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How hard can it be?

| Text: Gunhild Wallin

Businesses in the Swedish region of Södra Småland coined he phrase ‘How hard can it be?’ one year ago, when they initiated a meeting to address youth unemployment in the region. It was part corporate social responsibility and part a drive to attract more skills.

“Being good neighbours we depend on each other. It is good for neighbours to have jobs and for businesses to attract skills,” says Stefan Hörberg, Managing Director at one of the companies taking part in the ‘How hard can it be?’ project - HP Tronic.

One year has passed since Södra Småland’s businesses decided to get together and discuss what they could do to help the region’s unemployed youths while looking after their own needs to attract skills. 50 businesses gathered and talked about the situation for young people and about who was responsible for getting more young people into work. The Public Employment Service were also present at the meeting to talk about what resources it could offer.

The meeting identified concrete goals. They would create a model to help young unemployed people find work. The participants also calculated how much businesses would have to contribute, and found this would not necessarily be very much. The aim was to give 800 unemployed youths across eight municipalities the chance to get into working life as trainees or apprentices, which would mean only two percent of the region’s businesses needed to get involved. 

Creating arenas for cooperation has been another important part of the work. ‘How hard can it be?‘ has for instance become part of TvärdraG, a cross-regional project where businesses and the public sector cooperate to showcase the region and attract skills. Future Kronoberg, a project aimed at helping unemployed 16-29 year olds find work and increase their skills, is also on board. 

“One important goal was to gather the existing resources and this has now resulted in what we call the apprentice package. This helps the communication between businesses and the young job seekers, but also between businesses and the Public Employment Service,” says Karin Palmér, project leader at TvärdraG which encompasses the project ‘How hard can it be?’.

Continuing support

The apprentice package means the unemployed youth gets a four week introduction during which his or her situation will be mapped. The job seeker will then be matched with an employer with a resulting one to three month long internship which includes training. After that, the employment service will help pay for six months of employment. A coach will support the youth for the duration. HP Tronic in Ljungby jumped at this chance and accepted ten apprentices. The company, which manufactures industrial electrical systems, employs 125 people. They are also operating in China. 

“We became interested because of the focus on helping young unemployed people and because of the whole package with coaches from the employment service and good contacts with the service,” says Stefan Hörberg, HP Tronic’s Managing Director.

He praises the support the young people have received from the employment service and the fact that the service has covered much of the costs associated with training the youths. HP Tronic has been responsible for the coaching and has also brought in a 70 year old worker who has acted as a role model for the young, showing them how life in the workplace works both on the production side and socially - for instance the importance of coming into work on time. 

“An employer must be aware that taking on apprentices takes a lot of time. At the same time you see, hear and feel what the job means to them,” says Stefan Hörberg. 

HP Tronic also work with young people in the longer term. It is a mentor company for a group of year 7s (13-14 year olds) who are following the company, and the company is following them. This is all part of a larger project and the idea is to make young people aware at an early stage of what jobs exist locally, and to give them the chance to get the kind of education which allows them to stay locally. 

More social responsibility

Karin Palmér at TvärdraG is very happy that businesses have taken the initiative to tackle youth unemployment. After one year many more young unemployed have entered into internships or jobs. 

“We see how businesses now take more responsibility to make the region attractive, and the work with the young unemployed is both a result of wanting to increase their skills base and a desire to show more social responsibility,” she says.     

She adds that it has been important for businesses to engage and talk about how they want things to work, and that they for instance have underlined the importance of uniform and clear systems with permanent contacts at the employment service. 

“If businesses don’t engage, it is very hard to drum up a feeling of joint responsibility for the young unemployed,” says Karin Palmér.

And the businesses’ engagement has inspired others. Recently a press release arrived from Ljungby municipality, which challenged local businesses by promising to hire as many unemployed youths on a municipal level as the businesses together could manage.

In brief

In May last year businesses in Sweden’s Södra Småland region wanted to find a way to match the need for local labour and the needs of unemployed youths to find jobs. A survey showed 20 percent of businesses turned down orders due to the lack of labour, while some 20 percent of the region’s youths were unemployed. Working alongside projects TvärdraG and Future Kronoberg they created ‘The apprentice package”, helping unemployed youths find work. The youths are offered a four week introduction and mapping of their skills and needs, before being matched with employers and offered internships and training for one to three months. After that they are offered six months of work with the help of the employment service.

Södra Småland’s businesses are traditionally organised through the local municipalities, but as part of the project ‘How hard can it be?‘ they have organised cross-regionally. They operate as one group within TvärdraG – a regional profiling project where both businesses and public institutions work together to showcase södra Småland and make the region more attractive to job seekers.


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