Focus on Iceland

Reading is a national pastime in Iceland—in fact, there are more bookstores in Iceland per capita than any country on Earth.

Iceland is in the North Atlantic, a threehour flight by plane to Western Europe. It has a population of approximately 330,000, which is tiny by any measure. To put things in perspective, New York City has a population of more than 8.4 million. The capital of Iceland is Reykjavik, which has a population of approximately 120,000.

In the past, Iceland’s main product was its fishing industry. Most recently, the Icelandic government has been an advocate for the development and exportation of finished products such as those in financial services, pharmaceuticals, and software design and development. This change in product mix necessitated a highly trained workforce. Training has been a beneficiary of this new mindset. Currently, the majority of Icelanders work in the service industry.

Training programs usually are conducted in hotels or onsite at the company. Most training tends to be held in the bigger cities, Reykjavik in particular. Icelandic firms fully believe in on-the-job training. Even so, the most popular training programs are those on management, leadership, and quality (Six Sigma).

Trainees most likely will speak English, along with their native language of Icelandic and at least one other language. Icelanders are informal. Expect to address students by their first names. The trainer serves as the facilitator; you will not be expected to lecture. Small group work is valued. Icelanders like to be presented with content, given the opportunity to practice in small groups, and then allowed to debrief the activity as a class. Individualism is prized. Iceland is a highly technical culture. Students will feel comfortable with any technology you present them with. As a result of these factors, you will be able to present your training programs with minimal modifications.


Education Encouragement: Icelanders do not pay for education at any level. Iceland has one of the highest literacy rates in the world—99 percent. Reading is a national pastime; in fact, there are more bookstores in Iceland per capita than any country on Earth.

Being Green: Iceland uses hydrothermal and geothermal resources for energy. This has freed the country from being completely dependent on energy imports. It is also a clean, non-polluting energy source.

Opportunities for Women: Iceland supports and advocates for women’s rights. Women are represented at all levels in both the public and private sectors. Iceland has had a female head of state. Maternity and paternity leaves are fully funded and used by the workforce.

Free Health Care: Icelanders are some of the longest-living people on the planet. They are able to utilize medical services free of financial concerns.

Language Power: Icelanders are encouraged to be bilingual at a minimum. Global professionals need to know languages and cultures to be truly effective in global business.

No Military: While this is not possible in many parts of the world, Iceland is aided by its isolation. Not having a standing military allows it to utilize these funds in other ways to benefit its citizens.

Connection to Nature: Icelanders enjoy spending time in nature (i.e., lakes, mountains, forests, etc.), which centers them for their workday stresses.

Flat Tax: International studies have recognized Iceland as having one of the most egalitarian cultures in the world. Corporate taxes are reasonable, as well.

Sense of Community: Icelanders believe they can access the support of family and friends during life’s challenges.

Is it any wonder Iceland was named the world’s third happiest country, according to the World Happiness Report Update 2016? There are lessons to be learned there.

Dr. Neil Orkin is president of Global Training Systems. His organization prepares corporate professionals for global business success. For more information, visit