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Doctors choose Sweden for work security and job satisfaction

| Text: Gunhild Wallin

Several Swedish embassies in southern European countries have seen a sharp increase in the number of people who are desperately seeking work. Meanwhile Swedish youths are wanted as guides by the tourism industry in Spain, Greece and Cyprus.

Thirteen years ago Barcelona born doctor Antonio Alonso-Villaverde Lozano moved to Sweden with his wife, a trained medic, and their child. He wanted to use his speciality training in a better way and she was tempted by the chance of getting a specialist education. He harboured a romantic idea of Sweden and the journey was an adventure, a chance to check things out. Antonio Alonso-Villaverde Lozano and his wife ended up staying and he now works as a GP in Floby near Falköping in the south of Sweden. The couple have four children and he describes his work situation as secure and happy.

Since the economic crisis hit Spain more and more Spanish colleagues approach him to ask what it is like to work in Sweden, and recently he and his employer at Västra Götalandsregionen travelled to Spain to recruit more doctors.

Bleak future 

“Spain’s future is bleak and there really is a need to work abroad. The reasons for moving now in 2013 are very different from when I arrived in 2000. What we have now is an ‘emergency interest’, a need to change your situation and find something new,” says Antonio Alonso-Villaverde Lozano.

When he goes back to Spain he sees many different signs of the economic crisis. It might not be immediately obvious but he notices it little by little in the streets and when talking to people - not least colleagues he met during his recruitment trip. He tells them about the pros and cons of working in Sweden and underlines perhaps the most important thing of all - it is important not to compare countries and that each and every one will have their separate experiences. It can be better than you think, or worse. In Spain a district GP usually sees between 50 and 60 patients a day, he say, which limits your chances to make an impact. In Sweden the responsibility is different, you get the chance to do more, which professionally is more interesting.    

“I also usually say the best thing is the social safety net and the hardest thing is the darkness,” says Antonio Alonso-Villaverde Lozano.

Curious yet hesitant employers

The recruitment trip seems to have created a lot of interest, despite warnings of long, dark winters. Some 20 Spanish doctors with partners will arrive to Västra Götaland this spring. The recruitment drive has been in cooperation with Eures - a European network of 31 countries from the EU/EEA and Switzerland, plus 850 Eures advisors. 

Eures works with recruitment and ways to find work in other countries than your own, with the aim of improving labour movement in Europe. Eures advisors organise and participate in various job fairs in Europe, often with the aim of finding a certain type of labour which their country needs - e.g. doctors and engineers. Eures advisors also notice how the economic crisis in southern Europe influences people’s willingness to move to where they might find work.

“When we have participated in job fairs we have noticed many Greeks and Spanish people want information about working in Sweden, and they are willing to move - including people who already have jobs,” says Malin Dahl, Eures advisor at the Malmö job centre.

Swedish employers are also curious about what the Eures cooperation can offer, especially for certain sectors and groups of workers like IT experts and engineers. Yet they still hesitate to recruit from abroad, unlike Norwegian and German employers, says Malin Dahl. The labour shortage is greater there, and that could have contributed to those countries having come further when it comes to bridging language gaps.   

“But please feel free to talk about the enormous labour resource which is to be found in Europe. Many jobseekers now have very good educations and a lot of experience,” says Malin Dahl.

Increased pressure on embassies

Staff at several of Sweden’s embassies in southern Europe have also noticed how the economic crisis has led to more people wanting to work in Sweden. 

“The number of people who come to us to ask about work has tripled in just a few years, and we also see different groups of people. Greek doctors have always been interested in seeking specialist training in Sweden, but now we also see craftsmen, builders, and people in the service industry as well as people with higher education,” says Sofia Keramida at the Swedish embassy in Athens. She has been working at the embassy’s media, information and culture section for 12 years, and has witnessed a clear change in people’s interest in working in Sweden. There has also been a change in the groups of people who are prepared to move. It is mainly the consular staff who deal with the increase in requests. They notice the mounting pressure and it is they who can tell you about desperate people who ask for work and who are ready to accept anything. The embassy has also been told stories by the Greek community in Sweden about people, sometimes entire families, who have given up everything and left for Sweden in the hope of a better life. Another sign of the crisis is the number of Swedish residents in Greece who have returned back home to Sweden. 

“Our newspapers are full of stories about how you apply for jobs in other European countries, who to write your CV and stories about people who work abroad,” says Sofia Keramida.

Good reputation in the media

Greeks moving abroad to find work is nothing new. Labour emigration was high during the 60s and accelerated further in the wake of the 1967 military coup. Some 900,000 Greeks are thought to have left to find work abroad during the 1960s, many to Germany but also to Sweden. The first ones came to Scania Vabis in Södertälje in November of 1960. Many more came during the 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s. In later years young, well-educated people have shown an interest in working abroad, for instance doctors, but today you might get requests from people in their 50s who are still in work but who are looking for better conditions than what crisis-stricken Greece can offer. Germany and England are the most popular, but the Nordic countries are also of interest and are often portrayed in a positive light in Greek media.

“The fact that there are already Greek immigrants in Sweden clearly plays a role, but Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries also have a good reputation and are portrayed as safe countries with good welfare systems,” says Sofia Keramida.

People’s willingness to move is considerable. The other week a Greek newspaper published a survey from the Greek ombudsman for children’s rights, where 1,200 pupils from 22 primary and secondary schools were asked about their parents’ work situation. 82 percent said things have become worse in recent months. Among 20 percent of the pupils, one or both parents were unemployed and 29 percent had parents who were considering moving abroad in the hope of creating a better future. 70 percent of the children said their everyday lives had got worse, which meant less pocket money but also reduced opportunities to take further education.

“You don’t know what tomorrow brings. Newspapers write about improved figures coming in a few months, but so far there is nothing concrete. New taxes are introduced all the time, wages are cut, there is a public sector employment freeze and the health sector is getting worse. If you meet someone you haven’t seen for a while you are scared to ask how they’re doing, so you end up talking about the weather. You are afraid to hurt someone who might have lost their job or who has close relatives who have moved abroad,” says Sofia Keramida.

Swedish youths get work in crisis-hit countries

Spain’s youth unemployment stands at more than 50 percent, and new figures show it is even higher in Greece. Still the recruitment current flows from the north to the south. At a job fair in Malmö in early February, six tourism industry employers from Spain, Greece and Cyprus were looking for Swedish youths to staff various activities like children’s clubs, training centres and other guest activities.

“There was a great deal of interest, and more than 260 young people visited the fair. Many got an interview. They come here because they are interested in Swedish youths and their language skills,” says Malin Dahl at the Malmö job centre.


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