The World Economic Forum’s Report on Global Competitiveness for 2012-13 sees Norway’s lack of competitiveness as an obstacle to future growth. Its ageing workforce, coupled with inflexible labor rules compound the problem. The report ranked three out of the four Nordic nations, namely Sweden, Norway and Finland, in the bottom twentieth percentile of the 144 countries surveyed when it came to flexibility in salaries and overall attitudes to ‘hiring and firing’.
This is a big concern. Even more alarming is the fact that more than 70 percent of Norwegian employers questioned in a survey conducted by research firm Opinion Perduco for employment and recruiting for ManpowerGroup said they had no plans to recruit or hire new colleagues who have a “multicultural” background. The survey questioned 2,000 leaders of Norwegian companies!
Usually number 1 reason mentioned is the language barrier. Maalfrid Brath of ManpowerGroup however doesn’t think that excuse is always valid. He thinks the problem lies more in the fact that people are more comfortable with colleagues who are “more like them” and maybe that’s the biggest challenge. Of the 2,000 business leaders questioned, 43 percent admitted that prejudice among employers was the most important reason behind their decisions not to hire foreigners even when they were fully qualified for the job.
This is a big backlash for every qualified foreign worker looking for a job. But not all is lost. Some of the bigger companies have adopted another policy. Severin Roald, information chief at Aker Solutions, said it’s most important simply to find the best qualified employees, regardless of where they come from. “For us, it’s enormously enriching. It’s inspiring for the whole workforce, and the working environment becomes much more creative.”
The global talent career fair
As always changes in attitude happen over time. Yesterday the city of Oslo invited qualified foreign workers to attend their first “global talent career fair” at Oslo Konserthus. Arrangements like these are valuable efforts to bring foreign workers and Norwegian business together. The program, offered in English, included presentations from Edgar Valdmanis (NettCoach.no), Guri Larsen (Director Adecco Search and Select), Morten Tveit (Egon Zehnder) and many others on networking, personal branding and cracking the cultural code.
These insights focused on social media, design and personal branding, which for me wasn’t new. The real value for me was outside the main stage were approx. 40 companies had set up their stand and were ready for conversation. One trend I could spot during my first round was that the main sectors looking for foreign workers were those most in need of talent: the oil sector and the IT sector. As I chatted with representatives of the different IT companies (my field of interest) I got the feeling that the skepticism towards non Norwegians still is somehow present but the need for talent simply is bigger. Qualification and skills are valued over cultural differences and companies are willing to change their policies. In the IT sector skills in UX design and mobile technology (development & design) are the most sought after. Many companies are offering courses and trainee programs in English and they are actively recruiting foreigners. Norwegian is not a requirement but of course it’s appreciated. The majority of the 40 companies present were operating internationally and had multicultural teams spread out over several countries. Unfortunately there was a shortage of smaller, more local business. However, from experience I can say that within IT also these companies are integrating international workers in their teams. In my previous job in a smaller IT company approx. 60% were from outside Norway.
With time policies will change and company leaders will open up to other types of cultures. This won’t happen overnight and it won’t be out of a sudden enlightenment. The need of talent for Norway to grow will leave no other option. If you are in a sector that is in immediate need of skills you have a good chance to get a job. Try to acquire skills in those fields which aren’t overpopulated by talent and just keep trying. Learning the language is a big advantage. As with every other country, you have the biggest chances if you try to adapt and integrate. Learn the cultural code, get to know local people, their history, their food. Do things locals do. Go skiing, do cross-country, eat lutefisk for Christmas and celebrate the 17th of May. I know this sounds very cliché but I’ll say it anyway: get to know the people and once they get to know you they might even think that you are just like them.