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A Nordic strategy for maintaining a supply of labour?

| Text: Berit Kvam and Gunhild Wallin

As with the rest of Europe, the labour force in the Nordic countries will change in the future. There is a great risk of a future lack of manpower. Therefore, during the autumn, discussions will start between politicians and the social partners in the Nordic countries regarding future manpower requirements. The challenge is to find strategies that cover future manpower needs, without renouncing fundamental value systems.

An ageing population, fewer and fewer young people and more and more employees with a foreign background, are placing new demands on politicians to find ways to cater for future manpower demands. This is a conclusion of the report, «The supply of labour in the Nordic countries - experience, development and political considerations», which has been prepared by a group of Nordic civil servants in collaboration with the Danish chairmanship.

The intention was not to simply list the problems but to identify and discuss strategies that are relevant to the common values that characterise Nordic welfare states.

«We didn’t want to repeat all the reports and analyses that have already been published – we wanted to stimulate a more politically oriented debate. We want to try to highlight the problem of this future lack of manpower in good time before it becomes critical. Measures to cater for the falling supply of labour require a lot of time,» says Fleming Kuhn Pedersen, Chairman of the Labour Market Committee of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

Getting the older members of the population to stay at work longer than at present is an important theme. Another theme is to persuade young people to choose an education consistent with future labour market requirements. Currently, there is tendency in the Nordic countries, as in the rest of Europe, for young people to prefer the social sciences and humanistic courses, while avoiding technical subjects and natural sciences.

A third theme is that of getting more adults into active employment. Currently, every fourth adult of working age is maintained by some form of state support and these people are needed in the labour force. In addition, a number of measures have been proposed to embrace more immigrants within the labour force.

«We want to stress the significance of lifelong learning. Older people need to update their skills and be persuaded to stay longer in working life. We need to create a more capacious labour market that doesn’t marginalize people,» says Fleming Kuhn Pedersen.

But there are many conflicts. It’s a matter, for instance, of how great a demand can be placed on people without relinquishing those rights that have for a long time been regarded as self-evident. It’s also a matter of determining whether it is a good thing to create special schemes for those who have more difficulty entering the labour market without singling out such groups, particularly by giving them special treatment.

The issue of the importation of labour is another dilemma. Is immigration to be unregulated, even though this will probably entail an inflow of poorly educated people who will be competing with those who already have

difficulty getting jobs? Or should we introduce a "green card" system for better educated people which would conflict with the principle of allowing immigration for humanistic reasons?

The report was discussed by the Nordic Ministers of Labour at a meeting on 25 September at the Nordic Council of Ministers and in a subsequent consultation meeting with the social partners.

«There was general agreement that the report is an important contribution to a broad, constructive debate about the way the Nordic countries should develop a strategy to promote the supply of skilled labour in the immediate and long-term future,» says Flemming Kuhn Pedersen.

The Ministers of Labour decided to make efforts to draw up a common Nordic strategy to cater for future years’ common challenges. The Danish Minister of Labour, Ove Hygum, will raise this issue during the session of the Nordic Council in Iceland in November.

 

 

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