But this is exactly what is happening in the small town of Ludvika, with its population of 25,000. The town is situated in Dalarna county - a picturesque part of the country where red wooden houses nestle between valleys, forests and lakes. It’s also here that you can find an engineering hub that is attracting highly-qualified workers from all over the world.
Global power and automation company ABB is the biggest employer in the region, with a workforce of 2,600. Its high voltage laboratory is a world-leading center for the manufacturing of transmission equipment.
“We have around 30-35 nationalities among our employees,” says Niclas Lamberg, vice president of HR at ABB Ludvika.
Soon, he says, ABB will need even more foreign workers to join them.
“What we know for sure is that in the coming four years around 9-10 percent of our workforce will retire. And then there’s the gap in Sweden - we don’t educate enough engineers to cover the need our companies have.”
No going back
Labour demand was not the only reason that Martijn van den Akker decided to make the move from Holland to Dalarna with his wife and two children in 2009. “It was also the countryside and the feeling of space,” he says. “We thought we would have a better quality of life in Sweden.”
Martijn visited a fair for people interested in moving to Scandinavia to gain a better insight.
“At the time I owned my own company and was looking for business opportunities in Sweden,” he adds. The family uprooted itself from the outskirts of Utrecht following a job offer. “Integrating has been pretty easy. We don’t feel that we had any major challenges or moments of regret. The whole family is happy and we have no plans to move back.”
Now a project manager at ABB he works with colleagues from Norway, Germany and Iran. “Although Ludvika is a small town you get the sense of an international atmosphere not only in the workplace but walking down the street.”
Rule change drives recruitment
In 2008 Sweden revised its labour immigration rules for non-EU citizens, enabling employers to recruit from countries outside the EU to help ease growing pains. The changes have made moving to Sweden easier and brought a wealth of foreign talent to Swedish shores, adding to the millions of EU citizens who are free to live and work in Sweden under freedom of movement principles.
Indeed, many sectors are still scouring the world for new injections of competence. The traditional fields of engineering, forestry and mining are clustered around the country and drawing the right people to the jobs has long proved challenging, even before the global economic downturn.
In order to ensure a smooth journey and final destination, Sweden has been forward-thinking in building up a support system for employees and their families new to the area. It ensures infrastructure is in place for them to easily set up home and integrate into society.
This industry-driven expansion in Ludvika is supported by Sammarkand2015 – a regional development organization set up in 2002 to support local businesses to find the competence they need – from anywhere in the world.
“On our wish list is the recruitment of 150-200 engineers on an annual basis for the next 4-5 years,” says Lars Lindblom, Samarkand2015 CEO. “It’s not only about attracting them to the area, it’s about keeping them here,” Lars Lindblom adds.
“That’s always a challenge because we are also competing with other regions.”
Together with Ludvika, the city of Västerås - 100km west of Stockholm -is classed as a center of engineering excellence. “We need to look outside our national labour market to find the right competence level outside Sweden, ” says Samuel Strömgren, project manager for Jobba i Västeras. As an example, during 2010-2012 there has been an ongoing need to recruit 2,000 engineers annually to the region
Both organizations and local employers work together to network, travelling to universities, expos and embassies around the world in ongoing recruitment drives.
Destination for global gaming talent
In contrast, Sweden doesn’t have to try hard to advertise its presence on the international computer gaming stage. Since the industry continues to strengthen its position globally and computer games have become a top cultural export, developers from around the world are coming to Sweden in droves.
“There is no lack of graduates here,” says Per Strömbäck, spokesman for the Swedish Games Industry organization. “The problem is rather the employers don’t really have the time or priority to invest in hiring junior talent – they are focused on hiring senior talent and of course that is a problem we sort of created by ourselves.”
Swedish gaming studio Massive houses a total of 28 different nationalities in its Malmö offices. Games designer Andrada Greciuc from Romania moved to Sweden in June 2011.
“The reason I chose Sweden wasn’t so much because of the proximity to my home country or the thought that the cultural shock would be minimal,” she says. “The atmosphere was very positive and creative and I was very rapidly convinced it would be ideal for me. By working in Sweden in the gaming industry, you will most likely meet very passionate, interesting people, with strong opinions that are very knowledgeable in the field.”
However, according to Per Strömbäck, the country can be somewhat of a tough sell for others. “We can’t always compete with the salaries in other countries,” he adds. “And there is the impression that Sweden is a cold country with high taxes and of course that is true.”
But there is a flip slide, as Associate Creative Director and US citizen Ryan Barnard discovered when he took up his position at Massive in September 2011. “Dress warm and don’t let the dark winters get you down,” he advises. “Sweden is a beautiful country and I have been very happy since moving here.”
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