Never Been More Difficult to Hire Staff: September Unemployment at 2.8%

Reykjavík pond downtown

Unemployment rates sat at 2.8% in September, creating tension in the labour market.

Although this may sound like a good development, according to the Federation of Trade and Services, hiring new staff has never been more difficult for Icelandic employers.

In a statement to RÚV, Landsbankinn economist Una Jónsdóttir said that instead of employees competing for jobs, it is now the case that employers are competing for staff.

In total, around 5,400 were unemployed in September, largely representing the retail, service, transportation, and restaurant industries.

Of these 5,400, 44% are reported to be foreign residents in Iceland. In comparison with the total unemployment rate for Iceland of 2.8%, the unemployment rate for foreigners is double, at 5.6%.

Iceland’s Suðurnes region is notable as having an especially high unemployment rate of 4.8%, with the capital region sitting around 3.2%. Icelandic unemployment is lowest in the Northwest, which has only 0.7%.

Economists have suggested that the increased demand for labour created by the low unemployment could affect the upcoming wage negotiations.

Iceland Needs to Import Cooks, Servers, and Tour Guides, Says Industry Expert

Dill restaurant Michelin star

Iceland needs to import chefs, wait staff, tour guides and other specialized workers to support the tourism industry during the current boom, says Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, Managing Director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF). Mbl.is reports.

“We need cooks, we need waiters, we need all kinds of specially trained staff, specialized tour guides, etc,” remarked Jóhannes Þór in an interview on the news program Dagmál on Friday. “If we just look at cooks and waiters, there are a couple different dimensions to the problem.”

At the base level, he continued, there just aren’t enough people in Iceland going into training programs for these professions, which means that there is currently a shortage of qualified professionals on the local job market. Jóhannes Þór said the government should be putting more effort into drawing students into these programs and advertising the future opportunities that would be available to people who completed these courses of study.

“But that won’t be enough,” he said, particularly in the present moment. In order to meet its present needs, Iceland needs “to import a group of cooks and trained waiters” right now. But while Jóhannes Þór wasn’t willing to name a specific number of trained service professionals he thought Iceland should be seeking to bring in from abroad, he would concede that “clearly several dozen” are needed at least.

A Golden Opportunity: New Program Teaches Vocational Skills to Young People

A new program called Tækifærið (‘the opportunity’) aims to teach young people vocational skills that will allow them to secure steady employment, Vísir reports. In 2022, Tækifærið will offer two, 13-week courses, which will teach practical skills such as how to rip out and replace flooring, paint furniture, and fix electrical wiring, as well as help participants hone their mental, physical, and social skills along the way and connect them with future employers.

The first class has six participants and is being held in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland. It received funding from the Development Fund for Employment and Education, the Mental Health Support Fund, and Landsbankinn, and is free of charge for participants.

‘Each participant must want to change their life for the better’

Tækifærið is the brainchild of Björk Vilhelmsdóttir, a social worker and former member of the Reykjavík City Council. It is founded on one of the United Nations’ three universal values: Leave No One Behind.

“Tækifærið’s organizers have faith in people—all people,” explains the program website. “We’re ready to work with those who are the furthest from the labour market; these individuals possess countless strengths. Tækifærið is built around the strengths of participants and those who work with them. We’re well aware of our weaknesses but are trying our best not to let them dictate our lives anymore.”

The program promises to empower participants, but that empowerment must be self-motivated: “The basic premise of empowerment is that people take responsibility of their own lives…Each participant must want to change their life for the better.”

Half of unemployed individuals are foreign nationals

While the program is targeted at young people in general, Tækifærið will undoubtedly be helpful for young foreign nationals living in Iceland. Unemployment in Iceland is currently 5.2%, or roughly 10,000 people. Just under half of that group, or 43%, are foreign nationals.

Vísir interviewed Alfredo Correia, from Portugal, who is one of the six participants in Tækifærið’s spring 2022 class. “I came to Iceland to grow up, because in my country it’s very hard to live,” he said. Alfredo has no formal education and decided to move abroad to seek better opportunities.

Björk is optimistic that the first class will be successful in finding work after completing the program. “Come May, I’ll be ready to take offers from the business community,” she said, “and I know there will be plenty of them.”