Workers lacking despite immigration

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Shortages in the Norwegian labour force have increased 20 percent in the last year, with Norwegian industry now lacking at least 61,000 workers, according to a survey of 14,300 companies by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (Den norske arbeids- og velferdsforvaltningen, NAV). Meanwhile, economic immigration to the country – and the debate about its effects – continues.

The study from NAV shows that around 10 percent of companies have “serious” problems with recruiting enough staff. Unemployment figures for Norway have been shrinking for some time, decreasing from 95,000 in the first quarter of 2010 to 84,000 in the same period this year. This means that unemployment remains higher than the estimated shortage in the workforce.

Construction and services most affected
NAV’s Hans Kure told newspaper Aftenposten that “the activity in companies is increasing so much that the reduction in unemployment is not enough to cover their needs,” adding that “it is often the case that the competence among the unemployed is not in accordance with the competencies companies need.” Kure also commented on the highest-ever level of net immigration into the country recorded this spring, as well as increasing work-related immigration. “This contributes towards limiting the workforce shortages somewhat,” said Kure. He also stressed that “history shows that this dampens wage growth” and that “lower wage growth means that the demand for workers increases.”

The building and construction industry, along with the so-called “real estate, commercial and professional services” sector, together comprise a majority of the 61,000 shortfall. The latter includes employment hiring services and is therefore the worst hit, NAV reports, with a shortage total of 23,700. Various types of drivers, both for road and rail purposes, are also lacking by around 6,000. Indeed, an increasing number of immigrants are coming to Norway to become drivers, including from Germany and Slovakia. A number of bus companies offer these workers Norwegian courses before they can take up their job, including Unibuss, which has recruited around 120 Germans and 250 Slovakians since 2007.

A representative of Unibuss confirmed to Aftenposten that “80 percent of those are still here after two years.” One German driver, Rainer Stange, explained that “it is difficult to get a job as a driver in Germany, especially for those of us that are a little older and live in Berlin”; another driver, Dirk Schrader, added that he “often had to work four to five hours more during the day” in Germany than in Norway, while the pay is also “much better” in Oslo.

‘Tough’ for immigrants
Many immigrants, particularly among the 60,000 coming in for work purposes in the last three years, find it difficult to find a job at first in Norway. Almost all jobs require proof of proficiency in Norwegian, and Norwegian courses will require payment for the majority of immigrant groups, including those from the European Economic Area (EEA) that make up the bulk of economic migrants.

There are concerns that many immigrants are not made aware of their rights and end up working illegally long hours for illegally low levels of pay. Some have also complained that their nationality has been a roadblock to entrance to the job market, even when they have good qualifications.

Anca Hutanu, a Romanian speaking to newspaper Dagsavisen, says that “when employers find out that I am from Romania, they lose interest” and “think only of beggars” in relation to the country and others in Eastern Europe. She says that “everybody says the same thing about beginning to work in Norway – it is very tough in the beginning, and then becomes better.” Her first job was in a Chinese restaurant where she once worked 300 hours in a month without overtime pay. She is against denying certain rights to immigrants, as has been suggested by some political parties and other groups who claim that immigrants pose a threat to the Norwegian welfare system and disproportionately benefit from it, creating a “two-tier” welfare state.

A committee appointed by the government in 2009, known as the Brochmann Committee for its leader Professor Grete Brochmann, recently reported that it found no evidence of a serious problem for the country’s welfare system from the increase in immigration in the short term, but added that despite this, “between a third and a quarter of the opinion in Norway believes in the idea of a ‘two-tier’ welfare system” that disproportionately benefits immigrants. The committee did make a number of recommendations regarding the integration of immigrants into the job market, and on how to avoid the “export” of benefits from the welfare system to other countries and relatives of immigrants that do not live in Norway. Brochmann herself was keen to stress, as she did in an interview to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, that any proposals should apply to all Norwegians and not just single out immigrants.

Immigrants’ children doing well
Meanwhile, children of parents with immigrant backgrounds are believed by some to be increasingly outperforming so-called “ethnic Norwegians” in the market for summer jobs and internships. The head of recruitment at bank DnB NOR, Glenn Menkin, told Aftenposten that he believes that “it doesn’t look like Norwegian youth see the value of work experience.” He continued that, “we experience more often than before that the newly-educated people that apply for jobs with us have no work experience at all” either as “paperboys or girls”, through summer jobs or “jobs on the side of their studies.” He described such work experience as “decisive” when the firm chooses between job and internship applicants. He claimed that at his bank, “we see that the number of young Norwegians with a different ethnic background is approaching 20 percent” of applicants. Menkin suggested that “maybe ethnic Norwegians get money from their parents in order to be able to concentrate even more on their studies during their education,” leaving them “without job experience” and “weaker” in the job market, although he admitted that there were few empirical studies on this matter.

The head of the Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations (Akademikerne), Knut Aarbakke, believes that fears about a “curling generation” where “the parents sweep away all obstacles in front of their children” are “heavily exaggerated.” “Plato complained about the youth, and now we are still doing it,” he said to Aftenposten. He nonetheless stated that “we see that ethnic Norwegian youth get such good pocket money that they can often choose whether to have a summer job,” giving those who take such jobs an “advantage.”  He encourages all young people to find summer jobs and work experience opportunities.

Paul Chaffey, who heads Abelia, a business association of Norwegian knowledge- and technology based enterprises, also emphasized to Aftenposten that the picture of immigrants and their children as “a weak group in Norwegian society” was “too simple” a generalization. He suggests that the children of immigrants in particular work hard, have high ambitions (often fostered by ambitious parents) and understand the importance of education. Chaffey wonders “whether we motivate young Norwegians well enough.” A philosopher and researcher at the Norwegian Business School (BI), Øyvind Kvalnes, has also criticized the new phenomenon of what he calls “cotton-wool children,” whose overly-protective parents have prevented from developing adequate work experience as young adults. He believes that immigrants and their children can be “role models” for these ethnic Norwegians.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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