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.