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The battery factory turning Sweden's migration flow 180°

The battery factory turning Sweden's migration flow 180°

| Text: Fayme Alm

Five years. That is how long Sweden has left to succeed with its green transition. The big challenge will be to get people to move to where the jobs are and for society to change in step with the changes in industry.

From the north to the south. Half a century ago, that was the direction of migration in Sweden. But with the establishment of green industries and expansions in the north of the country, the tide has turned – or rather it should have turned. There is still a need for thousands more to choose to settle and generate tax revenue where the jobs are.    

Skellefteå municipality in the northeast will need people to fill at least 15,000 new jobs in the next 15 years. The jobs are being created directly or indirectly by Northvolt’s battery factory, where lithium batteries for EVs and storage are made. The plant was inaugurated in May 2022, and the second production line is under construction – helped mainly by staff who fly in and who do not live permanently in the municipality.

Extraordinary measures are needed

“We were out one Sunday to talk to construction workers at the plant. Sunday is their only day off. We asked what information they need in order to make the decision to move here permanently,” Ida Rönnblom tells the Nordic Labour Journal.

She heads the Office for transformation and matching in the north with offices in Skellefteå and Luleå. It was set up by the Swedish Public Employment Service last year on commission from the government, in order to improve the recruitment of competence when big industries are established or expanded. 

The office is in a start-up phase and only recently became fully staffed. Their task will be to monitor local markets to map what employees and employers need and to work with overarching issues like regulation changes and movement patterns among job seekers.

“Right now we are mainly working with the municipalities in the West and North Bothnia regions where the industrial change brought on by battery development and fossil-free steel production creates particular demands for societal change. This is something the local municipalities need help to achieve,” says Ida Rönnblom.

Innovative ideas are needed

The employment service has long offered labour market training in areas that have needed it. This model is not sufficient to secure the amount of labour needed for the industry and municipalities of Norrland.

“Today’s challenge is that the need is here, while the people who are interested and who need to do the training are somewhere else. For them it is not economically viable to move in order to get the training,” says Rönnblom. 

She and the others at the Office for transformation and matching are looking for innovative ideas and answers to questions like: 

  • Can we create training in different ways, in other places?
  • Could the training take place remotely with in-house training with companies and other employers in Western or Northern Bothnia,  Sweden’s northernmost regions?
  • How do we improve what already exists? Are there for instance measures that might benefit job seekers, like internships, existing international networks in Europe, and information for job seekers?
  • What do we need to do to make sure these tools make it easier for people to move?

Examples might be to cooperate with suppliers and other social players, packages created in cooperation with local employers, help with relocation from various players and municipalities, and the lowering of thresholds and activities that allow people to try things out before committing to a move. 

Rules need revising

One concrete example that the office is currently working on is the level of compensation people get for domestic travel to attend job interviews. The amount available limits employers' chances of getting more people to apply for existing jobs, explains Rönnblom.

“The rules say travel and accommodation costs will be covered up to 2,500 kronor (€225). If you want to go from southern Sweden to Norrland to meet an employer, that sum will not even buy you a return ticket.” 

For the whole nation

The task given to the Public Employment Service and the Office for transformation and matching is national in nature. Measures will create results that will have an impact far outside West and North Bothnia. 

“If Sweden is to reach its climate goals and have the world’s first fossil-free industry by 2024, we have to perform a social transformation we have never before attempted. Beyond that, the companies have invested over 1,100 billion kronor (€98.7 billion) in North and West Bothnia as part of the green social transition,” says Ida Rönnblom. 

The speed must increase 

Time is running out. If Sweden is to succeed with the transformation and maintain its leading position in climate change mitigation, the coming five years will be crucial, according to Peter Larsson’s report from 30 November last year. 

He is the Swedish government’s coordinator for the setting up of new companies and the expansion of existing ones in West and North Bothnia.  

The two most crucial requisites for success, according to Peter Larsson, are the speed with which people can move to the regions plus more efficient adult education programmes. His conclusion is therefore that training should take place where the skills can be used – regardless of trade.

Local training programmes for a hot labour market

Skellefteå municipality’s adult education office is one of several local providers of training. They offer training for occupations that are all needed for the green industry transition, including:

  • Automation operators in process and production
  • Quality technicians  
  • Maintenance technicians 
  • Material handlers 
  • Process technicians

The courses last from three to 20 weeks and have been created in dialogue with Northvolt, Boliden, ABB, Kedali, Dongjin and others. Students are free to apply to any employer at the end of their training. 

“The curriculum is relevant for other industries besides Northvolt and we see that some people apply for jobs at other companies. But Northvolt hires the majority of those who finish the courses,” head of education at Skellefteå adult education Bo-Erik Strömbäck tells the Nordic Labour Journal. 

Knowing English is a prerequisite for several of the courses, as it is often the teaching language. English is also the language used at Northvolt and by some of the other employers too, explains Bo-Erik Strömbäck. 

“The labour market is very hot and the situation is very different from three to four years ago. So everything we do at adult education helps everyone. A warehouse worker can also be hired by Northvolt. And when we train electricians or bus drivers we are helping the region,” says Bo-Erik Strömbäck. 

“Northvolt is the main player that drives the change for the entire region, perhaps for all of Sweden. What happens here, spreads like ripples in a pond.”


The battery factory is situated in Skellefteå municipality. According to Northvolt's head of communication, the factory has recruited 1,600 of the more than 4,000 people who will be working there when it reaches full production in 2025/2026.

Right now, the company is recruiting between 50 and 100 people a month. It still needs operators, technicians and engineers.

Photo: Spisen - Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0


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