200 companies stretch out a hand to new immigrants
In the last two months over 200 companies have signed up for a programme with the Swedish Employment Service to offer jobs or internships to people who are new to the Swedish labour market.
It was in the middle of October that Prime Minister Stefan Löfven launched the initiative "Sweden Together", which was supposed to encourage public agencies, companies, trade unions and civil society organisations to work together to improve the conditions for people who have recently arrived as refugees in this country.
For the Swedish Employment Service the job to try to help people who are relatively new in the country to get onto the labour market is nothing new. But the response from the companies to the initiative has been better than expected. Of the 200 companies that have signed up to the programme, 25 are large corporations that have committed themselves to accept at least 100 people each. They are part of what the Employment Service calls "the 100 Club", which it believes can add to a company's goodwill.
"It has become a kind of seal for the companies to show that they value competence above ethnicity," says Goran Sehovac, strategist at the Swedish Employment Service.
He thinks that there has been a shift in focus among the companies recently.
"One or two years ago, Swedish language skills were very high (on the companies' list of requirements), but today when we talk to major corporations that have international dealings abroad they say they can consider starting to work with a candidate in English too. Because they see that they can manage a lot of questions in English and it is easier for the candidate to develop the Swedish language when they are already in the company," he said.
One of those who have recently stepped out onto the Swedish labour market is 33-year-old Omar Tobba, a mechanical engineer from Syria. He arrived in Sweden two years ago. Now he is doing an internship at the international engineering consulting firm Sweco.
"This is the biggest step in my life to be able to use my fundamental skills in Heating, Ventilation and Sanitation. And yes, it is going well. Everybody is kind here, everybody likes to help me adjust to the company," Omar Tobba tells Swedish Radio News.
And Sweco, which is one of the companies in the 100 Club, is pleased as well. CEO Åsa Bergman says the competition to find engineers and architects is tough in Sweden.
"Those who are new to this country can add competency and new perspectives. But is also an extra-ordinary situation in Sweden. And Sweco is a company that can offer job opportunities. So it is a win-win-situation," she says.
The companies that have signed up to the programme commit themselves to introduce people to the labour market, either through 3-6 month's internships, or employment, education or accreditation of the skills that people bring with them from their home countries.
"We are planning this with the companies and the people in question," says Goran Sehovac at the Employment Service.
According to Sehovac the positive response has come from a broad range of sectors, such as engineering, health care, retail and education.
The companies that so far have signed up to the programme are expected to offer up to 3,000 internships or placements. Considering that that the Employment Service currently has 53,000 newly arrived immigrants in its database who are waiting for some kind of placement - and another 85,000 adults who have applied for asylum in Sweden this year alone, it could be seen as a drop in the ocean.
But Goran Sehovac believes it could mean a lot for the individual.
"If you are coming to Sweden as a refugee, you have a will to make a difference in this new society. So an introduction in work is very important for your identity, your language skills, and how you address the Swedish society, so I think it is very important for people," says Goran Sehovac.
"And Sweden - as we know - is very focused on having a job. It is pretty hard to not have a job in Sweden."