Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Perfect Match? the Practice Ecology of a Labor Market Initiative for Refugees 1

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Perfect Match? the Practice Ecology of a Labor Market Initiative for Refugees 1

Article excerpt


In early September 2015, images of approximately 200-300 refugees walking on the motorway in southern Denmark circulated the media widely. The images spurred a nation-wide debate about finances, cultural cohesion under pressure, and the sustainability of amounts. Generally, there was consensus that the situation was one of crisis, the crisis being the refugees arriving in Denmark, and an oft-used narrative about the arrivals were one of 'streams of refugees' flowing uncontrollably into the country1.

Employment is seen as the perhaps most important factor in integrating new groups of people into society. A recent report by a Danish think tank shows that 19,100 refugees holding residency permits are receiving integration benefits, since they are currently not in employment (Axcelfuture 2017). Introducing refugees and immigrants into the labor market is thus highly prioritized.

At the same time, Danish technology companies lack highly skilled labor more than ever. It is expected that Danish technology companies will lack 13,500 engineers and natural science professionals in 2025 (Engineer the Future 2015). For a number of years already, companies have claimed to have had to decline orders from customers, thereby missing the economic growth potential present, due to lack of skilled labor and unsuccessful recruitment2.

Seeing these developments, the trade union, the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA) launched a pilot project in the summer of 2016, with the aim of giving refugees who hold educations as engineers the ideal preconditions to enter the Danish labor market. The aim of the initiative was to help solve both of these challenges, and provide refugees with a higher level of autonomy, empowerment, and financial security.

The initiative came to be known as the Professional Engineering Academy (PEA). It was funded by the Danish Industry Foundation (DIF), and had official support from other significant labor market stakeholders.3 It aimed to meet the lack of engineers in Danish technology companies by recruiting, training, and matching refugees with engineering degrees, with suitable companies facing challenges in attracting and recruiting enough candidates. The objectives of the project supported the objectives of the Danish tripartite agreement, which states that municipal integration strategies should be directly oriented toward industry and should secure the shortest possible way to employment for each candidate. In a period of one and a half year, and three rounds of competence programs, the projected trained 49 candidates who were selected based on their social, professional, and language skills. The competence program consisted of classes, internships, and a personal career-mentoring program.

The project had a number of positive qualitative effects. The majority of candidates expressed their satisfaction, increased feelings of empowerment, and stated that they felt better equipped and informed to navigate the Danish labor market and their job search. However, the formal success criteria that PEA expected to be able to meet, that is, matching the refugees with employers' demand for engineering labor, were not met. In total, the project established 32 unpaid internships in 25 companies. Seventeen candidates did not get internships. Whereas the original success criteria were for 30 candidates to gain employment after the finalization of the pilot project, the number at the time of writing was only nine (some of which were engineering jobs, and some part time) and two subsidized positions.

In this article, we ask why, what prima facie seemed like a well-fitted match between the supply and demand of competences, did not seem to procure the intended results.

In the labor market literature, explanation of the lower rates of labor market employment among refugees (and immigrants) are often attributed to mismatches between the supply and demand of labor (e.g., Bredgaard & Thomsen 2018; Forslund et al. …

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