Denmark desperate for workers

The main employers' association warns that the country is suffering a "historic recruitment crisis"

Marta Casagolda
3 min
A restaurant full of customers in Copenhagen

Copenhagen"Cafeteria in Copenhagen is looking for a waiter/waitress for 37 hours a week and a salary of 2,600 euros per month. If you are interested, send your application here". This job advertisement, which in most European cities would receive dozens of applicants, remains vacant in Denmark for the time being because the country does not have enough workers to cope with an increase in the labour supply. Finding staff has become one of the main headaches for Danish company managers. A report by Dansk Industri, the main employers' association, which brings together more than 18,500 companies, has revealed that there are 32,000 jobs that no one is filling, i.e. 32,000 workers are missing.

Dansk Industri's director of labour policy, Steen Nielsen, says that the lack of personnel is reaching record levels: "It's a historic recruitment crisis because, if we don't get more labour, economic growth risks slowing down". The problem is already affecting the turnover of Danish companies and the economic cost to Denmark is 4.3 billion euros a year.

The labour shortage is widespread in all sectors. According to the Danish statistics institute, it already affects half of all construction companies and one in three catering companies. This is the case of Araceli, the owner of a café in the Østerbro district of Copenhagen. A few months ago she posted the advert on a few job portals, but didn't receive a single CV. "I was the waitress and when I got tired of not having anyone, I turned to the student exchange and hired a part-time food engineering student", she says. In Denmark, university students who want to receive financial aid from the government are obliged to work or contribute at least 50 hours a month to the community. "They are not professionals in the hospitality industry, but at the very least the business is doing well", says Araceli as she prepares a latte.

The need for labour has become a topic of political debate in recent weeks in Denmark. In September, the Social Democratic government put forward a number of proposals to bring more than 10,000 workers into the labour market by 2030, mainly through changes to some social benefits. One of these envisages cutting the monthly unemployment benefit payment for new graduates, something Mette Frederiksen's executive argues will encourage them to look for work faster. "New graduates have just received a good education, and this has to be used in the labour market and not on the dole", the prime minister justified. The government has also proposed linking the social allowance that some immigrants receive - those who have been receiving it for more years and have not achieved a certain level of proficiency in Danish - to an "integration obligation" that translates into working 37 hours a week.

Pre-pandemic levels

Denmark is one of six EU countries where the main economic indicators have returned to pre-pandemic levels, including the unemployment rate, which in October stood at 3.3%, a figure that is considered full employment and has not been recorded since before the financial crisis of 2008. The country is growing at a very good pace, which has meant that 9 out of 10 Danish companies have needed to hire more staff in recent months. Proof of this is that the online job portal Jobindex is constantly receiving offers. On average, a thousand jobs are posted every day, a record number in the last fourteen years. At the doors of one of Copenhagen's employment offices, hardly anyone is to be seen, and the few that are there are there to find out about new training courses to improve their professional profile.

Dansk Industri is calling on the government to take action that will have an impact in the short term. One of the solutions it proposes is to open the door to international workers and make some of the measures the country has in place for the entry of non-EU workers more flexible. In this way, it believes the country could continue to grow, and the advertisement to work as a waiter for seven hours a day for a salary of 2,600 euros would probably attract dozens of applications.