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Holding on to the foreign workers

Holding on to the foreign workers

| Text: Marie Preisler Photo: Tomas Bertelsen

More and more Danish companies are increasing their drive to recruit foreign workers. Wind turbine producer Vestas has experienced the importance of creating a social network for foreign workers, and how important it is to help their spouses to find work too.

The atmosphere is very international at wind turbine manufacturer Vestas' Copenhagen offices. 

The building is no more than five minutes from Copenhagen international airport, with views to Øresund and Sweden. The working language is English and the employees come from all over the world.

Here's Olga from the Ukraine, Miranda from the USA, German Melanie, Cija from South Africa and Daniel who is Spanish. Most departments have international workers.

It's part of Vestas' strategy to recruit and keep foreign workers, explains Birgit Brink Tommerup. She works for the company's Global Mobility Centre which oversees all of Vestas' international branches while also helping foreigners settle in when they arrive in Denmark to work for the company. Two out of the six who work at the Global Mobility Centre are foreign.

"We're a global company with some 8.000 employees in Denmark and around the world, so naturally we have an international workforce. It's natural for us to also employ foreign workers in our Danish offices, and we've been lucky to become more global in that respect. This diversity gives us access to important qualifications which can sometimes be lacking in Denmark. A multi-ethnic work place also throws up more interesting ideas, and we learn a lot from each other."

Help for spouses

Attracting foreign labour to Denmark is one challenge. Another is to convince people to stay. That is a very important area to focus on for Birgit Brink Tommerup and her Danish colleagues in the human resources offices around Vestas' Danish branches. 

"One important reason for foreigners to return to their home countries is that they don't settle in in Denmark, and there are usually two reasons for that: their spouse can't find work, and it's difficult to develop a social network."

That's why Vestas focuses on supporting foreign workers' attempts at  developing a social network, while also offering advise and support to help their spouses find work. 

Vestas 3

Vestas encourages their foreign workers to join clubs and networks with other foreigners. The company has set up its own international club for all of its foreign workers. It now counts some 200 members who meet regularly to exchange experiences and to network. The club also organises events to help foreign workers better understand Danish culture and people.    

Vestas has also published a manual on how to negotiate Danish society and deal with Danish people - based on real-life experiences from the foreign workers themselves. Finally they're offered a "Danish Living Crash Course", where workers learn that not being invited home by Danish colleagues doesn't mean there is something wrong with themselves.

Experience shows that Danish people can be difficult to get to know. They prove capable and friendly colleagues, but at the end of the working day they're busy getting on with their own lives. It's difficult for foreign families to get invited home by Danish families. Often the quickest way for foreign workers to establish a social life is to make sure their partners or spouses also get a job. Therefore spouses are often very keen to find work. 

"In Denmark most people go to work, including the women. It's in the work place that you get to know people and develop your network. So partners and spouses of our foreign workers are often ready to accept any job only to get going. We help them apply for jobs," says Birgit Brink Tommerup.

Vestas offers all spouses of foreign employees a two hour job seeking course. They're given advise on how to write a job application, on what job prospects they might have at Vestas and on who to contact about further courses on how to compose a CV and more. 

Birgit Brink Tommerup is also the Vestas representative for an group within the network, which tries to help spouses and which develops a welcome pack for foreign workers arriving in Denmark. Vestas works with several universities and business schools.

Danish friends are important

30 year-old Daniel Alonso Van Camp has experienced just how important a partner can be. He's Spanish but has lived in many parts of the world. Last spring he left London's world of finance for a job with Vestas in Copenhagen. His partner is a dancer, and found it hard to find jobs in Denmark.

"I work a lot, and through work I get offers of Danish language courses and find social activities. My partner finds it harder, and after all we're both meant to enjoy living here," says Daniel Alonso Van Camp.

He remains optimistic, however. His partner has found dance work in Sweden and Norway, so jobs in Denmark should follow. Neither of them will exclude the possibility of staying permanently in Copenhagen.

"Many foreigners her only socialise with other foreigners, but we have been lucky. We've met a few Danish friends quite by accident, and that is important to us. And I cannot imagine a better place to raise a family."

Daniel's colleague, Cija Mast-Ingle Nielsen, also has a past in finance. She's born and raised in South Africa, but after falling in love with a Dane she moved to Denmark. It's still a challenge to find Danish friends, even with a Danish partner:

"I have met nothing but friendliness and respect. It can be very hard to find Danish friends, but I have a few and feel certain I will get more once I master the language even better," says Cija Mast-Ingle Nielsen in faultless Danish with only the slightest of accents.

Melanie Zabel is German, married a Swede, lives in Malmø in Sweden and commutes to the Vestas Copenhagen office. She's used to a clear division between working and private life - both from Germany and Sweden. 

"Danes try to be more open, but generally I guess they are a bit less international than they'd like to think they are. But I don't care. I have very nice colleagues and a great working environment."

Daniel, Cija and Melanie all appreciate the flexible working conditions they enjoy at Vestas. They work hard, but there is time for a life outside of work too. That is one aspect of Danish working life they all appreciate.


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