Opinion | Unemployment benefit reform runs counter to government growth and productivity goals

Cutting language classes for highly skilled workers hurts the people Denmark needs most

Studies show that foreign workers create growth and jobs in Denmark. Nevertheless, they were overlooked in the government’s recent unemployment benefit changes, which cut money for Danish-as-a-second-language classes.

The unemployment benefit agreement goes against the recommendations of a number of studies showing that foreign workers’ Danish skills are necessary for their integration in the workplace. Moreover, Danish classes are necessary for the country’s ability to attract them in the first place.

Both employers and foreign employees themselves see Danish classes as being the central element of their workplace and social integration. For many people applying for work in Denmark, Danish is seen as being the key to getting hired.

What’s more, saving money on Danish programmes for adult foreign residents runs counter to the goal of many programmes established to attract foreign employees. 

Our organisations represent the country’s largest companies either through their membership in the Consortium for Global Talent, which gathers the country’s 17 largest companies, or through their participation in “Reception and retention of foreign labour II”, a collaborative effort bringing together organisations from all of the local councils in central Denmark. 

Both the abovementioned initiatives have been established in order to make Denmark an attractive place to live, study and work so that the country can better attract highly skilled foreign labour. The initiatives work towards improving the overall situation for foreign workers. We, if anyone, are especially aware of the contribution that foreign workers make to their companies in terms of competitiveness and growth. At the same time, we can also see the potential accompanying spouses and foreign students have for contributing to society as a source of new knowledge that can open doors to new export markets – not least if they have adequate Danish skills.

In 2012, the Confederation of Danish Industries calculated that companies hiring a foreign specialist will increase their productivity by three percent more than companies hiring a Danish specialist. What’s more, a 2010 study by think tank DEA showed that foreign employees create spinoff jobs for Danes. Moreover, according to a 2011 Centre for Economic and Business Research study, making an investment to retain highly skilled foreign employees is money well spent. These types of employees, together with their accompanying family, if they remain in Denmark for eight years, contribute 1.9 million kroner to the public coffers.

Most recently, at 2013 Productivity Commission report found that even though foreign employees are an important source of new knowledge for Denmark, we lag behind other countries when it comes to attracting them. This is partly because they consider Danish to be a hindrance. 

Nevertheless, the government will raise the language barrier even higher. For foreigners who come to Denmark to work, the changes mean they will no longer be offered a Danish-as-a-second-language programme that is geared toward passing a national Danish test. Instead they will be allowed to enrol in Danish classes. For this reason, language school network Lærdansk, educators’ association Uddannelsesforbundet and language school association De Danske Sprogcentre, have come out against the reform of unemployment benefits, since it will affect foreign employees who will be in Denmark for a number of years, and the 66 percent of foreign students who are interested in remaining in Denmark after they graduate. 

In other words, the people Denmark needs most will be hardest hit by the changes. 

The changes to the Danish programmes run counter to the government’s 2011 programme, which states that it will make a concerted effort to make it easier to attract foreign workers. What we hoped was that this would mean improving foreign recruiting, better reception of accompanying families and partners and improved conditions for those families. 

But, just like on the pitch, you can’t win this competition if you are scoring own goals. 

Tine Horwitz is the CEO of the Consortium for Global Talent 

Tiny Maerschalk is the project manager for International Community/Erhverv Aarhus