In university towns like Uppsala, north of Stockholm, and Lund in southern Sweden, competition for a part-time job is fierce in the best of times.
So fierce, in fact, that many students end up working for peanuts in the student “nations” in order to afford their weekly dose of microwave noodles and rice.
But why is it so hard to find work in Sweden’s student towns compared with other towns in Europe and the world? And how can it be tackled?
Susanne Linné, Career Communication Officer at Lund University, admits the current situation is “rather bad indeed”.
“But it’s not a surprise really, Lund is a student town full of young people,” she tells The Local.
“Yet every year we have students arriving who are surprised they can’t find any extra work. Perhaps it’s because they’re young and don’t know any better.”
With over 47,000 students in the small town, some even travel as far as Copenhagen in order to pick up some extra pocket money – providing they have an EU passport.
“We hear of people trying their luck in Denmark because it’s only a short trip away and it’s a capital city. The chances are much better there than in Lund, Helsingborg, or Malmö,” Linné explains.
In Uppsala, one of Sweden’s biggest student towns, the problem is much the same.
“We don’t have a job agency on campus like other universities around Europe might,” Charlotte Nordgren, Study and Career Councillor at Uppsala University, tells The Local.
“We encourage people to sign up to our newsletter and to take advantage of our small job database. But Swedish students are competing for the same jobs as the international students, which makes it even tougher for the foreigners to find something.”
For those students not content with trying their luck online, Nordgren suggests simply knocking on doors with an armful of CVs.
“You’ve got to go around and just ask. Go to the pubs, the restaurants, the hotels and just ask for work,” she explains.
Failing that, many students turn to the “nations”, a collection of student bars and restaurants that can be found in both Uppsala and Lund. But the pay is abysmal, according to one ex-staff member of the Upplands Nation in Uppsala.
“The average worker in a nation gets around 25-35 kronor ($3.90 – $5.45) an hour,” the ex-worker, a 24-year-old woman who wished to remain anonymous, told The Local.
“And it’s really long hours – from four in the afternoon to around two or three in the morning. I did enjoy the experience, but you get so worn out – it’s not really worth it.”
While Nordgren in Uppsala admits that the wages for nations staff are “a problem the university is often asked about” she stresses that the university gets mostly positive feedback from the students who have enjoyed the “social experience”.
Outside of the nations, representatives from both Uppsala and Lund concur that learning Swedish is the key to finding a job.
However, Catarina Ystehed, an advisor at Sweden’s Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen), believes the problem runs deeper.
“It’s already hard enough in Sweden, where the unemployment is high, especially compared with nearby countries such as Germany and Norway where the economy is strong,” she tells The Local.
While students often opt for staffing agencies while looking for work, Ystehed explains that employers in student towns are usually not even looking for extra staff.
“I’d advise students to translate their CVs into Swedish as employers will always be more interested in reading it in Swedish. Then, if door knocking doesn’t work, the best bet is to talk to job advisers at the universities, or check out Campus.se for information – even though it’s in Swedish.”
Susanne Linné in Lund suggests that the translated CVs should be taken to places where language skills are not a necessity.
“Foreign students should try looking for jobs where there isn’t much talking involved, like cleaning. Or we hear of some who strike lucky with big companies that use English,” she says.
“The best advice, however, is to come to Sweden with enough money so that you don’t need extra work…or to simply learn Swedish – even if you’re not planning to stay.
“But it’s even hard for Swedish students here, the competition is huge” she adds.
“I wouldn’t go to Lund expecting to get a job.”