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New ideas for virtual job seeking

| Text: Björn Lindahl, Photo Magnus Pehrsson, Arbetsförmedlingen

After more than a decade with vacancy databanks on the Internet, it is hard to imagine a time when job searches were not made electronically. Information technology has widened the reach of the companies and multiplied the choice for the jobseekers. But has it improved the matching?

Internet jobseekingIn Sweden 80 per cent of the unemployed have access to the Internet. The first job listing on the Internet site of Arbetsförmedlingen was posted in September 1995.

The Swedish Public Employment Service was one of the first in Europe to open a website with interactive solutions. Companies can search an online CV database with 140,000 names.

The jobseekers can look for vacancies or sign up to receive emails as soon as a suitable job-offer is available. Today 850,000 people use the site every month.

“All the public employment services in Europe have services on the Internet, including the East European countries, who are catching up very fast. There are also scores of commercial job-sites”, says Göran Åhman, Head of Section, Employment Service Systems at Arbetsförmedlingen.

Make the service better

Now the time has come to integrate the electronic services even better.

“We are working a lot with multichanneling, how to complement the Internet with personal service and with the local employment offices. This autumn we will also introduce the possibility to register as unemployed online, instead of having to meet up personally at the local office, which has been the rule so far.” 

Since March 2007, 15,000 unemployed have tried this out at 14 employment offices. The reactions have been positive. Göran Åhman thinks a more open and transparent labour market is the biggest benefit of the Internet services. It also speeds up the process of matching a vacancy with an unemployed.

“We have made studies a few years ago that show that the vacancy database and other services also have a positive effect on the labour market, but it is very hard to pinpoint the reason for an improvement.”

Swamped by applications

A possible negative side effect is that the companies risk being swamped by job applications. The threshold to send an application is lower, and it is easy to send the same application to many companies, who have to spend more time going through hundreds of applications to get the right candidates.

“Actually this hasn't been so much of a problem. The technology to search for specific requirements has become much better. We experience more of the opposite – that the companies are too eager to report vacancies, and actually hire less than they claim they need.” 

This happens especially in professions like telemarketing and taxi services where the turnover is high.  

“I think the main effect of electronic matchmaking is that it speeds up the process. Even if there was no effect on unemployment you would still have the benefit of rationalisation - we spend less time handling each application and can use that time to offer better support for those who really need it.”

Open information

In Sweden there are more than a dozen companies working with vacancy databanks. Isn't there a risk that they will make the Public Employment Service superfluous or that the government decides to privatise it? 

“I don't think so. There is no competition between us and the commercial sites. We are more like the road net which everyone can travel on. We share all the information we get about vacancies with Manpower, Stepstone and all the other companies in the employment services industry. They would never do that. For a private company it is natural to keep information away from competitors.”

“On our website all the employers are also treated equally. We never let the companies screen who gets  see their job listings. We want an open publication that everyone can see,” says Göran Åhman. 

In the future the information in the database, such as what the companies ask for when they post a vacancy, could be used to make sure the vocational training offered is fine-tuned to the needs.

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