‘Drop the need for perfect Swedish when filling jobs’

Sweden's employers need to focus less on ability in the Swedish language, and more on skills, write three representatives of the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (Saco).

'Drop the need for perfect Swedish when filling jobs'
More foreign-born than Swedish-born graduates use Sweden's employment agency, according to Saco. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Sweden is better equipped to integrate refugees than many other countries, according to research from the OECD. The economy is strong, and integration policy is well-built.

But there are gaps. Not least in the labour market. In Sweden a greater proportion of foreign-born people are unemployed than people born in Sweden.

One reason may be that up to two thirds of all jobs in Sweden are appointed via informal contacts. Contacts that take time to build up, and are therefore out of reach for the majority of those who have recently arrived in the country.

When jobs are built on who you know, it isn’t only difficult to get them, it can also be difficult to find them.

According to Statistics Sweden (SCB), a lack of contacts is the main reason why those born abroad are not getting the jobs they are looking for within their field of expertise. For many, the employment agency, Arbetsförmedlingen, is the only route into work.

More foreign-born than Swedish-born graduates use Arbetsförmedlingen in their job search, according to studies Saco has carried out. This applies to both those already in a job, and those who are unemployed.

The difference in the extent to which those born in Sweden and those born abroad use the employment agency to find work is greater in Sweden than in any other OECD country.

Arbetsförmedlingen needs to start working intensively with employers in order to find ways to strengthen the networks of recent arrivals in the country. That could, among other things, be done through occupational mentoring, where for example a Swedish engineer could help a newly arrived engineer.

Saco unions can assist with experience and inspiration. All in order to help Arbetsförmedlingen so that newcomers can quickly start to work.

But Arbetsförmedlingen cannot do everything.

Too often today employers choose to overlook foreign expertise and experience. Foreign education is perhaps not adapted to Swedish expectations, and its quality is perhaps not adequate.

But it may also be the case that employers find it easier to recruit new staff through personal recommendations.

Employers must advertise their available jobs to a greater degree. Admittedly, more advertising does mean an increased cost, but it should also mean a greater chance of getting the right person for the right position.

Making more job listings is not enough however. There is also the need for a different view on the Swedish language.

Knowledge and skills must come before perfect Swedish. A lack of high language ability should not weed out otherwise high-performing people. Too strict language requirements make it difficult to attract top level international talent, and prolongs the time out of work for those that have come to Sweden from other countries.

Highly-educated people learn a new language quickly. A modern employer should therefore at every recruitment opportunity consider whether knowledge of Swedish is an absolute requirement, or if it can be treated as a skill that can be trained within the job.

Sweden’s employers need to recognize the importance of international knowledge and skills, and see the Swedish language skills as something that can be developed within employment.

This is a translation of an opinion piece written by Saco chairman Göran Arrius, Saco researcher Josefin Edström and Saco economist Håkan Regnér and originally published by Sydsvenskan.

For members


Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”