Job hunting is like an audition

David Im

Integratiónssamskipari

The Faroese challenge is not finding ways to activate non-Faroese individuals in the labor market but capturing and utilizing the social capital, resources, and knowledge many of these individuals have

Navigating the Faroese labor market somehow is like that competition where you, as a contestant, are in front of the judges

When I was a university student, I used to watch the TV show »So You Think You Can Dance«, contestants would dance in front of three or sometimes four judges to be scored and be determined whether the participants would move forward to the next stage in the competition. One judge would be positive with gentle feedback while another would be plain with professional feedback on a movement that was too rigid or out of sync. Then, you have THAT one judge who is critical and hard to please! Sometimes, in the competition, a judge would form a personal connection with a contestant and would root for the contestant as much as they could. Other times, that one special contestant would leave a lasting impression on all judges and somehow, this contestant becomes the favored in the competition. 

Navigating the Faroese labor market somehow is like that competition where you, as a contestant, are in front of the judges. In this case, as a non-Faroese, it is not necessarily your education that is being judged but your ‘soft’ credentials. The first judge will examine your personal history while the second judge will interpret your persona (temperament, attitudes towards various issues, emotional expressions), and the last judge will determine if you meet the particular need at the particular time. As an ‘outsider’, the barrier to the Faroese labor market is not only limited to language and education, but also on how to certify one’s own soft credentials to cultivate familiarity and trust in a small, tightly-knitted community in finding a degree-based job. 

 

Current Situation in the Faroe Islands

In 2020, there were 1763 non-Faroese residents registered in the Faroe Islands, which accounted for 3.6% of the total population. In 2016, there were only 982! There is no formal registration process on collecting the level of education each newcomer holds when they relocate to the Faroe Islands. However, a recent survey on non-Faroese women conducted by Jórun Vagsheyg, graduate student at Fróðskaparsetur Føroya, found that out of 131 respondents, 68% hold a bachelor’s degree or above. 

Holding a degree from overseas does not necessarily translate into being able to use one’s degree in the Faroes. Any qualification from overseas not recognized by the Faroese or Danish authorities will need to be reviewed and will either be provided with a qualification recognition or a recommendation on a course of action to earn the recognition. In the past, individuals had to send a qualification recognition application directly to the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education, which can be daunting and overwhelming in filling out forms and navigating the application process. However, today, Vegleiðingarstovan provides guidance and support to individuals in the application process. 

In recent years, there have been some changes to meet the labor demands. For example, shortage of nurses in elderly homes brought possibilities for individuals who hold a nursing degree from overseas to receive recognition through the nursing department at Fróðskaparsetur Føroya, which is generally a combination of course attendance and field work. 

Unlike the public sector where your salary is determined by the union your education is under (and recognized by), the private sector has more leeway in determining for themselves which salary one’s education should be based upon, and under which union. An agreement could also be made between the employer and the employee.

To a certain degree, the private sector has more flexibility and possibilities to hire without constraint. One example is of this is a Faroese company who used a personality test, screening, and a trial period of a non-Faroese individual to assess if the person met their requirement. Later on, this person was offered a permanent position in the company.

 

Barriers to the Faroese Labor Market

Not only limited to the Faroe Islands, but also to many countries around the world, language is one of the top challenges for a newcomer when applying for a job in a new country. In the aforementioned survey conducted by Jórun Vágsheyg, over 70% answered that the Faroese language was an obstacle in the labor market. Most of the survey participants have attended Faroese language courses, but have answered that the course was not sufficient to increase their chance of finding a job. Therefore, they are left to face the circumstance surrounding the Faroese language and learning that it is not a favorable condition to create an equal access to the labor market. 

Another barrier is the qualification recognition process itself. First, some newcomers who relocate to the Faroes may not be informed about this until some time has passed. This can be a disadvantage especially if they have started a family life and hold a full-time job. Second, although the process appears to be simple and straight-forward, recurring feedback from applicants showed they found it difficult to fill out the application, especially sections they did not understand or that were not clear. Because the application is sent and processed in Denmark, applicants do not have direct access to a person to ask questions or receive guidance (as mentioned above, now, Vegleiðingarstovan started in 2019 and can guide and support on this matter). As a result, the process can become long, daunting, and frustrating. Third, whether it is a direct or indirect consequence of having the recognition process, some individuals re-do their education starting from 9. flokk (red. 9th grade) up to earning a university degree. For those who choose this route, they will go through an education process, which they have already finished years before. And, out of the few, some will be taking up another university degree in addition to the one they already have. 

Soft Credentials

Whether you, as a non-Faroese, speak Faroese, your qualification is recognized, or you have both, finding a job can be still challenging because you are a stranger to the employer. When you are born in a small society, your upbringing with others is close so that you and others are familiar with each other’s personal history, have some form of connection through social networks, and share a belonging whether through place or through experience. All these factors vouch your soft credentials to the employer. On the other hand, as an outsider, this vouching system is missing so there is no familiarity or connection to the person. 

Some non-Faroese individuals shared their experiences with me when they applied for their jobs they have today, their respective managers had some connection to the individuals’ respective home country whether through other Faroese people or personally. As a result, these managers were open to hiring the individuals. Another individual shared with me how this person applied at the same company two times in a span of a few years. The first time, she was not hired for the job. However, the second time around, the manager recognized the individual and saw the learning and development this individual has put in and as a result, the person was hired. These cases consist of familiarity and some form of belonging to one another.

Reflection

Most European countries face a challenge in integrating non-nationals into the labor market especially women with children at home. A large group do not have qualifications and countries offer language and vocational training or educational programs to activate them into the labor market. In stark contrast, the Faroe Islands has experienced that the majority of the non-Faroese community hold a job and have a university degree. The Faroese challenge is not finding ways to activate non-Faroese individuals in the labor market but capturing and utilizing the social capital, resources, and knowledge many of these individuals have. 

Often, the ‘need’ dictates which employment door opens or closes. For some, who may be at the right time and the right place, this need can serve to their benefit. However, for most, it is about demonstrating their soft credentials to potential employers. Aforementioned examples show some insight that familiarity for managers is a key importance in considering applicants who may be ‘strangers’ to them. 

So, how do you win the hearts of the judges? A key component is fostering interaction and developing a relationship both professionally and socially between Faroese and non-Faroese individuals.  There are some social activities (intercultural festivals) hosted by various municipalities and an intercultural family retreat arranged by the Red Cross, and these are informative from one side to another. It is ‘give and receive’ but not something that both parties share to create a shared experience or bond. There are no professional events or activities where non-Faroese professionals can demonstrate their skills for employers to observe, learn, and increase familiarity on a workforce that is not tapped into its full potential. 

It is about demonstrating their soft credentials to potential employers

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