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New concept at Sweden’s employment service gains young people’s trust

New concept at Sweden’s employment service gains young people’s trust

| Text and photo: Gunhild Wallin

Good treatment and rapid measures targeted at the needs of young unemployed people, good coordination between municipalities and the public employment service — a proven way of achieving progress. The concept was developed in the project ‘Unga in’ and is carried forward in UNGKOMP.

Elin Stor“If I hadn’t got the help I did, I would never have had it as good as I do today. I am happy every time I go to work,” says Elin Stor (22), who got support from Unga in to find her dream job as a library assistant.

She is striking with her pink fringe sticking out under a green, knitted hat. Her eyes are shining behind her glasses despite the seriousness of her story about the long and often painfully winding road to work.

Next to hear sits a young man who asks us to call him RS. He is 23 and does not want to be named because he works with children and young people in a reception class and in an after school club — a job he thinks is wonderful.

Man “If you told me four years ago I would be doing this, I would not have believed you. I used to be more impressed by what I saw in the Godfather films,” he says.

Petra Jansson and Anna Caballero, both from the Swedish Public Employment Service, are listening intensively. They throw in the odd comment to the young people’s stories. “You are the ones doing the work, we just provide the tools,” is their message. Anna Caballero, an employment officer, knows them both well. Petra Jansson, who has been the national project leader for Unga in, which is now used as a platform for UNGKOMP, is meeting them for the first time.

The task: to create trust

We meet in a staircase leading down to UNGKOMP’s quarters in Fryshuset in Stockholm, where both the employment service and Stockholm City share localities. There is a friendly and easy-going atmosphere, far from bureaucracy or a public office environment. Young people who are far removed from the labour market come here, and get easy access to everything the employment service and the municipality can offer when it comes to finding them jobs or getting them into education. The idea is also to improve the contact with the many young people who are struggling to find a job or start education. 

The problem is a considerable one. According to the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society, MUCF, in 2012 117,025 Swedish 16 to 25 year olds were not in work, internships or education. The risk of becoming an outsider is higher for those born abroad, those who have not finished their basic education and those with parents who have low levels of education. There are also many youths who are registered as unemployed. Sweden’s youth unemployment is also high compared to other countries, and UNGKOMP is particularly aimed at those who have been trying to find jobs through the employment service for a long time. 


Anna Caballero

“The people we meet have lost faith in society, in school, in employers and in the authorities. Our greatest task is therefore to create trust in society among the young and a willingness to be part of it. It should be cool to be an adult and it should not be something young people ought to be afraid of,” says Anna Caballero.

Being seen where you are

The young people themselves represent the starting point in the concept which is being used today. They were quite simply asked to explain what they wanted and which help they needed.

“They often ask for simple things. They want to be seen where they are and they want a visit to the employment service to give added value. They don’t want to be made to perform tasks which seem meaningless,” says Petra Jansson.

The ordinary employment service often does not work very well for young people who find themselves far removed from the labour market. They easily vanish in the crowd, thinks RS. He used to hang out with his gang doing “silly things” as he puts it.

“What you don’t understand is that going to the employment service can be the same as loosing face. It’s ‘shameful’ to go there, and asking for help is a failure, you have too much pride to do it. But if you offer me something which motivates me, I can go because I want to,” he says.

His meeting with Unga in, now UNGKOMP, changed everything. Here you find a psychologist, a social consultant, a job advisor, an employment officer and young employees with similar backgrounds as the target group. You also find all the resources which the municipality and employment service have to offer. 

“You can also say that the cooperation with Stockholm City has been important to me,” he writes in an email.

“Wow, I find all the help I need here and that gives me safety and it creates trust. Things have gone really well since I came here,” says RS.

Personal support

The first contact does not happen behind a PC in an office environment. Instead there is an introductory conversation on a sofa, where the young person is told which resources are available, but also what is expected from him or her. 

“It doesn’t matter how much we push for people to do something, if the youths themselves aren’t prepared to do their bit,” says Anna Caballero.

The entire working group works with personal support. This means you can follow the client to other authorities in order to coordinate the youth’s plan, giving them a feeling of control and participation when it comes to their own development. All of the people working here also provide support to the young people as and when they need it.

RS got a so-called youth job, which allows him to work while spending some of his time studying. He is currently working as a safety officer.

“To have a job, a salary, it makes everything easier. I also knew that if I did well I could move on up. You mature and realise the consequences of doing silly things, not just for yourself but for other people who matter,” says RS. His dream is now to become a social worker. 

Many of the young people who end up or are at risk of ending up as outsiders might have an undiagnosed disability. That was the case for Elin Stor. From the day she learned to read, her passion was always the Swedish language and her grades were high until she started college. Then things changed with higher demands for assignments and her grades plummeted. She hit an all-time low when she ended up with the second to lowest grade - a G (“pass”) - in her favourite subject Swedish.

“You just sink. It was so hard. I love being intelligent, I read all the time and then I only get a G in Swedish which is my favourite subject. What is my worth then?” says Elin Stor.

She joined the writer’s course at Fryshuset, but quit during her second year. For a few years she got by doing odd jobs and working under bad conditions for a large hotel. Elin Stor was feeling worse and worse, couldn’t face working anymore, had no money and on top of everything owned a much-loved cat with costly dental problems.

“I was unemployed with a sick animal. It just didn’t work. I thought that my cat should not suffer because I was feeling bad. That became my driving force,” says Elin Stor.

She went to Mäster Olofsgården in Stockholm, a trust helping young people find work and which also runs studios in creative subjects. She got an internship at a Science Fiction bookstore in Stockholm’s Old City, was allowed to stage a creative writing course and was offered the chance to run a writing studio at Mäster Olofsgården. 

”How are you doing today?”

When she felt at her lowest she was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder - ADD. Suddenly she understood why she could not concentrate and follow the college curriculum. It was not her fault, she had simply not been given the right conditions to allow her to master her disability. Now she has participated in courses in how to handle he ADD, and she uses her diagnosis when she applies for a job. Her ADD is both her best and worst side. It helps her focus, but it can also make her want to do too much and she becomes too tired.

Elin Stor applied to join Unga in, came on board and started planning her future in more detail. She is hugely appreciative of the help she got there. It’s about jobs, future plans and support. It’s about receiving peptalks and backup, not least being called up by someone asking “How are you today?” That short question can change the entire day, she says. Her plan is to improve her grades, attend the Swedish School of Library and Information Science and eventually set up a second-hand bookstore with a vegan café.

“I want to be realistic and follow one bit of my dream at a time,” she says.

Proud employment officer

Both youths say goodbye, and we who are left finish off our long conversation.

Petra Jansson“I am passionate about our cooperation. We are a multi-competent team. We are also so lucky as to be working in a setting where I can feel proud about telling people I am from the employment service,” says Anna Caballero.

“Cooperation and co-habitation with the municipality is crucial when we work with multi-competent teams. Thanks to the broad skills-base we are able to center our resources around the needs of the youths. This cuts time and it’s cost-effective. What we are doing here is focussing on meeting the individual and re-package everything which can be found within the employment service,” says Petra Jansson.

Facts about the Bishop

UNGKOMP is a joint project between the Swedish Public Employment Service and 20 municipalities, running between 2015 and 2018. The project allows municipalities and the employment service to coordinate their resources in order to reduce youth unemployment and improve the way the authorities work. The purpose is to work together in multi-competent teams to help unemployed youths at the stage the they are in. 

The concept is built on the positive and tested working methods developed at the project Unga in (‘Youths included’), which was partially financed by the European Social Fund, and which ran between 2012-2014.

Out of 1,023 youths who finished the Unga in project, 31 percent found jobs, 31 percent started studying, 25 percent quit for known reasons and 13 percent left for unknown reasons.


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