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Danish Companies Seek to Hire, but Everyones Already Working - The ...


Danish Companies Seek to Hire, but

Everyones Already Working
COPENHAGEN When Peter Enevoldsen won a lucrative order for the precision
tractor parts that his company, Sjorring Maskinfabrik, makes in northern Denmark,
his eyes lit up. The contract was worth more than half a million euros a boon for
his profits.

There was just one hitch: He did not have enough employees for the job.

Delivery was delayed, by one month, then two, then three, as he searched for
skilled welders to speed the work at the sprawling factory. But in Denmarks
fast-recovering economy, they were hard to come by.

As Europe rebounds from its economic malaise, Denmark is one of a few

countries that can boast of nearing a golden era of full employment, meaning almost
everyone who is able and willing to work has a job. But instead of being cheered, it is
posing new challenges to the countrys recovery.

More than a third of companies in this industrial and technically advanced

nation can no longer recruit enough skilled workers to fill posts. Vacancies abound
for I.T. specialists, computer scientists, engineers and mechanics, as well as for
electricians and carpenters. The wages needed to lure them are creeping up. Affected
firms are scaling back production, turning down contracts and postponing expansion

We need more skilled workers, but we cant get them, said Mr. Enevoldsen, who

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recently joined other companies in a nationwide advertising campaign to lure talent.

If the labor shortage continues, it could sharply impact our growth, and growth in

Europes recovery is gaining traction fastest in the north, where Britain,

Germany and Denmarks Nordic neighbors also pushing toward full employment.
The unemployment rate has fallen in the United States as well, and some economists
have expressed optimism the country may be headed in that direction.

But the experience in Denmark shows what can happen with too much of a good

This country of just under six million people produces a diverse range of goods,
from drugs to industrial machinery. To bolster its tech sector, the government
recently named a technology ambassador to conduct relations with Google and
other digital giants.

After a painful recession, unemployment is now at 4.3 percent, which is about as

low as it can go without provoking inflation. During an economic boom a decade ago,
joblessness fell as low as 2.4 percent, igniting an unsustainable spiral of higher
wages and prices that the government desperately wants to avoid today.

Growth is still relatively modest the economy expanded an annualized 1.2

percent last year despite the hiring frenzy. But in many sectors, the demand for
workers has risen so fast that economists are warning that the recovery may hit a

Its hard to see higher growth because we dont have the labor needed for that,
said Steen Nielsen, the director of labor market policy at the Confederation of Danish
Industry, the countrys main business lobby group. We may have to be happy with
low growth rates in the future unless we can stimulate labor supply.

The government has helped ease the strain by linking the retirement age to life
expectancy, allowing seniors to work longer, and encouraging more employment of
European Union nationals, who do not need employment visas to work in Denmark.

Some employers have also looked to refugees to fill jobs, but few of the

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newcomers are readily employable in high-skilled work, and the government

tightened policies recently to discourage more asylum seekers from coming in.

Germany, which faces a shortage of engineers, nurses and other skilled workers,
has taken the opposite tack, setting up training programs for refugees in an attempt
to bridge the gap.

In Denmark, some companies have resorted to creating jobs abroad.

Clio Online, a technology-based education company in downtown Copenhagen

that digitizes learning materials for national education systems, opened a satellite
office in Ukraine, hiring around 20 programmers.

We wanted to hire in our own country but it was impossible, said Janus Benn
Sorensen, one of the companys three founders. We still have vacant positions here,
and we cant find anyone to take them.

At Sjorring, Mr. Enevoldsen tried for more than a year to add skilled welders and
industrial designers to the 275-person work force. The company, which has won
business from Volvo and Caterpillar, has a 20-acre factory in Denmarks forested
north that runs a partly automated assembly line.

He offered a salary bump of more than 2 percent, but raising wages further
would crimp his margins. Though he managed to recruit some Eastern European
workers, he still lacks manpower.

Last years delayed order for the European client, worth 600,000 euros, or
$637,000, was eventually completed. But he worried that the labor shortage could
keep Sjorring from reaching the next level.

We could have grown even more if we had the right people, thats indisputable,
said Mr. Enevoldsen, the companys chief financial officer, who has turned to a
headhunter to find eight welders and machine programmers.

Others are having similar problems. Teccon Form, which makes tools for
injection molding and employs around 20 designers and mechanical engineers, had
to turn away potential customers last year because it couldnt expand staffing.

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Theres just not that many people out there who arent in a job, said Michael
Nederby, the companys managing director. He is now searching in Germany, Poland
and Portugal for workers. The problem will get worse in coming years.

Denmarks central bank is watching to make sure the labor shortages do not
bring adverse side effects, like declining productivity if people start to job-hop more,
or wage spikes that could stoke inflation. Wages in Denmark are largely set through
negotiations between unions, employers associations and the government, but tech
and industrial companies in particular have been raising salaries to lure workers, and
expect to do so even more.

And not everyone who could be working is doing so: Around 92,000 Danes are
collecting jobless benefits, and companies say many of them could be employed.

The government is testing measures to encourage early retirees, students and

recipients of disability pensions to work. Businesses are also lobbying lawmakers to
intensify the teaching of technology and vocational skills in schools to churn out
more young Danes prepared for a high-tech world.

Even big companies feel the pinch. Microsofts Denmark operation had trouble
recruiting I.T. workers, then struggled to get marketing and sales representatives,
said Marianne Dahl Steensen, the companys general manager in the country.
Because of its scale, Microsoft is able to lure skilled foreign workers to Copenhagen,
but keeping them is a top priority.

We make sure to have a very modern, flexible workplace, Ms. Steensen said.
The company emphasizes gender and ethnic diversity, and works with refugees and
the long-term unemployed to cultivate talent.

For smaller Danish companies, solutions cannot come fast enough.

Clio Online started with three employees and now has 90 in its crowded
Copenhagen office, creating content for teachers and students, including real-time
course materials about President Trump or the Womens March on Washington.

The company quickly became Denmarks market leader. But ambitions to

expand, thanks to orders from nearby Sweden or further afield in Saudi Arabia,

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whose government is digitizing libraries and educational texts, hit a ceiling.

It opened its Ukraine office three years ago, but cultural differences slowed
efficiency. For instance, employees would not proceed with a work request from the
Danish team until they vetted it with higher-ups in Ukraine.

The companys chief marketing officer, Thomas Overholt Hansen, estimates it

lost up to 1.5 million in potential revenue last year as the labor shortage limited its
ability to serve new clients.

Were losing money every day, he said.

Follow Liz Alderman on Twitter @LizAldermanNYT.

A version of this article appears in print on February 28, 2017, on Page B1 of the New York edition with
the headline: Now Hiring: Anyone.

2017 The New York Times Company

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