The professional community can accelerate the integration process

By: Stig Nielsen – YESCPH CO.

Hiring refugees and other groups of migrants is a socially responsible action that also helps secure the future of Denmark. Dialogue, social inclusion and sustainable integration are counted among Denmark’s rewards, while a social life with colleagues, a professional network in the labor market and financial independence from the state are among the benefits of having a job – regardless of ethnicity.

In Denmark, the “integration question” has taken a near-permanent position in the agenda of everyday life. Religion, oppositions as well as eating habits are dominating the space in newspapers, and dissent along with political scoreboards have become independent goals for the debate over long-term strategies and pragmatic solutions to the “question”. One of the reasons for this can potentially be found in the fact that that people debating the “question” do not always agree as to what is being debated.

If you consult Gyldendals Den Store Danske concerning the meaning of integration, it is written that integration refers to the process that unifies separate entities and creates a greater whole. The same publication states that cultural integration revolves around the inclusion of ethnic minorities into a society. The definitional issue therefore becomes which “entities” should adjust and to what extent for integration to be successful. Social science has a series of concepts that describe varying degrees of adjusting in integration. Two British researchers Ager and Strang use the concepts of integration, assimilation and segregation when describing the degrees of adjusting done by ethnic minorities relative to a majority culture. Assimilation refers to a complete conversion to the cultural majority by the minority, segregation is an expression for the concept we know of as parallel societies and integration is understood as a mutual adaptation from both minority and majority. Integration should not be understood as any type of perfect median, merely as a process where both ethnicities give and take.

The purpose of this blog is not to discuss the extent of how much difficulty, different ethnicities and cultures have in adjusting to each other. The purpose is also in no way to define how much adjusting is required from either ethnicity in Denmark. This is fundamentally a political process. The purpose is rather to discuss the foundations for an effective integration process and provide a few concrete suggestions for actions that could assist in the process that everyone can take in Denmark.

Our suggestion – and business model – therefore, is founded in a pragmatic reality where globalization, Schengen borders, refugee flows and more traditional migrants are already present in Danish society, and will continue to be in the future.

It’s about dialogue and interaction

The basis of our suggestion is dialogue and interaction. We need to communicate with each other, take the time to address issues but also to understand people that need help. To us, integration is about understanding and understanding is best gained through dialogue and practical experience.

In today’s world, professional identities, functions and wages are a big part of everyday life. Therefore, our suggestion is that this space could (and should) be a natural part of the integration process. We know from Ager and Strang’s research that one of the major indicators of successful integration is work and access to the labor market.  Having a job provides financial opportunities that has a significant impact on a range of other conditions that are essential in the integration process. Things like: being part of a union, going on vacation, being able to pay health expenses – things that many Danes take for granted.

Besides the elements stated above, working also means access to Danes. It is said that Danes are hard to get to know and that the Danish language is hard to learn. Regardless of this, interaction and dialogue between newcomers and Danes is a necessity if we are to achieve sustainable integration. The consequence of not having interaction and dialogue are predictable cultural misunderstandings, parallel societies and ultimately mainstream xenophobia – from both sides.

Interaction and dialogue in the labor market

This far the suggestion is founded in theory and common sense that the Danish labor market can and should be a catalyst for sustainable integration. One half of the argument is straight forward and simple. Newcomers that have a job pay taxes and support the Danish society. At the same time, newcomers can interact and communicate with Danes. In other words, both parties also receive an insight into the others’ norms, societal understanding and the chance to broaden their cultural understanding. Newcomers can ask about anything from Sankt Hans to how do I file my taxes – and it goes both ways. It becomes prevalent to point out that while integration is a very localized process between a group of people, this also refers to Denmark and the global reality. Within dialogue and interaction, the exchange, adjustment and matching of expectations, that can never take place in the absence of interaction and dialogue, is founded.

Dialogue and interaction in the labor market requires only three things: a desire, an opportunity and capacity.