Working in Norway

By Maalfrid Brath

Everyone working

In Norway, almost the entire population is employed. Unemployment is only 2.7 percent of the workforce, and it is necessary to go abroad to find qualified workers in many industries and disciplines.

Norway’s Central Bank governor, Øystein Olsen, recently held his annual speech on the economic situation in Norway. One of his points was that although a very high percentage of Norwegians have jobs, it is imperative to extend working hours and work more. Norwegians are working less than average among the member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

We are not sure what the solution is. If you extend the working hours for those who are employed, you also raise the bar for those who are outside the labor market, making it more difficult for them to obtain the right skills.

Seniors have valuable skills

An important measure in obtaining more manpower is to ensure that seniors are working more. The new Norwegian pension reform will help facilitate this. Employers must also get out in the field and see that value lies with those who have been in the working world for a while, and who will soon be on the way out. Employers have a responsibility to apply the skills that seniors have, and to make sure that they putting in as many hours as possible at work.

In Norway, many children were born in the years after the WWII. They are rapidly approaching the age of retirement, and it will require even more people working to ensure the welfare and standard of living for the entire population. Although the return on Norway’s oil fund gives an important financial contribution to public expenditure, it is not enough to solve the challenges of the aging population. Norway’s challenge is to look in all directions for ways to solve the labor shortage that will come in the years ahead.

Greater demand for flexibility

In addition to having seniors work longer, we need to get young people to enter the workforce earlier, so that they can work alongside their studies. We must better target the education system to the needs that exist in society and the labor market. The new generation requires a different kind of work than we have been accustomed to; we are all children of our time.

The requirement for flexibility is increasing. Deadlines are a greater incentive than working long hours. The next generation of talent takes flexible work arrangements for granted, both in terms of time and place of work. They also have a much shorter time scale of engaged focus in a workplace. They are definitely not part of the “gold clock generation.” As employers, we need to adapt to this culture and change workplace tasks to meet new expectations. In a flexible, globalized world it is not always 8-hour days and public holidays that work best for the individual, and it is not certain that it is the solution that creates the most job satisfaction, motivation and innovation. Here, Norwegian employers must think creatively within the limits they have.

Norway is working effectively

Although Norway is working fewer hours than the rest of Europe, we have high productivity. Øystein Olsen emphasized this. Productivity in the mainland economy grew significantly in the 1990s. The reasons include the fact that the banking sector was streamlined after the financial crisis, and tax reform paved the way for profitable investment and restructuring in the sector. Improved competitiveness and development of the oil industry created a good breeding ground for companies to exploit new technologies quickly. Productivity growth remained relatively high until around 2005. But since then it has gone down somewhat, and is more pronounced than among our trading partners. Here, both the industry and government must contribute to keeping productivity high. Manpower Group contributes in our own way by creating ambitious goals for the future.

Employment is worth more than oil

Every four years, the government comes out with a perspective report that shows the limits and challenges of a more sustainable policy. The last report was presented at the New Year. The welfare level in Norway is high, and the government points out that it is largely due to the use of labor in an efficient manner. The labor force is highly skilled and labor force participation is high. We get a significant boost from being an oil nation, but the oil age will not last forever. The total production of oil and gas on the Norwegian continental shelf appears to have peaked. It is not oil, but our joint efforts, which are the basis for welfare.

Manpower Group plays an important role in this. A high proportion of those who work for us become permanent employees in the company they are contracted to. We have also seen a steadily increasing amount of seniors out on assignment. We make the threshold for entering the labor market lower for many demographics, which helps workers obtain work experience and skills to further their careers.

Maalfrid Brath is the Managing Director of ManpowerGroup Norway, the world leader in innovative workforce solutions. The ManpowerGroup suite of solutions is offered through ManpowerGroup Solutions, Experis, Manpower, and Right Management. Brath has led the company since 2009, after leading different divisions in Storebrand (leading provider of insurance and pensions) since 1995. She is state authorized public accountant from The Norwegian School of Economics, and MBA from BI Norwegian Business School.  She is member of the council of BI Norwegian Business School and Junior Achievement – Young Enterprise Norway. Maalfrid Brath is married, has two children and lives in Bærum outside Oslo.

This article originally appeared in the Mar. 22, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.