Languages

Finns need Swedish, says Norway

The University Hospital of Northern Norway in Tromsø is in need for medical personnel from other countries, including Finland.

Norwegian business leaders and academics interviewed by Yle’s Swedish-language news service say they are disappointed in the overall level of Swedish language skills among its job applicants from Finland.

There’s plenty of work on offer in Norway these days, but a good command of English isn’t enough if the job description contains any kind of team work or customer interface. Business leaders in Norway say they are disappointed at Finnish applicants’ poor Swedish skills.

The Norway-based temp agency Aras Helse recently sought out medical personnel by taking out an ad in Finland’s leading Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet. They did not advertise in Finnish language newspapers.

Workers were enticed to Norway with a good salary and free travel and accommodation. A good command of Swedish or another Scandinavian language was mandatory. The firm wrote on its website that it hired only “Scandinavian medical personnel”.

English isn’t acceptable as a working language, as the work is done in groups and requires extensive interaction with the customers.

Just three years of Swedish instruction

“Swedish or a related language is a must, otherwise you can’t communicate with your work colleagues or the patients,” says Jatta Kokkonen, a Finn born in the extreme northern city of Kolari, who currently works at the university hospital in Tromsø, the largest urban area in northern Norway.

Like many other Finns her age, Kokkonen studied just three years of Swedish in comprehensive school.

“I have to admit that I was one of the kids that thought I would never use Swedish anywhere and that I shouldn’t have to learn it. It would have been great to learn it better back then,” she says.

Lack of interest prohibits cooperative ventures

Those potential Norwegian employers interviewed by Svenska Yle are disappointed that Finns don’t speak Swedish better, even though they are taught the language in school. They say there is plenty of work to be had, if the language requirements are met.

“Finland has a decision to make about the amount of Swedish it will teach in the future,” says Anne Husebekk from the University of Tromsø.

Husebekk has led a team researching Nordic languages, studying cross-border work, study and commerce opportunities. The report concluded that there is great potential, if only bureaucratic limitations could be eliminated.

“Perhaps Finnish residents just don’t have enough interest in speaking and understanding Swedish. If this desire is absent, and no one can speak Swedish, it makes it hard to foster cooperation among the Nordic countries,” she says.

Finland’s consulate representative in Tromsø, Nina Hjort, says several business delegations have visited the Norwegian city to explore future cooperation. She says that if the Finns would only learn Swedish well, “we would see many more opportunities open up for corporate cooperation”.

Norway is especially in need of workers with specific vocational skills, says Hjort. In the last few decades, Norway has concentrated on academic training, which has led to a dearth of people with engineering, manufacturing and other blue-collar skills. The labour force required could potentially be found just over the border.

“As neighbours, we have a lot to learn from each other. We share a common cultural understanding, which is a key benefit in working together.”

This story is posted on BarentsObserver as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.