Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2011 i Language - the key to working life i English - Denmark's future professional language
English - Denmark's future professional language

English - Denmark's future professional language

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Foreningen Nydansker

To get a job in Denmark you must learn Danish, but in the long term both private and public employers must accept English as the professional language, says Foreningen Nydansker (the association for the integration of immigrants into the Danish labour market), which represents 130 small and larger Danish businesses.

A few years from now Danish municipalities, the health sector and private companies must all accept taking on workers who speak poor or little Danish. If they don't, there will be  a shortage of workers. But right now people's lack of Danish skills is a major obstacle when in comes to being able to recruit enough workers, says the Foreningen Nydansker, which represents 130 small and larger private and public companies. 

The association was established 13 years ago by some of Denmark's largest production companies. It uses project work and media debate to break down barriers to help people of foreign heritage into the labour market. The association also develops new tools to help companies get a more multinational staff and management.    

Lotte Holck is the association's chief consultant and is in no doubt Danish skills will be less important to employers in the future. 

"In a few years we will see a clear reduction in the number of young people and an increase in the number of older people throughout the Western world, and we will have to import labour - even from far away countries. This will lead to a far more tolerant attitude [to language skills]. Danish people are already being treated by foreign doctors and health workers within the country's health sector. This development will accelerate. If not, Denmark will fall behind," she says.

Bad English

Right now, though, the association's member companies paint quite a different picture. As part of a campaign for the Ministry of Integration Lotte Holck has visited 500 small and middle size businesses to map what is needed to help more immigrants into the labour market. Her visits uncovered clear language barriers within the businesses.

"Most businesses make it quite clear that a worker of foreign heritage must speak Danish. If not, they don't want to run the risk of employing him or her. The Danish business community comprises many small and middle size companies, and they don't have a human resources department which can step in and help in cases of language confusion. Most Danes also struggle speaking English at a professional level, and many companies don't want to put their Danish workers in that situation, even when they need more staff," says Lotte Holck.

"Many companies see language as the main obstacle to employ workers of foreign heritage, even when these represent the very resource and innovation which the companies know they need in order to survive."

Multinationalism improve the bottom line

Things look different in the largest and most international companies, where the professional language often is English. These will employ foreign experts with no Danish skills who come to Denmark for three to five years, because their plan is to move on. There's no time to properly learn the language, but then again they'll manage fine without.

Also, you don't necessarily need to master Danish if you're looking for work in the building, hotel and restaurant or cleaning trades. Lotte Holck uses the cleaning company ISS as an example. Half of their close to 10,000 employees are of foreign heritage and a recent survey showed this multinationalism makes a real difference to the companies bottom line despite cultural and language challenges. Many teams with many foreign workers of both sexes, both young and old, performed a full 3.7 percent better than the teams without that multinationalism.

"Companies like McDonald's and ISS run a strategy of taking on people even if they speak poor Danish, and then offer them language training later. Speaking Danish is still very important in order to manage - not only in the way you do your job, but also in order to build a network. And it is a prerequisite for obtaining citizenship," says Lotte Holck.


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment