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Swedish Education Act amended to match labour market needs with education

Swedish Education Act amended to match labour market needs with education

| Text: Fayme Alm, photo: WorldSkills Sweden

The current imbalance between supply and demand in the upper secondary education system will be addressed. The aim is to make it easier for young people and adults to access the labour market and improve the welfare and business sectors’ access to skilled labour.

The Swedish parliament decided to make changes to the Education Act in June 2022. The changes pertain to the planning and dimensioning of certain educational programs in upper secondary schools and municipal adult education (Komvux).

A few weeks later, the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket) was tasked with continuously developing regional planning documents to assess "how well the educational offerings in each county match the demand for education among young people and adults and the labour market's need for people with upper secondary education,” writes Skolverket in its report "Utbud och efterfrågan på gymnasial utbildning. En nationell bild" (“Supply and demand for upper secondary education. A national overview”).

Evelina Fält

Evelina Fält competes in service during the WorldSkills competition in Gdansk 2023 (see sidebar). Photo WorldSkills Sweden

“The old wording in the Education Act said that when planning education programmes, the students’ preferences should be taken into account as much as possible. This requirement remains, but now the labour market’s needs should also be considered,” Anders Håkanson, head of the school information unit at Skolverket tells the Nordic Labour Journal. 

The decision is partly supported by surveys that have found the following: 

Municipalities will cooperate

The amended Education Act also brings another significant change – a requirement for municipal cooperation. All of Sweden’s 290 municipalities are required to cooperate with at least two other municipalities in education planning and implementation. 

“Many municipalities were already doing this before the amendment and much has happened since this became law on 1 July this year. For instance, all of Skåne County’s 33 municipalities cooperate with the municipalities of Sölvesborg, Karlshamns, Olofström and Ronneby in Blekinge County," says Anders Håkansson.

Skolverket published the first regional planning document on 31 October 2023. This is the initial step on the road to improved regional cooperation, explains Anders Håkansson.

“Regional planning documents allow us to determine how well education provisions in each county match with the educational needs among young people and adults, and to estimate the labour market’s need for people with upper secondary education,” he says.

Regional planning documents will be published every three years in future.

The new legislation, like the old version, does not impose any demands to take into account the overall upper secondary educational needs on a national level.    

Lack of supply

Anders HåkanssonA majority of students in Sweden choose to take upper secondary education that prepares them for university. Meanwhile, vocational education programmes are short of places on some courses and struggle to fill others. 

“The biggest adjustment needs to be made in the industrial technical programs in upper secondary education, such as welding, industrial manufacturing and similar professions. There is a huge demand here, alongside a shortage of education programs for these professions almost everywhere in the country, both in upper secondary schools and in Komvux,” says Anders Håkansson.

But this is about more than just increasing the number of education spaces. There is also a considerable need to boost interest in these professions.

Daniel Åhman

Daniel Åhman competing in private car technology at the WorldSkills competition in Gdansk (see sidebar). Photo: WorldSkills Sweden 

“When Skolverket visits the regions to host various network meetings, the idea is to create dialogue and cooperation so that we can face these challenges. In this context, career counsellors and those who work with APL (work-based learning) play a particularly important role. 

No quick fix

Ander Håkansson takes a long-term perspective. Changes like these require major decisions and long processes. 

“This is for instance about reducing the shortage of vocational teachers and access to APL in certain areas. Those are bottlenecks that make it difficult to expand rapidly. So, this has to be the starting point for something new,” says Anders Håkansson.

Cooperation between authorities

One of the authorities Skolverket works with – beyond the Swedish Higher Education Authority, the Council for Higher Education and the Public Employment Service – is the National Agency for Higher Vocational Education. This is a central administrative authority under the Ministry of Education whose key function is to take responsibility for “Higher Vocational Education in Sweden (HVE) to ensure that HVE programmes meet the labour market's needs for a qualified workforce”. 

Higher educational education programmes are available throughout Sweden and in various industries. They are at a post-upper secondary level and typically run over two years. 

Analyses determine the supply

Jenny TwanaThe Nordic Labour Journal spoke to Jenny Twana, head of analysis and applications at the National Agency for Higher Vocational Education. We asked her how the Agency finds out which education programmes will be sought after.

“We monitor the labour market’s needs in various ways. The regional development responsibility that we have, shortened RUA, means that each region has at least one RUA function with the responsibility of meeting the labour market’s needs within that region. This way we find out whether the needs vary between regions, which they sometimes do.” 

The Agency also maintains contact with various trade organisations and can in addition gauge the needs in the labour market based on applications they receive from education providers.

“We also extensively monitor the ongoing situation and create and publish our own area analyses. They are now even more detailed than before. This is something we have decided to do to increase transparency in our work, says Jenny Twana. 

So far, the Agency has published 35 area analyses and aims to publish 50.

Possible delays

She points out that it can be difficult to predict what will happen in the labour market and make long-term analyses beyond five years. 

“During the pandemic, sectors like entertainment, film and television were hard hit, but this market has recovered, so it is important not to draw too many conclusions from such events.”  

Right now, Jenny Twana does not predict any acute events that should herald a sudden change in the education programmes approved by the Authority.

“We have already taken into account the development in the green industry that we currently see in the north of Sweden. It can be difficult to suddenly change, but as an agency, we are more flexible than many other educational authorities,” says Jenny Twana.

There can be a certain lag in the supply of education programmes even at the Authority for Higher Vocational Education. This could happen if the demand for certain professions suddenly increases or decreases.

"Our time frame is three to five years. Our assessments should remain valid during that time. If sudden needs should arise, it is necessary to keep in mind that there might be a certain lag. After all, we need to review and evaluate the applications that come in from education providers," says Jenny Twana.

WordSkills Sweden

 is a collaborative effort between the Swedish Trade Union Confederation), the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, and the Swedish government, represented by the Ministry of Education, the National Agency for Education (Skolverket), and the Swedish Authority for Higher Vocational Education. Through partnerships with businesses, vocational boards, industry organisations, and schools, this collaboration is tasked with increasing the status, quality, and attractiveness of Swedish professions and vocational education.

The need to enhance the status of vocational education is not limited to Sweden alone. In the image above, you can see Marcus Gustafson competing in painting during the WorldSkills Competition in Gdansk in September 2023. A total of 600 participants from 32 countries participated.


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