Swedish factories cut language requirements as production booms
With Swedish industrial companies producing at capacity levels unseen in a decade, many are dropping the Swedish language requirements, helping those who came in the refugee crisis find jobs.
Radio Sweden visited truck maker Scania to investigate.
When Paul Ntambi from Uganda started on the production line at the chassis plant in Södertälje five months ago, he hadn’t even finished elementary school level Swedish.
“When language fails, we can use signs.” he says. “It is not that easy, but with time, somebody picks up the terms, the expressions. The langauge comes with time.”
His supervisor Kim Frykman, says that Ntambi's Swedish was adequate when he joined, but far from perfect.
"He could understand safety instructions and basic instructions, but sometimes you could see that he was thinking 'what did he say?'".
He finds that new recruits at Scania tend to learn Swedish on the job very rapidly.
“It’s a pretty rapid change when they start working here,” he says. “We have many good examples of people who have learned good Swedish in just a couple of months – so you don’t really recognise that they couldn’t speak Swedish before.”
Helena Segerberg-Byström, the HR manager for the chassis plant, says that during the last year Scania has had to accept that its agency Randstad can often now only supply sufficient temporary worker with basic Swedish.
“We have a great need and the labour market situation right now in Sweden is such that we have to look for people that want to work with us, and it’s not possible with just looking at people who know perfect Swedish.”
When a new recruit has a low level of Swedish, Segerberg Byström pairs them with an experienced employee who speaks the same native language, or a common language, so that they can still learn the correct safety procedures.
She is now also planning to hold lessons in “Scania Swedish” at the site, where new recruits will be taught the technical terms and expressions commonly used at the plant.
That the sheer demand for labour is forcing companies like Scania to loosen language requirements comes as a lifesaver for Sweden as it tries to absorb the huge numbers of migrants who arrived during the refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016.
New figures show that an additional 89,000 people born outside Sweden gained employment in the year leading up to June last year, taking the number of foreign born who are employed to 966,000.
And the state jobs agency Arbetsförmedlingen predicted in June that eight out ten new jobs would go to those born outside Sweden during 2017 and 2018.
This will not be enough to provide jobs for all of the migrants who came in 2015 and 2016, but it will certainly help.