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

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

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

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.

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.”