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Swedish municipalities target youth unemployment

Swedish municipalities target youth unemployment

| Text and photo: Gunhild Wallin

Over the past seven years, Sweden’s Public Employment Service has taken on more and more responsibility for labour market measures aimed at young people. But it has been a challenging task, and municipalities have become increasingly central to getting people into work or training. If they don’t, the cost of marginalisation lands on the municipalities’ desk.

“What are your plans and what do you want to do?” That was the question which faced 20 year old Andreas Englund early this year when social services put him in touch with Navigatorcentrum, NC, a municipal labour market centre for young people in Östersund.

“I wanted something which would give me relevant experience for what I will be doing in the long term,” says Andreas Englund.

He has respect for jobs within elderly care or elsewhere in the care sector, but he had different visions for his own future. He managed to shape and realise those visions with the help of NC and coach Erik Hellgren. Internships or youth jobs can have different purposes, explains Erik Hellgren. Sometimes it can be a way to get young people into temporary positions, or as in the case of Andreas Englund it can be to figure out what you want to do in the future, to learn more and get experience from the occupation you consider doing long term. All young people who come to Navigatorcentrum must write a motivation letter, whether they come via social services, job centres, as early school leavers or out of their own free will. The coach follows this up and together they find a suitable internship, education or a so-called youth job, which allows young people to work while spending some of the time studying. 

A salary strengthens responsibility

Andreas Englund dreamt of becoming a philosophy lecturer, but he was also interested in politics — what is really going on behind the walls of the municipality building? Now he knows. For six months he has had a youth job with Östersund Municipality. He has been working full time, but if he had wanted to he would have had the right to spend 25 percent of his time studying. He has received a salary, which for a youth employee is 75 percent of the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union’s minimum wage. He made 12,500 kronor (€1,368) a month.    

“Having a salary is very important. It makes it a kind of employment with more responsibility. I was very much included at work and became one of the staff. That is worth a lot. If you are on a work compensation scheme you risk working just as much but you don’t feel appreciated. It also makes a great difference having a salary you can live off,” says Andreas Englund.

We are sitting in one of the homely rooms at Navigatorcentrum in central Öresund. It is easily accessible for anyone who wants to pop in for a coffee or a chat. A map of the world with some red dots hangs on the wall to show there are opportunities for those who want to try out voluntary work abroad.

Not an authority

When Navigatorcentrum opened in 2008, accessibility and openness were key words. This is not an authority, but a place where young people can come and get support and help to find out what they want to do, and to figure out what kind of help they need. They can knock on the door or they can be recommended to visit by the social services, the Social Security Agency or the Public Employment Service. 

The young person’s desires and needs represent the starting point, and authorities, municipalities and businesses coordinate their resources to help find the young person a job, an internship or education as quickly as possible. The whole thing started as a project financed by the social funds in 2008, but since 2012 it has been a permanent measure financed by the municipality, which provides seven million kronor (€766,200) a year for so-called youth jobs. 

Håkan Printz


“It is important that we are not an authority, for instance the fact that what a young person decides about education or work is not linked to the social services’ allowance. At the same time we must point out the fact that there are authorities and that they are our ‘friends’ who can also help along the way,” says Håkan Printz, who runs Navigatorcentrum and who has been working with unemployed youths for several decades.

NC also cooperates strategically with other players working for the same target group — social services, the Social Security Agency and the Public Employment Service. Representatives from NC and the authorities now meet every six weeks in a joint steering committee. 

“It has taken time to create this cooperation. Everybody looks after their own budget and it can be difficult to make changes. But we have got to know each other and have got a better understanding of each other’s worlds. Social services and the labour market measures are linked,” says Håkan Printz. 

Break out of the box

He also wants to see new thinking on a national level which can break down the boxed in structures which exist today.

“Get social services, the Public Employment Service and the Social Security Agency under one roof, similar to for instance NAV in Norway. That way marginalised people end up in one place and it is easier to quickly implement effective measures. We also need to get better at getting a return on our investments in measures,” says Håkan Printz.

The fact that the municipality is working with unemployed youths is nothing new. Municipalities are responsible of identifying youths under 20 who are not studying or working. Until December 2007, when the youth guarantee was introduced, there were also municipal youth guarantees which meant the municipalities were also running labour market measures for under 26s, work which was financed by the state.   

When the centre-right coalition government moved the responsibility away from municipalities to the Public Employment Service, this funding was withdrawn.

“You deprived municipalities of one of two important tools which were meant to work with young people,” says Tor Hatlevoll. He works with youth employment at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, SKL.

Put their own money in

Many municipalities then chose to use their own money to fund labour market measures. Partly because job centres do not have tools and responsibility for under 18s and partly because the so-called 90 day rule meant youths would get active help from the Public Employment Service only after 90 days of unemployment.

In 2013 some 4,500 people worked with labour market issues, and that year labour market measures run by municipalities had around 110,000 participants, according to the survey ‘Municipalities’ labour market statistics’. The numbers are estimates and according to the report the municipalities’ labour market measures differ a great deal.

“Many municipalities get young people active as soon as they leave school or become unemployed, and there are many good activities in the municipalities, sometimes also in cooperation with the Public Employment Service. Municipalities realise they need to offer measures immediately, or else the problems come back to haunt them,” says Tor Hatlevoll. 


The municipalities and the state have not been able to agree on how labour market issues should be dealt with and by whom. Municipalities have for many years called for a new kind of organisation which would join together all authorities working with unemployed people, creating a way in for job seekers. This is the situation in Norway with NAV, in Denmark municipalities have sole responsibility for the unemployed and in the UK it is completely the state’s responsibility. In Sweden the government has wanted to put an increasing amount of responsibility onto the Public Employment Service. 

“Municipalities run labour market measures because the Public Employment Service doesn’t take full responsibility, especially for groups with special requirements. Because municipalities are responsible for their citizens they have all the motives in the world to find alternative support and of course it is in everyone’s interest - both the individual person and society. That’s why labour marked measures quickly give return on the investment,” says Tor Hatlevoll.

Guardedly positive to promises of work

So what do they think, people working with labour market issues in the municipalities and the young people who will be affected by the election promises which now must be put into practice, albeit in a slightly compromised fashion?

At NC in Östersund they are guardedly positive about the Social Democrats’ promises of 50,000 new jobs and work, internships or education for all unemployed youths within 90 days.

“I might be a bit cynical, but the risk is that the difference won’t be that great. If the 90 day rule is passed perhaps the measures will come into force as soon as 90 days have passed, rather than later, which is what happens now. Statistics become very important when we have measures like this, but what we want is an answer to the question — how do we help people get going as quickly as possible,” says Håkan Printz, head of Navigatorcentrum in Östersund.

Andreas Englund, who just over six months ago was so sick of never getting any help at the job centre that he personally visited almost every business in his home town of Brunflo and gave them his CV and a handshake — with no result — wants to see the promises become reality. He would also like the municipalities to get state funding to start and expand activities aimed at finding employment for young people.

“The 90 day guarantee sounds good, but make sure it turns into action. If you want to do it, you must make it a reality. If not people will be forced into jobs they don’t believe in,” says Andreas Englund.

Encouraged and inspired by his youth job at the municipality, a job he liked so much he volunteered to work on days in between public holidays, he is now planning to study political science.

“You were really a great resource for them and very much appreciated,” says coach Erik Hellgren before he and Anders and Andreas Englund retire to have a chat.


is a municipal labour market centre for young people in Östersund (picture above).


In Sweden the state authorities are responsible for labour market measures, but the municipalities also have a so-called information responsibility. According to the Swedish Education Act, this means the municipalities should at all times make sure they know about young people under 20 who are not working or studying, and they should be able to provide measures. In January 2015 the act will change and the duty to stay informed will be replaced with a responsibility to be active — a change which means the municipalities must establish a database of all under 20s who do not work or study. This task will be financed by the state, but activities will not. 

Some 200 of Sweden’s municipalities are running various labour market measures mainly aimed at young people, but also for other groups who are outside of the labour market. Municipalities spend around four billion Swedish kronor (€438m) on labour market measures and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions says just over 4,500 municipal workers are involved with labour market measures, compared to 12,000 employees at the Swedish Public Employment Service.


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