Lure of ‘marka’ hits UN recruiting

Norwegians’ easy access to the great outdoors, combined with good pay and benefits, is making it difficult to convince them to apply for or accept work abroad, not least at the United Nations (UN). Foreign ministry officials say Norwegians are underrepresented among staff at the UN, and it’s not always a reflection of their skills or UN recruiting efforts.

Many Norwegians, it seems, would rather be able to go skiing in Nordmarka instead of working abroad. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Many Norwegians, it seems, would rather be able to go skiing in Nordmarka instead of working abroad. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Instead, worry the ministry and UN recruiters,  Norwegians don’t want to give up comfortable lifestyles at home and the ability to enjoy the hills and forests known as “marka.” Some even call it the “Nordmarka Syndrome,” a direct reference to the forests on Oslo’s north side where thousands of local residents spend their free time in winter and summer.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that only around 500 Norwegians work for international organizations abroad, just 300 within the UN system. Even though Norway is a major supporter of the UN and helps finance many positions at UN organizations like Unicef or the United Nations Development Program, only 0.23 percent of applicants are Norwegians. At the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the number is even less, 0.01 percent. according to data compiled by the foreign ministry after its own staffers paid recruiting calls on the largest international groups.

They were trying to learn why more Norwegians don’t apply for or work in the organizations, and pursue an international career. The answers they received reveal several recruiting challenges:

** Many Norwegians are simply too happy a home to apply for work abroad. That’s where the “Nordmarka Syndrome” came into play, an expression reportedly well-known in the UN’s own personnel system. UN officials noted that even those Norwegians who took UN postings tended to return home after just a year or two, compared to other foreign nationals who stay with the UN and continually accept overseas jobs. Those Norwegians who are interested in an international career often want to move back and forth with time at home in Norway between postings.

** Pay and benefits are better at home in Norway than abroad, not least for women, who receive just four months of paid maternity leave within the UN system compared to at least 10 months at home, and 14 when shared between spouses.

There were other factors that disqualified Norwegians for overseas positions, including a lack of proficiency in enough foreign languages and a tendency to go after only high-level positions where they lack enough international experience. Norwegians’ expectations in many cases are too high, ministry officials were told, and they underestimate the level of competition they face. A 50-year-old Norwegian interested in working abroad after raising a family at home doesn’t measure up against others who have worked abroad for years.

Norway’s foreign ministry wants to see more Norwegians working in the UN system, for example, “because then we could assert Norwegian attitudes and principles in international organizations,” Torgal Ståhl of the ministry told Aftenposten. “It would also give us more Norwegian channels into the organizations.”

More Norwegians, the ministry realizes, could provide more Norwegian influence over such issues important to the Norwegian government like human rights, equality and humanitarian aid. More Norwegians with more international experience can also be beneficial for Norwegian organizations and businesses when they return home.

The ministry is thus launching efforts to finance more so-called “junior expert positions”  and recruit more  youngNorwegians to take them and stay in them. This is seen as the most effective way to qualify Norwegians for a career within the UN system, ministry officials believe, and they will be advertising the new jobs this month.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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