11 May 2021

Danish companies get new tools for recruiting internationals

New project

With DKK 5.7 million in funding from Innovation Fund Denmark, a new research and collaboration project will help small and medium-sized companies recruit and retain international professionals. The Department of Sociology will be leading the research part of the project, which seeks to identify barriers and opportunities within these companies.

Arrival in airport
Foto: Colourbox

International professionals employed by Danish companies can bring new knowledge, promote innovation and provide access to export markets – all of which benefits the Danish economy.

However, small and medium-sized companies, especially, often face both practical and cultural barriers when it comes to recruiting international specialists. And this makes them more reluctant to look for new talent from abroad, than perhaps large companies who have more resources.

The three-year collaboration and research project, Onboard Denmark, headed by the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen, will try to change that.

Together with Copenhagen Capacity, the Confederation of Danish Industry, Business Region Aarhus, the Coaching Room and TalentED, the project will develop a series of tools to make it easier to recruit and retain international specialists for small- and medium-sized companies, which represent the vast majority of Danish businesses.  

Many companies are not convinced of the business case for hiring internationals and still worry that they do not have the resources to handle the bureaucracy involved.

Claire Maxwell, professor

”Although quite a lot has already been done to promote Denmark as a good place to come and work, and advice is available on how to navigate the bureaucratic processes, many companies still are not convinced of the business case for hiring internationals and still worry that they do not have the resources to handle the bureaucracy involved,” Professor at the Department of Sociology, Claire Maxwell explains.

“In addition, there are also concerns about how international professionals will affect the working practices of the organisation they join and how best to integrate them.”

These are well-known challenges, but according to Claire Maxwell, who is heading the research, we still need more concrete and detailed knowledge about these identified barriers, so we can develop resources to help companies.

”We will work across a range of companies, examining the issues from their particular perspectives, explore what has worked and what else could be done to deal with the perceived and real barriers they experience. So far, there has been very little research looking at it from the company viewpoint, the international specialists and the other key professionals, such as regional business consultants, working in this area.”

Cultural barriers

Even though the three-year project has just begun, Claire Maxwell expects to find that perceived cultural and social barriers play a large role in companies’ hesitations to recruit from abroad.

“For some companies it may just be a matter of finding the time and resources to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to employ someone from outside Denmark. It is more likely, though, that the companies are anxious about how even just one new employee – from the outside – will disrupt the company culture and working practices. For instance, what will happen to our company language? Will everyone have to speak English from now on?”

Claire Maxwell explains that when she met with a medium-sized Danish, family-owned company that already had international staff members and worked across different parts of the world, there was still a sense that they were a Danish family company at heart.

“They did not want to lose that. If they became too international, and changed their working practices too much, the whole raison d'être would be lost. Such concerns are very real and need to be engaged with to make sure that more small and medium-sized enterprises feel well equipped and are more open to the benefits of employing international specialists,” Maxwell says.

From research to practice

The project toolbox is meant to help companies understand whether and when it is a good idea to recruit international professionals, and the many ways they could work to develop an inclusive company culture.

We have a very holistic approach. But what I am most excited about personally is the fact that we as university researchers are being proactively involved in research and practice development outside the university setting.

Claire Maxwell, professor

In addition, the project focusses on the retention of international university students once they graduate, and on finding ways to promote the circulation of international professionals and their partners once they are in Denmark. Many of these international talents will leave Denmark if they do not feel they have a social and professional network, opportunities for promotion, and/or that their family is not thriving.

Given their close relationships with and knowledge of companies and the business community, the project partners and collaborators will play a key role in the implementation of the project. During the three-year period, they will e.g. contribute to the development of customised business models, recruitment tools, a special Onboarding Package and training courses, and a mentoring offer to 40 selected companies.

The ambition is to involve 300 different companies in the project. And according to Claire Maxwell, this practice-oriented, multi-disciplinary approach is one of the main qualities of the project – also from a research perspective.

“We have a very holistic approach. But what I am most excited about personally is the fact that we as university researchers are being proactively involved in research and practice development outside the university setting.”