Ministers lack real-world experience

Government wants to create more jobs, but many ministers have no, or very little, experience in the job market they want to kickstart

Many of the government’s key ministers are unable to draw upon much personal experience when they try to spark life into the job market.

The employment minister has only two years of experience – all obtained while working for the confederation of trade unions, LO, while she was still getting her education. The tax minister, who is technically still a student, has no real-world experience on his CV. And the finance minister, aside from student jobs, has only been employed by his own political party.

In total, seven of the country's 23 ministers have not had a real-world job since completing their education, while another four ministers have under five years of experience in the job market. While the job market is the government’s stated top priority, only 12 ministers have over five years of experience on their CV.

The employment minister, Socialdemokraterne’s (S) Mette Frederiksen, wouldn’t directly address how her limited professional experience affects her knowledge of the job market. In an email to the media via her press manager, she said: “That is a fair discussion to have because, of course, professional experience is important. Whatever the circumstances, politicians and ministers need to keep themselves well-informed and keep in good and frequent contact with Danes from all elements of society.”

The health minister, Astrid Krag (Socialistisk Folkeparti), hasn’t completed her education in political science. She points, however, to her job working as a cashier at Netto while she was at upper-secondary school and as a daycare assistant for one and a half years after her upper-secondary education. She also worked for six months as a home carer before entering parliament.

“It has meant a lot for me to have experience that comes from being in the job market,” she said. “I learned the most from my time as a home carer. It really requires a lot from a person when they stand alone in the house of an older resident that is in need of care.”

She argued that a lack of professional experience is only a problem if politicians never enter the real world.

“I was elected to parliament at the age of 24, so of course I can’t have 25 years of experience,” Krag said. “But as a politician, I have always made it a priority to go out and visit nursing homes, health centres and hospitals. I was also an intern at a hospital, where I shadowed doctors on their rounds.”

Her ‘internship’, however, consisted of only one single day.

Jyllands-Posten’s investigation showed that newly-elected politicians have become younger and less-experienced over the past 50 years. In 1966, only four percent of newly-elected MPs had less than five years professional experience. In 2007, that figure was 35 percent, while in 2011, 37 percent of the new MPs have less than five years or work experience.

Among the other ministers with no experience are the European minister, Nicolai Wammen (S,) and the social minister, Karen Hækkerup (S).

The prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S), has only two years of experience working for LO. According to fellow S member, and the party’s job market spokesperson, Leif Lahn Jensen, the party’s cumulative lack of professional experience is reflected in S’s poor polling numbers.

“I think it is one of the reasons that universities are prioritised while vocational schools are starved,” Jensen said. “It is also the reason why my party is losing the votes of the workers. It also affects the political debate as so few have been out in the real world for more than five years. When we talk about the jobs environment, it’s not with the same knowledge and understanding that others have.”

Jensen, among other things, was a dock worker for 17 years.

An isolated bubble

A study by think-tank Cevea from last year showed that 64 percent of MPs were academics. In the general public, academics only account for seven percent.

Professor Niels Kærgård from the University of Copenhagen compared MPs' professional experience in 1966 to that of 2007. He believes that parliament has become an isolated bubble that has floated further and further away from voters.

“Firstly, you have a group of professional politicians who don’t resemble the people they represent. In previous years, parliament had farm owners who represented the interests of farm owners and so on,” Kærgård said. “Secondly, it brings up the question of whether they can make unpopular decisions. They have a personal interest in not challenging voters because they have no vocation to fall back upon.”

Kærgård pointed to the early retirement scheme, efterløn, as an example. Economic experts had long recommended limiting efterløn without politicians reacting.

“That could of course be attributed to many things, but I think that career politicians are a contributing factor,” he said. “In the old days, being called a career politician was an insult, but today, that’s what almost all of them are.”