‘Swedish employers are hypocrites’

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‘Swedish employers are hypocrites’

Integrating Sweden’s newcomers into the job market has become a hot topic taking over the country’s public debates, inspiring multiple integration initiatives.


Employing newcomers will be good for them, for the job market, for integration and for Sweden. This kind of sentiment has become a slogan that almost all believe in; it's familiar to many ears. But in reality, we have a long way to go before seeing it fully implemented.

Magnus Berg, a Swedish integration activist at Ledarna, the Swedish organization for managers, who currently leads a mentorship programme for highly-skilled newcomers, has strong views on the issue, and a call to action for both refugees and employers.

Berg has wide experience in advertising and marketing, and was a member of the team in Sweden  appointed by the Swedish Migration agency in 2015 to assess newcomers’ expertise and skills.

The Local Voices talked to Berg and asked him about how newcomers can be more easily included in Sweden’s job market, and what makes achieving that inclusion an issue at all.

Here's what he had to say.

"I think there’s more talk and initiatives than there is real action. When I worked with the Migration Agency to scrutinize refugees’ professional backgrounds, we interviewed more than 5000 people and many of them were highly-skilled professionals from every walk of life. Those interviews were an unerring proof of the newcomers’ potential.

"However, newcomers may still fail to properly promote themselves to employers. And Swedish employers are likely underestimating the newcomers as a resource; they can view them as a ‘problem’ rather than an ‘asset’.

"There are many things that newcomers need to re-consider when they present themselves to employers. For example, of the many newcomers I’ve met, none of them emphasized their previous background in their CVs. To some extent, they try to make their resume look as Swedish as possible - and that’s wrong.

"I presume that they may underestimate their previous experience back home, and therefore either refer to it only briefly, or totally avoid mentioning it. But that experience could be a real bonus in many cases.

"Job hunting in Sweden is a process, rather than being a meeting where someone secures you a contract. It’s about cultural difference, nature and habits that need to be understood. To exemplify this point, if you and I applied for the same job in Syria at a company where my uncle works, my uncle’s position in this situation would give me extra points and be an advantage. In Swedish terms it’s often the total opposite; it’s a disadvantage.

"Here, you can build as many contacts as possible and that has its value of course, but you should never expect that a contact can offer you a job contract. Swedish employers prefer to both be and be seen as neutral, therefore they won’t necessarily just go for the first possible choice.

"Swedish employers are the real challenge, and are the ones who can help change the situation. We Swedes sometime think that we’re aware of everything around us, as if everything is in control, but when it comes to action we know very little, and always go for the same choice. We’re reluctant to try new things, and in terms of immigration and newcomers we are hypocrites. In terms of word versus action we are hypocrites.

"Here are the key flaws I see in Swedish employers:

Ignorance: Employers are in general ignorant of the newcomers’ realities, their backgrounds, cultures and skills. They just don’t know, and so they stay in their safe zones and hesitate to open up to accepting newcomers among them. At every single company I visited, I talked to managers about refugees, their resources and competence, and the employers mostly replied: “OH! Wow! Is that true? Really!”

Pretence: They all talk about how critical integration is to our community, but they don't do enough to achieve it. Even those who employ newcomers often do so to display a proof to the community showing that they’ve fulfilled their duty, and that they’re socially responsible. This could be counter-productive.

The ‘Flykting’ effect: The word 'flykting' (refugee) is repeated again and again in the media, often perpetuating stereotypes. When Mohammed comes to a job interview, he's immediately seen as a flykting. He’s seen as ‘the problem’ that needs a ‘solution’. Employers don’t look at Mohammed’s skills as reasons why he should get a job, but they treat him as someone vulnerable who needs help. The ‘flykting’ may end up getting the job out of sympathy, and not for their competency.

Extroverts abroad & introverts at home – Swedish is a pretext: Fluency in Swedish is often an overrated requirement that’s not fundamental for many jobs. Of course, some professions require  excellent Swedish, but not all. English can still be absolutely sufficient to work in Sweden. Swedish employers travel a lot and use English abroad, but when they’re back home and at office, they don’t.

Some might be afraid of revealing their non-perfect English, while asking newcomers for a perfect Swedish. I don't think that nationalism is the issue here; we’re not that much of nationalist people. But requiring a perfect Swedish is a pretext.

Bureaucracy: managers are dependent on the establishment and system here, and to some extent they use this as justification for their inaction. Many say that they want to get involved, and that they’re looking for skilled workers. In fact, they’re not, and they're quick to complain, and blame the migration agency or employment office for their processing, and for not providing the best candidate/expertise. This is a typical attitude of Swedish managers, and I think if they want to contribute in solving the current ‘integration’ issue, there re many ways to do so without relying on the ‘system’.

"As to how we can encourage employers to take action, the answer is simple: Education, education, education. Swedish managers need to be educated and inspired, to know the relevant facts about immigrants and refugees – to get insights onto the other perspective.

"The market is changing, and the world is changing. Competent newcomers to Sweden need to be taken on board, because Sweden needs them.

"We’re launching a crash course for Swedish employers at Lederna soon, to inform them about immigrants and their resources – to give them facts, and encourage them to take action.

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