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Danish companies on a global hunt for knowledge and talent

Danish researchers are among the best in the world. Even so, a number of Denmark’s leading research companies must turn abroad in the search for new employees and knowledge.
Danish companies compete on the global market. They therefore need access to the world’s very best talents. Illustration: Mark Airs

Publiceret: 15.03.2018
Af Peter G. H. Madsen mail

In Denmark, we are experts when it comes to producing cheese, milk and yogurt. We have farmers, big dairy factories and strong research traditions.

Nonetheless, Vice President of Innovation Dairy Anne Skriver at bioscience company Chr. Hansen A/S is increasingly forced to look abroad in the search for competences for the company’s development and application division.

“Ten years ago, we almost always found someone who spoke Danish. That is no longer the case. It’s getting harder to find the competences we need at home. We therefore bring in a lot of people from abroad,” she says.

The difficulty to find competences in Denmark is also why Chr. Hansen has increasingly invested in development activities in France, where there is also great expertise on dairy products.

“In truth, it doesn’t really matter where our employees come from. The most important thing is that we get the very best competences,” says Anne Skriver.

See also: Career fair in Boston: Dansih companies lag behind international competitors

Difficult to find workers

Chr. Hansen is far from the only company that looks for competences abroad.

A survey conducted by the Confederation of Danish Industry (DI) among 300 Danish active research companies shows that one of the most significant barriers to investment in research and development in Denmark is companies’ difficulty to find employees with the right competences.

The survey found that for eight out of ten companies, access to qualified workforce is somewhat or highly significant for why they invest in research and development in Denmark.

Meanwhile, two out of three companies have some or much difficulty finding employees. This makes the lack of competent employees one of the two most important barriers to investment in Denmark.
In the survey, companies request higher prioritisation of public research in technical and natural sciences.

See also: Many foreign workers come to Denmark

Constant demand for international employees

Pharmaceutical company H. Lundbeck A/S is another one of Denmark’s research-heavy companies. On an annual basis, Lundbeck invests between 15 and 20 per cent of its revenue in research and development, because for Lundbeck, “discovery and development are essential for the company’s success,” explains Head of Research Kim Andersen.

Lundbeck has a strong research environment in Denmark and has no plans of scaling back in the near future, but the company naturally also looks for talent abroad.

“We are extremely satisfied with the employees we hire from Denmark. But no matter how good the employees we find in Denmark are, there will always be a demand for foreigners,” he says.
The company’s demand for international employees is not only due to certain competences lacking in Denmark, it is also about the enriching effect of different cultures and approaches to research, notes Kim Andersen.

He therefore also encourages Danish researchers to go abroad. This challenges them and gives them new perspectives on research that can benefit Lundbeck.

Partnerships with the best

Strategic partnerships with universities and biotech communities are also crucial.

“We compete on a global playing field. We therefore need research and development capable of competing with the best. This requires that we go where the strongest environments are. We have partnerships with some of the best universities in the world,” says Kim Andersen.

That is also why he hopes that Denmark’s research environment will become even stronger.

“The best thing for a company like Lundbeck would be if we could get more companies to invest in Denmark. Of course, we have Novo Nordisk, Leo Pharma and us. But these are old companies. It would be good to have some new companies - it’s important to be located somewhere with a dynamic research environment,” says Kim Andersen from Lundbeck.

Bet on a winning horse

Historically, one of the most dynamic research environments in Denmark has been wind power, explains Christina Aabo, Head of Research and Development at Ørsted A/S’s wind power division.

“Back in the 1970s, we were first movers when it came to wind power politics, research and industry. We still benefit from that today. We have very strong research environments in Denmark that Ørsted has good partnerships with,” says Christina Aabo.

She would like to see Denmark maintain its leading position. But competition from northern Germany, China and the US has increased significantly in recent years. All three countries invest major sums into research and testing facilities.

“I don’t want to say that we should only operate in Denmark based on a social or nationalist paradigm. I just want to work with the very best. But it really would be a shame to lose our strong position in wind power,” says Christina Aabo and adds:

“It would be wrong not to admit that.”

According to Christina Aabo, the solution is for Danish politicians to prioritise the industries with the most employees.

“If I was a politician, I would rather bet on a winning horse maintaining its lead than a straggler suddenly winning the race,” she says.

See also: Acclaimed entrepreneur: Denmark needs better immigration services

It doesn’t really matter where our employees come from. The most important thing is that we get the very best competences.
VP OF INNOVATION DAIRY ANNE SKRIVER, CHR. HANSEN A/S
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PUBLISHED: 3/15/2018 LAST MODIFIED: 3/16/2018