Paul Andersson werkt voor het Zweedse arbeidsbemiddelingsbureau dat statushouders begeleid bij hun introductie op de Zweedse arbeidsmarkt.
‘The mission of the Swedish Public Employment Service (PES) has always been the introduction and reintegration of people into the labour market. But since 2010 we have full responsibility for the integration and reintegration of everyone on unemployment benefits.
Before that the municipalities had the responsibility for the labour market integration of immigrants (primary payments and introduction support + Swedish PES also responsible for labour market integration), and multiple other agencies were responsible for the rest. Now the Swedish Public Employment Service is the main actor and is responsible for the entire process, including the decision to pay someone financial support through unemployment benefits. This is a specific payment for introduction- duration in 2 years.
For refugees we have set up the integration programme and fast tracks. Because the primary regard for a person is how do I support myself and how do provide for my family, how do I take care of myself and my wife and children? When you come to us, you are not able to do this on your own.
Refugees who come to Sweden can’t provide for their family without help, they have no job or savings. We believe in a strong unemployment insurance and employment policy. But if you do receive insurance you accept both the rights and obligations combined. This is one of the foundations of the Swedish social security model.’
‘The previous labour market programmes had multiple different agencies responsible for payments and the integration policy. So different parts of the programme were organized by different agencies and each agency could blame another agencies when something went wrong. Nobody took responsibility for their decisions.
Another disadvantage was that the municipalities were responsible for the programmes for introduction of new comers. This meant that each municipality had their own programme, their own way of working and only looked at work within their own borders. It also could take long for them to organize everything to fit the individual because they didn’t know the labour market well enough.
The Swedish Public Employment Agency now works in bigger regions. We are responsible for the entire region of Skåne and all migrants (with a permit to stay - residence to stay) now are part of the same programme for the first two years during their integration period.
Our biggest asset are our job councillors. We are the biggest public agency with about 12.500 employees in the whole of Sweden, who work with both employers and job seekers. The best job councillors understand the economic system, the labour market. You have to be able to do labour market analyses and be good at evaluating both people and the market.
In many ways it is a very complex task. And then you also need to be good at making contact, approaching people, having a good selling pitch. We need people who can create strong relations with our partners who help us find jobs.’
‘To qualify for the introduction programme of the Introduction Act is actually simple. You have to be a refugee between the age of 20 and 64 years old and you need a residence permit in Sweden. In the future a temporary residence permit will probably also be enough. If you are a quota refugee you are of course also part of this programme, as well as relatives of refugees.
There is also a special rule for young migrants between 18-19 years old if they are alone, meaning without parents or other responsible family. But if you already have full-time employment, attend upper secondary schooling or if you have physical or mental problems which prevent you to be part of the introduction programme, you will not fall under the Introduction Act.
When refugees receive their residence permit they move to a municipality and are handed over to us if they fall under the Introduction Act. We set up an introduction meeting with the individual. This meeting is the start of the introduction process. The focus of this interview is the skills and previous experience of the person.
After this meeting you will have a right to an introduction grant. Based on the first meeting an assessment is made of the person’s abilities and what this person needs to integrate into the labour market and finally an action plan is made for the individuals future.
This plan, called the introduction plan, does not just include employment. It consists of minimal 5 and maximum 40 hours a week of activities. The starting point is 40 hours, but if you have less time for valid reasons, your plan can consist of less hours. However, less than ten hours is not possible. Then you will not be able to participate in the introduction programme and will become the municipality’s responsibility.’
We try to have people participate in the programme as much as possible. We use a different language than insurance agencies, we say participation ability, not work ability. Because the plan is not just about employment, it can also include language classes, training, physical or mental assistance or volunteering, etc.
If someone doesn’t follow the plan set up for him or her, they will lose their financial compensation. Because we are responsible for both the benefit payments and the introduction plan we can effectively link them. But we also have a better dialogue with the job seeker. We might be able to avoid financial punishment because there can be good reasons for not following a plan or we can alter someone’s plan and decide not to change the compensation.
We work with both job seekers and employers. Employers are important, we need them because they provide the work places. A good example is IBM, which came to Malmö last year. We told them we could provide the workforce they needed in Malmö and if not enough people had the right skills, we would offer trainings so that people could learn them. This created workplaces for people already in Malmö.
We have a similar deal with Netto, a big retail business and we have an programme called ‘Hotel Talents’ where we combine work and training at hotels in Malmö. Reaching out to employers like this works very well, so we try to sell this type of recruitment to more businesses.’
‘We have a regular introduction programme for refugees, but we also have something which is called “fast tracks”. Although we try to limit the duration of diploma validation, it often takes a very long time. The fast track was set up to get highly competent people in the Swedish labour market more quickly.
The most important part is to validate foreign diplomas quicker, so people can have job on the level they were educated for in sectors where we need them. For instance chefs can work as chefs and work on a Swedish standard as soon as possible. The restaurant business is actually the first sector we launched the fast track for.
As an example, if we need a hundred chefs in Skåne and we see people who register as chefs or cooks in our system during the introduction meeting, then we match them with a restaurant. It is an addition to the general structure, it is an extra measure for meeting a growing group who need a little more help and who we need.
This short programme is only for occupations of which there is a shortage of supply in Sweden. This is important. Occupations are only eligible for short tracks if there are not enough Swedes to fulfil the demand, if there are no Swedes for these positions. The list of occupations is limited, it’s for cooks, engineers, electricians, transporters, administrative personnel, teachers, doctors, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists.
Refugees with skills in these occupation can go through the short track to fill the void in the labour market. We do not want to discriminate against Swedes or other groups, we want to keep the support of the people, so it is a requirement that there has to be a shortage in supply.’ It is open to all jobseekers to get retraining into an occupation where it is a shortage of skilled labour.
‘One of the biggest problems we have is that we do not have a clear national system for validating diplomas, and for all occupations you need a validated diploma. It is a very complex system, with many different actors, the municipalities, an agency just for validating occupational education, us, and so on. On top of that the criteria and method of validation is different in different regions.
It’s not a problem if you’re from Europe, but if you have an diploma from outside Europe it becomes difficult. With the Syrian refugees, it will take a long time, especially for occupations like doctors and nurses. (although for diploma occupations there is a formal national system for validation). In this region we (try to achieve in an ongoing project) have a regional platform for validation but there should be a national standard, this would make the system better.
What we do in the fast tracks is have employers help us with the validation of the skills and abilities of the refugees. We include them in the process of validation because in Sweden employers always want employees to have a diploma or references. Persons will be linked with a business, show them their skills and the employer will evaluate them.
Then the person will either receive a valid piece of paper or in some cases the employer will tell us the person will need some extra training before receiving the certificate, which will then be included in his or hers introduction plan. Ideally the employer who evaluates, is also in need of employees and the persons will find a work position with that employer. So there is a whole process towards a work position and a nice piece of paper.
‘We cannot check the employment rates of migrants or refugees because we don’t register this. Asking for their nationality is profiling and we don’t want to do that. We do know that you are best of if you are from Scandinavia, and a little worse of if you are from Europe. If you are from outside Europe you will have the lowest chance of employment: four times more risk of longterm unemployement compare to native Swedes.
It is something we struggle with. We have special projects going on for specific targets, but you need to be able to defend projects for one particular group of the population. So we do not have a lot of projects that target a specific nationality group. We don’t want to exclude anyone. This introduction plan is now only for a certain group, refugees and relatives, but we probably all groups could use this. But for now, these refugees need more help to start up, because of the diploma validation, their situation and the language.’