency Anton B. Nilsen asked if they wanted to open a coffee shop, they jumped at the opportunity. A challenge was just what they needed!

– Everyone needs to have some sort of steady routines in their lives. Whether it is motivational work or somewhere to go to where you can be a part of something. The feeling of being useful in a job is a very important feeling, says Erlend Hoff Jensen, head of Ullevålsveien 34.

– It’s all about a sense of normality. To have a job to go to, doing something that is similar to what others do, and to be a part of society. Those are our main pinpoints for the residents of Ullevålsveien 34, Erlend explains.

Motivation //

Just around the corner, in the area called Vulkan, you will find PS:hotell and yet another real estate agency with a social conscience, Aspelin Ramm. When the Vulkan-area was to be transformed from crater to food pot, NAV (the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Organization) announced a competition. Who would come up with the best and most realistic idea for a workplace that could offer outsiders ways back into working life? Aspelin Ramm and PS:hotell won the whole thing.

The mission was a full-fledged hotel, where the majority of the employees were hired through NAV as apprentices to get work experience, build confidence and eventually get hired by other employers. Today the hotel employs 10 people full time, as well as 40 apprentices. And at this very moment, 70 hungry lunch guests from the environmental ngo Bellona are hitting the restaurant like an avalanche. Lentil and chickpea stew is on the menu. Meat free Monday, here we go!

– The first time I heard about PS:hotell was at a stand last year, says Theodor Rosenberg.

When rolling up his chef shirts, we get a glimpse of some kick-ass tattoos. The chef turns 25 in May, and has worked as an apprentice at the hotel kitchen for about a year now. Before then Theodore experienced a turbulent period in his life, which ended up with a conviction and two years in prison. Soon he will be halfway through his apprenticeship to become a chef. In the beginning, the transition from prison life to working life was tough for Theodor.

– It’s apart of the story that the transition was too great and you crashed and burned, says head chef Richard Trælnes. Theodore nods. Once, both him and his motivation went missing for three weeks, but in the end, they were able to reel him back in.

– We could see that Theodor had lots of potential, and it’s written all over his hands that he has the abilities to work as a chef. We are very happy to have him here as our apprentice, Richard smiles.

Pit stop //

– A job can be closely linked to identity, says workplace physiologist Stian Midtgård.

Through his career he has worked with all types of people to help them get back into the job market. His method of motivational interviewing is applied at PS:hotell. This method helps them to find the right buttons to push in order to motivate the apprentices.

– If one has been without a job for a while, it is easy to loose hope, so for many people having a job will be the best form of therapy. Being able to handle everyday life will help you exit a hopeless situation, and take those first steps on the road to the future. And once you can see that road, you will also gain faith that with a few goals, you are going to make it, the psychologist ads.

The road ahead is an important keyword at PS:hotell. Merete Aarskog, head of reception training, is an advocate of the motivational method.

– We might just be the only workplace that gives a round of applause when a co-worker quits to move on to another place of employment. Our employees just need a small polish before they go off into the world, that’s all.

– Many come to us with «black holes» in regards to what it means to be employed. Personally, I see it as a nice thing to be able to be there for them, allowing them to make mistakes in front of me, so that they won’t repeat those mistakes later on in a regular job. They are all headed somewhere; the hotel is just a pit stop for them.

– You get to grow very fond of them as colleagues, and you love them a little extra because you see their fighting spirit. We get to see many destinies.


Back at Brenneriet, they are busy getting through the last rush of the day. Harald and his crew are serving coffee five days a week.

– In the very beginning things would take longer than they do now. It was a new era for me, and I had to learn everything from scratch. But I have to say, it’s so much fun working here, Harald smiles.

Brenneriveien is a small exotic pocket in Norway’s capital. A pinch of London. A pinch of New York. And maybe a little Christiania too. The walls outside the café are covered in art and graffiti.

– It’s also so fun getting to know people, we have some regulars coming in, Harald ads.

Besides brewing coffee, his days go by quickly. The 28-year old has a standing dinner date with his dad every week, and he goes hiking in the woods. Not to mention the cinema, his books and and his Walker Texas Ranger-collection on DVD.

– I am reading a book about Thor Heyerdahl right now: The Man and the Sea by Ragnar Kvam Jr. There’s three volumes in total, Harald says while taking a sip of his mocha. And not to forget, he loves his PlayStation.

– FIFA, football games, he nods.

Head to tail //

Today’s lunch guests from Bellona have in true green spirit finished their plates. Later on today, two of the apprentices are going to have a go at the «pistol», that’s to say a bulls thigh and leg. A piece of meat weighing 60 kilos will become steaks, filet, sirloin, entrecote, minced meat and stock. Nothing goes to waste.

– We don’t always run a tight ship around here, but we follow the department of education’s development plan. Vegetables and ingredients have to be ordered, they all learn to cut, make sauces and stock, the basic things. When that has become second nature, there’s more room to experiment and have fun, says the head chef and waves his arms like a French confectioner.

The apprentice is smiling. Decorating cakes is one of his favourites, allowing him to be both free and creative.

– Actually though, I like everything. Just learning new things is a lot of fun, Rosenberg says.

What do you think of the future, now that you’ve found an occupation you like, and a workplace that gives you such an opportunity?

– I picture getting my apprenticeship done, get the certificate and work as a certified chef. I recently visited the Caribbean restaurant Lemongrass downtown. The tastes and the way they presented the food, you could easily spot the chef’s creativity, Rosenberg smiles.

– That’s they way I’d like to work. That’s my kind of food.