Opinion: Why it's time for Sweden to fully accept English in the workplace

The Local Sweden
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Opinion: Why it's time for Sweden to fully accept English in the workplace
Sweden needs to fully embrace English in the workplace, argues Johan Alsén. Photo: Hays& Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

Swedish organizations can no longer afford to place English-speaking candidates outside the recruitment process, argues Hays Sweden managing director Johan Alsén.


One of the biggest challenges for Sweden right now is the competence gap in the labour market. It is quite clear that a shortage of certain skills slows down economic development. This requires a new way of thinking from employers, one example of which regards the corporate language.

Swedish organizations can no longer afford to place English-speaking candidates outside the recruitment process. Many companies within the IT industry for example have changed their corporate language to English – and more industries will likely follow. This transformation is necessary to be able to utilize international expertise and specialists who are not fluent in Swedish.

Unfortunately, the trend has been somewhat slowed by a conservative public sector.  In the public sector, all documentation and agreements are generally in Swedish and therefore the demand of Swedish skills, both written and spoken, are prioritized.

With the high level of English competency among Swedes and the increasing contact with the working-world outside Sweden, the latter demand in the public sector should be challenged.  Together with the Dutch and Danes, the Swedes are the most competent in English as a second language (according to a survey carried out by EF Education 2016). It is time for authorities and public enterprises to rethink excluding those with an ability to communicate in English.

As The Local Sweden reported, the 2016 Hays Global Skills Index shows that Sweden is the country with the highest labour market stress levels in the world (compared to 33 skills-based economies).

READ ALSO: Sweden has worst skills gap in global survey

Sweden's high score of 7.9 (of 10) in the 'talent mismatch' category shows how hard it can be for employers to find the right people for certain jobs. This means the market might be one of the toughest places for a company to develop and grow, even though the Swedish economy is doing quite well right now.

There are signs of doors already opening for job seekers with a mother tongue other than Swedish. English is the first language being embraced by Swedish companies. Even if many Swedish employers still require perfect Swedish from their employees, we have noticed a clear trend in the recruiting demands the last couple of years. The economic boom and the increasing skills shortage have paved the way for a change towards accepting English in the workplace.

READ ALSO: Fewer foreign graduates stay in Sweden to work

It is also time for Swedish employers at large to broaden their recruiting base. They need to find new ways to integrate English into their daily work. It is today possible to utilize existing technology for translation and even producing texts. To facilitate the process, a possibility could also be to appoint dedicated language coordinators at the workplace.

It is in the nation's interest to fill the growing competence gap to protect Sweden’s competitive edge. Surely one of the most obvious solutions to the problem would be to include the English-speaking community.

Johan Alsén, Managing Director Sweden, Hays.


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