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“Only the labour market knows which skills are needed”
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“Only the labour market knows which skills are needed”

| Text: Gunhild Wallin, photo: NVL

Swedish employers are in desperate need of people to fill positions within many different occupations. Meanwhile, more than 340,000 people are registered with the employment service. The problem is that the job seekers’ knowledge often does not match the needs of the employer.

Stockholm is in the middle of the worst labour shortage for ten years, according to a survey presented by the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce in August. The IT and construction industries are most in need, but there is also a lack of labour in the health sector and in education. Stockholm is not alone in struggling to attract people, however. Public services across the country are having a hard time recruiting staff. 

“Our latest figures show it takes companies longer and longer to find the staff they need, and more and more often they need to lower their demands for education and experience,” says Annelie Almérus, an analyst at the Swedish Public Employment Service.

“Usually you need at least an upper secondary education in order to enter the Swedish labour market. Many of the new jobseekers have very short educations, and sometimes they also struggle to learn. It then takes a long time before they can be matched with the right job, and it becomes more important for us to match them by adding extra training,” she says. 

Validation important, but takes time

The labour market is now facing a big challenge: How employers’ need for labour can be matched with the jobseekers. This is an important issue for employers, trade unions, educational institutions, the parties in the labour market and politicians.

Validation is one measure which is often discussed. It aims to highlight and confirm a person's competency, regardless of how it has been obtained, so that the person can move on into employment or education. Validation is not least considered a way to allow foreign born citizens to be credited with both the formal and informal skills they bring from their home countries.

“Validation is important, but often takes time. Employers sometimes also struggle to validate foreign educations. The best thing is for employers and jobseekers to meet, for instance during recruitment fairs. That makes things easier,” says Anneli Almérus.

A hot topic

The Swedish National Delegation for Validation was established in 2015. The government has asked it to follow, support and run a coordinated development of validation in education, training and working life. The delegation’s mandate runs until 2019. It consists of representatives from trade unions and employer’s organisations, but also from relevant authorities. In March this year the delegation presented ‘A national strategy for validation’ to the government. One of the delegation’s experts is Ingegerd Green, CEO for Skärteknikcentrum AB.

“Validation is a hot topic. I take part in many fora where this is being debated,” she says.”

Ingegerd Green has been a proponent for skills development within industry for her whole professional life, and has taken part in several projects organised by the Nordic network for adult learning (NVL).

“All the Nordic countries are engaged in the issues surrounding how to bring skills into the labour market. We have the same challenges, and have reached different points within different areas. When it comes to validation in terms of the labour market’s demands for competence, so-called trade validation, Sweden is in the lead,” she says. 

A report with recommendations

In April, NVL published the report “Competence in a labour market perspective”, the result of two years’ work by a Nordic group of experts written by Ingegerd Green and Tormod Skjerve from Norway. The report analyses the challenges with supplying the necessary competence, and it recommends measures which are mainly aimed at the social partners.

Globalisation, technological development, demographics and climate change alters working life, and there is a need for deeper, broader and sometimes completely new skills in order to manage in the workplace. And the changes are already here.

“The changes demand that we prepare the ground for skills development. If we don’t, we will not manage to handle them,” says Ingegerd Green.

Better formulated demands for competence 

When asked what validation means for solving the need for skills, Ingegerd Green wants to analyse the concept. How can companies’ growing need for skills be met? 

There are mainly two ways to do this – recruiting new staff or introduce skills development for existing staff. To recruit people with skills you need access to educated people, and there is a role to play both for labour market training for job seekers and for the general education system. For the companies’ internal skills development to work, it needs to be strategic and structured, underlines Ingegerd Green. Regardless of how you approach this, you need to know what skills are needed.

“This is where trade validation becomes so important, since it describes which skills are needed for different working tasks or occupational roles in a way which makes it easy to see what kind of skills exist or are missing within a company,” says Ingegerd Green. 

She also highlights how important it is for companies themselves to work strategically and structured with their own competence provisions. Often there are skills within a company which are invisible, because they have not been validated and documented. If it is difficult to recruit competence from outside, perhaps it is possible to find a person within the company who might become suitable with the right skills development training. 

What is needed?

“It is not easy to describe skills in a way which means you can measure, develop and recognise them. What skills are absolutely crucial in order to carry out a job? What do we need to be matched with? Only the labour market itself has she answers to those questions, meaning we who live in this rapidly changing reality. That is why companies, trade organisations and the social partners need to work on this together,” she says.

As the CEO for Skärteknikcentrum Sverige, SKTC, a national trade organisation for machining companies, the trade’s skills provision is an important part of her job. SKTC has worked on a system for validation and certification of occupational competence in so-called CNC technique for the trade’s companies since 2005.

“The progress we have made, helping nearly 4,500 people get their skills validated and recognised, is purely the result of the fact that the trade’s companies are behind the content and that this is of a quality you can trust,” says Ingegerd Green.

Consensus between the parties

“When it comes to the importance of strategic skills development, there is no conflict between employers and employees, there is consensus. For employers, skills development is crucial for competitiveness and profitability, and skills must be secured in order to run companies. For employees it means having a good job, being able to open up for new opportunities and having a rich and interesting occupation,” she says.

Within the trade, the parties have worked together to develop a comprehensive system for trade validation, which is also managed by the parties. This gives the companies within the trade a tool which secures targeted skills development and recruitment. The system is built on the national standard for trade validation, which demands that you link up to the Swedish qualification framework, called SeQF. 

This way, the labour market and education system get a common language for skills. It is no coincidence that the industry parties are ahead of the game, according to Ingegerd Green. 

“Industries are at the coalface of globalisation and quickly influenced by new technological developments. Other parts of the business world come later. But today there is hardly any part of the labour market which is not facing these changes. Everyone needs skills to face the competition,” she says.

Challenges on three levels

One of the conclusions in the Nordic report on competence in a labour market perspective, supported by Ingegerd Green, is that the competence challenge exists on three levels which are all linked. Companies must take skills provision seriously by getting better at working strategically and structurally with skills development, and not waiting until the need arises – which is often the case today. 

Individual workers must also take responsibility and think “what should my lifelong learning entail?” And last but not least, there is a need for a national competency policy with a competency policy strategy. 

“Today we have education policies, labour market policies and business policies – three different ‘pipelines’, which are headed by different government ministries and each have their own separate authorities and agencies. They all deal with issues and take initiatives which in the end are still all about skills provision. 

“We need a far more holistic approach and cooperation in order to make the skills provision system work in a labour market perspective. Perhaps we could learn from Norway, where competency policies have been lifted up to the highest level,” says Ingegerd Green.

Ingegerd Green

has been a proponent for skills development within industry for her whole professional life, and has taken part in several projects organised by the Nordic network for adult learning (NVL)(picture above).

Increasing labour shortage

Employment in Sweden is set to rise with 149,000 people in total this year and the next. Unemployment among native born Swedes is at its lowest level since the 2008 finance crisis. This year unemployment is set to fall from 7 percent to 6.6 percent, but it will probably rise somewhat next year. The reason is that more foreign born people register as job seekers, and many of them are far removed from the labour market.

Meanwhile, prognosis from the employment service shows eight in ten new jobs go to people born abroad, and that the employment figure is rising with two percentage points. 

“This is very good news when so many newly arrived are entering the labour market,” according to the employment service’s Director-General Mikael Sjöberg.

Source: The Swedish Public Employment service prognosis, published in June 2017. It is based on interviews with private and public employers from across the country.

Nordic network for adult learning, NVL

is administrated by Skills Norway, the Norwegian Agency for Lifelong Learning, on commission from the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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