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Work environment gives Nordic growth sectors competitive edge

Work environment gives Nordic growth sectors competitive edge

| Text and photo: Berit Kvam

How can the Nordic region face the challenges of growing globalisation? Where is the potential for growth and rising employment? Nordic researchers recommend measures which could help authorities and businesses make better use of growth opportunities.

Better conditions for job creation and growth in the Nordic countries is ultimately about maintaining welfare and furthering the Nordic model, said Lars Foldspang from the consultancy firm DAMVAD as he and Annika Rosing from the Nordic Council of Ministers opened the final policy forum of the project Nordic Growth Sectors. The project’s aim has been to formulate alternative action plans and policy recommendations for growth companies and authorities on a national and Nordic level.

RosingHead of department Annika Rosing underlined that therecommendations must be concrete so that they are easy to communicate to authorities and businesses. 

The Nordic Council of Ministers has asked consultancy firm DAMVAD in cooperation with a range of researchers and experts from all of the Nordic countries to take responsibility for five different inquiries plus a key findings document with analysis and suggestions for how businesses and authorities can better explore opportunities for growth and job creation. 

Mega trends

The inquiry points to several mega trends which drive development and which are important to take into account when analysing the growth companies and their needs. Such mega trends include predicted demographic changes leading to an ageing workforce, larger ethnic plurality and an increasing number of women with higher education.

Then there are the challenges posed by globalisation; adapting to an international market, an ever decreasing need to be present in the work place and the danger of a polarisation of labour qualifications. All this, and in particular globalisation, an ageing workforce and more women with higher education, demands new framework conditions. 

An ageing workforce can lead to a labour shortage in growth industries. The inquiry therefore recommends greater focus on international recruitment and measures to retain more older people in the workforce. 

National authorities should adapt the pension system to allow for a higher and more flexible retirement age, to make it easier for older workers to upgrade their skills (both at national and company levels), and to use more flexible working hour solutions like shorter working days and working time accounts. On a company level it is also important to notice older workers and for management to make sure individuals know they are needed. 

Broad analyses

The analyses are based on a range of interviews with companies, organisations and policy makers in each of the Nordic countries. Each country has also conducted two surveys - one in companies and one among workers in growth companies - as well as a register analysis among competitive job creators. The policy recommendations are also based on input from interviews and discussions in a policy forum where organisation members, authorities and researchers have worked together to develop policy recommendations aimed at both company, national and Nordic levels. 

The need for skills

The project highlights the common belief among organisations that Nordic countries’ ability to attract skilled foreign labour will be important to maintain and develop competitiveness in the global market place. That is why it is important on a national level to reduce red tape and avoid any time wasting. The project recommends the Nordic region to continue to develop its cross-border education and labour market.

Businesses can benefit from expanding their recruitment horizon and develop a culture of social openness - including furthering language skills.      

Drivers for growth

DAMVAD has been analysing which businesses create new jobs, how to identify their needs for labour, and which framework agreements will secure a good labour supply and demand balance. The analyses show no particular sectors stand out - the jobs are created both in new sectors and in shrinking sectors. Drivers for growth seem to be education, capital and exportability. Export businesses appear to enjoy higher productivity than others, for instance. 

Competitive businesses also seem to hire more people with higher education, and higher education seems to be linked to improved productivity. Growth industries also seem to value social competence as highly as formal education and technical skills. On the other hand the analyses show higher educated staff in businesses with low production does not seem to stimulate production growth. These businesses are better served by investing in tangibles before hiring more people with higher education. 

Work environment regulation is good

Work environment legislation and rules and measures to improve it are considered to be a relevant and timely. Several of the companies considered a good work environment to be an advantage when trying to attract the best qualified workers. The analyses also show that the work environment in competitive growth industries is as good as elsewhere, but that stress is a challenge. 

Benedicte Brøgger from the Norwegian Work Research Institute told the policy forum that the way work is organised has an impact on the work environment:

“All growth puts pressure on capacity and this will also impact on people and the work environment. The work environment is not the icing on the cake, it is determined by guiding principles which are developed as we go along. Newer research shows that psycho-social problems are now more common than muscular and skeletal strain in the workplace, and a more common reason for sick leave,” she said, and added that the organisational and psycho-social work environment is also the most important issue for growth companies. 

Benedicte Brøgger and Gunnel Hensing from the University of Gothenburg have led the work on developing policy recommendations for a good work environment.

The project recommends a range of measures. One of the main points is the need to regulate not only the physical work environment but also the psycho-social work environment, and the need to better handle stress issues.

Researchers Robert A. Karasek og Töres Theorell have developed a model for the psycho-social work environment and stress which demonstrates a link between demand and control: people manage high demand at work when they have good control over their work situation and enjoy good social support.
The model is an example of knowledge which can be spread and be put to better use to fight stress on a company level. Another recommendation is for management to take responsibility for training company staff in work environment issues and that this training should happen with the cooperation of the work environment representative and staff. 

Further work environment skills should be incorporated in management training and stresshandling should be incorporated into the education system. On a national level it is recommended to strengthen the legal position of work environment personnel. 

Nordic region in front

The project recommends that businesses and authorities develop strategies which can confirm that it pays to invest in a good work environment as part of a growth environment.

Since growth companies face major challenges when it comes to stress and psycho-social problems and since this is a field in development, the project group also recommends that the Nordic cooperation puts this on the agenda, giving Nordic businesses a competitive edge.  

Increased competitiveness can be achieved in many ways. One more thing highlighted in the project is the Nordic region’s positive negotiation culture between the state and the social partners. It also highlights the importance of a good work/life balance. There is focus on innovation and on how to develop cooperation between businesses and universities and other research institutions.

The globalisation project Nordic Growth Areas has been organised as a consortium under leadership of the research based consultancy agency DAMVAD and with partners from all of the Nordic countries: Oslo Economics; Jari Kuusisto and Martin Meyer, University of Vaasa; Benedicte Brøgger, Norway’s Work Research Institute; Gunnell Helsing, University of Gothenburg; Per Kongshøj Madsen, Aalborg University and Berit Sundby, SINTEF.

The Globalisation Project Nordic Growth Sectors
  • is initiated and financed by the Nordic Council of Ministers
  • has been led by the research based consultancy agency DAMVAD
  • and organised as a consortium with experts and researchers from all of the Nordic countries.
  • The project has published five papers and key findings which can be downloaded from the projects webpage.

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