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A testing time for Director of Denmark's labour market agency

A testing time for Director of Denmark's labour market agency

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: STAR

As the top boss for the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment STAR, Maria Schack Vindum has been busy after Corona suspended large parts of the country’s employment policy, created mounting unemployment and cleared the way for new solutions.

Since she became Director for STAR in 2018, Maria Schack Vindum has not experienced a more dramatic week than the one starting 16 March 2020. when the Coronavirus hit the Danish labour market for real. That week saw a 243% increase in newly registered unemployed at STAR’s online job portal Jobnet, compared to the average level over the past five years. 

“2020 will forever be divided into before and after that week for me. It was a seminal moment as the number of newly registered unemployed rose dramatically and far faster than it did during the 2009 financial crisis. At the same time activation programmes were put on hold, and we had to develop a range of new solutions at breakneck speed,” says Maria Schack Vindum.

Many hit

The number of newly registered unemployed people on Jobnet is not identical to the number of Danes without a job, as unemployment in Denmark is the number of registered full-time unemployed people. The official unemployment figures always lag about one month behind, while the number of newly registered unemployed can be counted every day as a real-time indicator of the Corona crisis’ impact on unemployment.

So on the same evening that Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen held her first Corona press conference, Maria Schack Vindum asked her staff to develop a day-to-day count of the number of newly registered unemployed people on Jobnet and the number of jobs available on Jobnet. 

After an intense development drive by the agency’s number crunchers, these numbers are now published daily and show that by mid-May 2020 – two months after the pandemic hit Denmark – nearly 110,000 new people had registered as unemployed. That is twice as many as the average for the same period over the past five years. If you take away those who have since found jobs, the number of new people has “only” risen by just under 50,000 however.

“This shows that there is a large number of people in the Danish labour market who have been made unemployed as a result of the Coronavirus. At the same time, we’re not seeing the usual numbers of people going from unemployment to finding work. Right now there is also 8% fewer jobs on Jobnet compared for the average over the past five years,” she says.

Yet there are positive signs. The number of available jobs keeps rising, and there is a steady stream of people going from being unemployed to finding work, points out Maria Schack Vindum. And based on conversations she has had with colleagues from other OECD countries, she is under the impression that the Coronavirus has hit a number of countries harder in terms of unemployment, even though they have introduced a range of supporting measures just like Denmark.

Continuing education online

In normal circumstances, unemployed people must attend conversations at the municipal job centre, and they must also actively look for jobs in order to access benefits. Municipal job centres also have a duty to facilitate these conversations and to introduce measures to help people find jobs. These duties are now suspended because of the Coronavirus, yet unemployed people and job centres still maintain some dialogue online on a voluntary basis. 

“We don’t know what the effects of this will be, but common sense tells us it is better to maintain contact between the unemployed and the jobcentre, than leaving the unemployed in the lurch,” says Maria Schack Vindum.

The Corona crisis has also brought about other new online solutions that represent a big help for unemployed people and businesses, she believes. One model allows workers to take continuing education via distant learning instead of being let go. STAR has worked with the social partners and educational institutions to develop digital continuing education programmes targeted at specific sectors. The authorities cover up to 100% of the companies’ wage costs while the workers participate in the education. 

Praise from government minister

The new model for continuing education was first used by the tourism sector and the hotel and restaurant trades, and breweries and the offshore sector have since joined. Several other sectors are also preparing their own models. 

The Minister of Employment Peter Hummelgaard (Social Democrats) has called this a creative example of how workers can both keep their jobs and return to work when the crisis ends with new knowledge and more skills which will benefit companies. Maria Schack Vindum recommends other Nordic countries to do something similar – if they are not already doing it. 

Personally for Maria Schack Vindum it has been an exciting and educational leadership task to reform the organisation to deal with different tasks and working from home 100%. Just like some 450 colleagues she has spent two months working from home, which – as she has discovered – requires solid and frequent leadership communication.  

“For me as leader this has been professionally very exciting, and I have learned things I will use also when the Corona crisis has passed. One of the things I believe to be valuable for my colleagues is that I communicate frequently and directly with them.

Filed under:
Maria Schack Vindum
  • Director for the Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment STAR since 2018.
  • Studied political science.
  • Former Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Employment, and also worked at the Ministry of Finance, the National Police and the City of Copenhagen.
  • 45 years old.

The Danish Agency for Labour Market and Recruitment.

Responsible for implementing and following up on employment policy set by the Danish Ministry of Employment. 

STAR and three regional divisions (AMKs) make sure political decisions are implemented in municipal job centres and benefits offices that are in direct contact with the unemployed.


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