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Nordic job exchange hopes to bounce back from Corona

Nordic job exchange hopes to bounce back from Corona

| Text: Bengt Östling

Many Nordic cooperation platforms have been hit by the Corona pandemic. One of the higher profile ones is Nordjobb, the Nordic mobility programme for young workers. Summer jobs should be starting up now, but many are still waiting to hear from their prospective employers.

In addition to offering jobs to tens of thousands of young people, Nordjobb has also become a breeding ground for those who want to work with Nordic matters later in life. Nordjobb workers also learn how to communicate in other languages than English.  

Jobs in the shadow of the pandemic

Nordjobb is expected to link more people to jobs this year compared to 2020, but not as many as in previous years. The Corona pandemic has disturbed the entire Nordjobb project. Many employers do not want foreign workers now. Many workers dare not travel, particularly to Sweden, because their fear the pandemic. 

Last year Nordjobb diverged from their principle and found some jobs in people’s home countries too, in order to avoid cross-border travel. This year it might happen again.

But there are more Nordic jobs this year, all advertised on Nordjobb’s website. 

If the pandemic abates, many young people could find jobs in the Swedish healthcare sector, in Finnish elderly care or in Greenland’s fish processing plants. 

Tourist businesses in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Bornholm and in Åland are looking for summer workers. In Norway, you can get a job as a car mechanic or chauffeur. 

Nordjobb workers

A worker who got a summer job through Nordjobb at a petrol station in the Faroe Islands. Photo: Dagmar Malena Winther.

Several countries are already allowing Nordjobb-workers in, including Sweden, Greenland, the Faroes and Denmark. In some countries, however, workers must undergo quarantine. Norway will probably not allow anyone in until after this summer unless something changes. 

Nordjobb has advertised jobs during May, but towards the end of that month much remains uncertain. Everything depends on when infection rates fall and vaccinations increase. 

What was perceived to be a safe region to work in one month ago might have seen a sudden re-emergence of Covid-19 leading to quarantines and new restrictions. 

Nordjobb cannot cover the cost of testing and quarantine for everyone who might need it. Many jobs are in the care sector where it is particularly important to avoid infections. 

More than a job

Young people who only want a summer job can apply directly or go via the public employment office. Although the job in itself is important to those who apply, Nordjobb is about more than that. The whole Nordic package is central to the experience. 

Getting the chance to learn about the place where you work is important too, as is meeting and getting to know Nordjobb-workers from other Nordic countries.

The organisers find jobs in the Nordics, tell the applicants about them and arrange accommodation and a recreational programme. 

You need adequate basic knowledge and comprehension of a Scandinavian language, but there is no need to have any previous experience in Nordic activities. But many go on to work in a Nordic setting afterwards, and Nordjobb has become a good recruitment channel for the youth wing of the Federation of the Norden Association. 

Bo Nylander

Bo Nylander outside the Nordjobb offices in Copenhagen. Photo: Emma Maria Dreist.

Swedish Bo Nylander is head of programme for Nordjobb at the main secretariat in Copenhagen. His first job through Nordjobb was at a fish processing plant in Skagen, Denmark. Now he works for the small Nordjobb secretariat which has local administrations in each Nordic country. Many seek jobs in the western Nordics, i.e. the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland, looking for adventure and a unique experience, explains Nylander. He has worked in the Faroes himself several times. 

Highest interest in Sweden and Finland

The number of Nordjobb applicants is often linked to the situation at home. Sweden and Finland have the highest youth unemployment levels in the Nordic region and the highest number of Nordjobb applicants. In a normal year, like in 2019, each of those countries had more than 1,500 applicants. This year the number could be considerably lower. 

Denmark came third with just over 600 applicants a few years ago. Many still want to work in Norway because they know about that country’s high pay. Norwegian youths, meanwhile, are not so keen to seek work abroad. In 2019, 280 Norwegian youths wanted to work in a different Nordic country via Nordjobb.

Iceland is the smallest Nordic country, but it has a high number of Nordjobb applicants per capita. After the financial crisis, the number was high but has since fallen to around 200. 

Nordjobb believes the Corona crisis could lead to higher youth unemployment, which would once more make the organisation attractive to young people.  

Nordjobb arranges work for young people a bit like a temping agency, explains Bo Nylander. Employers put in an order, which is uploaded to Nordjobb’s website. Those who are interested have signed up to a database which can match applicants to jobs. 

Nordjobb is quite unique, according to Bo Nylander. One pilot used to offer jobs in Estonia, and there is also an EU project that matches jobs across Europe. 

There is also a regional project called “Nordisk jobblösning” which operates across most of Denmark, in southern Norway and southern Sweden. This is financed by the EU via the European Eures employment network. 

This project has no age limit and also arranges full-time work. In the future we might see new projects addressing groups of people who are a bit further away from the labour market, covering the whole of the Nordic region perhaps. 

We now also have more knowledge about the differences in the Nordic labour markets, says Bo Nylander. He mentions the Danish surplus of physiotherapists. This could be easily solved, since there is a lack of physiotherapists in Sweden despite that country having more unemployment overall. There is a mismatch in the Nordic labour market which Nordjobb could help solve.  

Mostly progress

Nordjobb has not faced many problems since it started in 1985, according to Bo Nylander. Right now they are working to improve the application process, which is perceived to be a bit old-fashioned. 

“We realise we have been lagging behind when it comes to technology. We have to work with very old-fashioned systems, and see that more and more young people struggle to fill in our forms,” admits Nylander. Applicants have to go through more than ten pages of questions. But the system is being swapped for a new one, and this autumn things will be easier, he promises.

Scandinavian language a must, including in Finland

Finnish job seekers face a special problem because the application must be done in Swedish. This can be a real obstacle for young Finnish-speaking applicants. 

Yet all Finnish children learn Swedish in school. The application model is like their first test of how to communicate in a workplace in Sweden, where most Finns look for work. New this year, though, is that Finnish and Icelandic applicants can apply for a job in English. 

Lena Höglund

One of Nordjobb’s main goals is to increase knowledge of and interest in the Nordic languages, explains Lena Höglund, Secretary-General of the Youth League of the Finnish Norden Association. 

Finland has long had the highest number of job seekers, but there is a downward trend. This could be due to deteriorating language skills.

Other reasons could be shorter periods in university and stricter regulations on student loans. This means young people might not be able to choose a Nordjobb adventure or other periods abroad. They are pushed into working at home in Finland where youth unemployment has fallen, notes Lena Höglund. 

Nordic benefits from Nordjobb

Nordjobb is not a summer job project for students only, but they do make up the majority of applicants. The project is equally important for those with vocational educations who are looking for internships or who want to find a new job.

The summer job has probably helped some people find permanent work with the same employer. In any case, the organisers believe the experience will be a life-long memory and that it will benefit people’s future working life. 

The Corona crisis has led to a necessary step towards the digital world, points out Lena Höglund. But the main point with Nordjobb is to travel to another Nordic country to meet other young workers and that they communicated face-to-face.

Remote work does not sit so well with Nordjobb’s principles. Most of the workplaces are also very hands-on, which means people have to be physically present. 

The future looks bright, as the tourism and care sectors will always be there and might even grow. The agriculture and gardening sectors also need seasonal labour, and Nordjobb helps when there is a shortage. 

An underfunded project

Lena Höglund is unhappy that the Nordic Council of Ministers decided to cut Nordjobb’s budget at a time when it could be argued that the organisation needs more funding. She believes things are moving in the wrong direction.

The cut is not due to the Corona pandemic or a result of any failure on Nordjobb’s part, she points out. It is a result of the prime ministers’ vision for 2030 which prioritises sustainability, climate issues and digital integration. Cultural activities have seen their budgets cut. 

Bo Nylander in Copenhagen also thinks that Nordjobb is underfunded. The budget is the same as in the early 1990s, and now it is being cut with half a million Danish kroner (€67,000). 

Lena Höglund hopes the money will return once borders reopen and the Nordics get back to normal. Yet the cuts do seem to be permanent, according to Bo Nylander. This means Nordjobb’s support from the Council of Ministers for next year is €390,000.

This is Nordjobb
  • All Nordic and EU citizens aged 18 to 30 can apply for a Nordjobb. Scandinavian language skills are required.
  • Jobs can be found across the Nordic region in sectors like care, tourism, agriculture and fisheries. These are summer or seasonal jobs paid by the employer in line with collective agreements.
  • Each year, some 5,000 applicants compete for 800 jobs (considerably fewer this year because of Corona). Most come from Sweden and Finland. 
  • Nordjobb is run by the Norden Association and is fully financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The organisation arranges leisure programmes and accommodation at reasonable prices. 
  • Nordjobb’s next budget will be cut down to around three million Danish kroner (approximately €390,000).

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