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The Intensive Year: 12 months to find jobs for Swedish immigrants

The Intensive Year: 12 months to find jobs for Swedish immigrants

| Text: Fayme Alm

The Helsingborg employment service got ready as soon as the government announced its decision, and was prepared when the Intensive Year was launched on 15 April this year. One month later, 40 job seekers have been contacted. One of them is Mehmet.

Mehmet studied science in his home country Turkey and later trained to be a teacher. He arrived in Sweden as a political refugee 18 months ago.

“I was a science teacher for 24 years at a high-status Ankara school and I loved my job. But after both I and my wife spent time in prison because of our political beliefs, we no longer dared to stay in the country,” Mehmet tells the Nordic Labour Journal as we meet on a sunny afternoon at an outdoor café in a fishing village on the Öresund coast.  

Mehmet is now participating in the Intensive Year, a government programme run by the Swedish Public Employment Service aimed at newly arrived citizens. The job seekers must already be part of the Establishment Programme, which is being offered to people between 20 and 65 who has recently secured permission to stay as a refugee, in need of protection or dependant.  

Detailed conversation

The Helsingborg employment service office is in Söder, a neighbourhood with a high unemployment rate. Elizabeth Meléndez is one of the two caseworkers who work with the Intensive Year for the regional employment office, which covers 11 municipalities. 

“In late March we started identifying people we could invite for a meeting to ask them questions and find out whether they could be candidates for the Intensive Year – as soon as it kicked off,” she tells the Nordic Labour Journal.

The first meeting is mainly to gather information, and there is a lot of it, explains Meléndez. That is why each candidate is always met by two caseworkers.

“Our job is not only to register information but also to collect various points of view. Working as a pair is far more efficient than holding conversations and registrations on your own. It is important not to lose sight of anything.”

More than an unemployed person

If the candidate is motivated and can participate full-time in the Intensive Year, a new meeting is arranged to gather even more information. At a third meeting, the candidate is asked to talk about who they are as a person. 

“These are fun and fantastic conversations where the candidate describes themselves and talks about who they are beyond being an unemployed person. Everyone needs to be seen and when we talk about who we are, we grow,” says Elizabeth Meléndez. 

In order to avoid misunderstandings, an interpreter is present during all of the meetings.

From dream job to real work

The time schedule must be observed, so the matching between job seeker and employer start as soon as the Intensive Year is approved by both parties. The aim is to find a suitable employer who can offer intensive practical work that lasts for six to nine months. 

“We only have 12 months. What can we achieve in that time? What is realistic and what feels good? We respect people’s desire to find their dream job, but it is not always possible and we sometimes need to settle with getting the candidate into the labour market. Preferably in the trade that the candidate has asked for,” says Elizabeth Meléndez.

When matching people with jobs, Elizabeth Meléndez and her colleague use Matching from day one –which the national research project Jämställd etablering (Gender equal integration) has tested and found efficient. In its first interim report, the project shows that the job seeker’s informal skills, motivation and qualities is likely to be of great value for employers seeking the right kind of person.

Women need more time

There is a majority of women participants in the project both in Helsingborg and nationally. Using the process described above, it is possible to compensate for non-documented former education and the lack of references from former employers. 

Both of the caseworkers in Helsingborg also know that the timetable can be different for women than for men when it comes to making a decision which will have an impact on more people than themselves. 

“Women often need more time before making a final decision. There might be cultural reasons like their family responsibilities. But we also see opportunities in growing trades like in logistics. Here you can often find jobs and internships that can be carried out in the early hours, in the evenings and some weekends. These will sometimes be more suitable than an 8 to 5 weekday job,” says Elizabeth Meléndez.

Other sectors offering internships include elderly care and services like cleaning, as well as private schools. Internships with public employers are rarer, partly because of confidentiality issues, explains Elizabeth Meléndez.

Language is a reason, not a barrier

The Swedish language is central throughout the Intensive Year. But English courses can be relevant. As Elisabeth Meléndez says, a published and experienced researcher with no English skills might struggle to get a Job in Sweden where most scientific texts are written in that language.  

“We try to focus on what the job seeker can do with the knowledge and skills they have today. Language should not be a barrier, but something that is constantly being developed. That is why we focus so much on language for three months and later based on each person’s need,” says Elizabeth Meléndez. 

Mehmet is now studying basic Swedish. He is considering joining a course in occupational Swedish too. 

“My Turkish education has been validated and approved by the Swedish Council for Higher Education. My aim is to get a Swedish teaching certificate, so I have signed up for a course for foreign teachers run by Malmö University. I am also applying for internships at various schools in the Helsingborg area. It would be nice if I could combine this with a course in occupational Swedish,” says Mehmet.

Because of his status as a political refugee, we have not used his real name.

The Intensive Year

 Eva Nordmark

Three questions for Minister for Employment Eva Nordmark about the Intensive Year. 

Why has the government introduced the Intensive Year?

We aim to improve integration by getting newly arrived people quicker into work. It is necessary to do everything possible to reduce unemployment, and getting jobs for newly arrived people is part of this. 

What does the government expect from the Intensive Year?

We have high expectations for the Intensive Year! The aim is to get jobs for participants within one year after they start their Intensive Year. This is good for integration and for competence maintenance. 

I want to highlight two issues that are particularly important to succeed. Firstly, the integration should be gender-equal. To achieve that, women and men must face the same high expectations, demands and get the same support. Secondly, we need many partners to execute the programme – trade unions, municipalities, employers and civil society. Together they can help with internships, mentor programmes and more, as well as language courses and introductions to the labour market. 

Can the initiative be made permanent?

The Intensive Year is meant to be permanent and it is an initiative that we believe will be very important in the work to improve integration in years to come.

Elizabeth Melendéz

at the public employment service in Helsingborg (above) is one of those responsible for executing the Intensive Year.


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