How should Sweden attract talent?

In early 2018 Mundus International published the State of Expat Life in Sweden report with some clear conclusions and recommendations.

  1. Lack of talent is now an issue of strategic importance for the national economy. Simply put, Sweden can’t grow if it doesn’t bring in the right talent.
  2. The foundational issues such as a lack of housing and egregious management of visas are well identified, even if solutions are not coming at the speed which they need to.
  3. On average, internationals moving to Sweden are not as happy with their careers as one might expect. But the average probably masks an underlying reality that while most are pretty happy, a significant minority are unhappy. That minority is often made up of trailing spouses.
  4. Internationals struggle with social life. This should not be a surprise any more – for several years, the local press has run with InterNations’ headlines about Sweden being a challenging destination for expats.

Further evidence of just how critical talent is to Sweden’s economy came in December from, Håkan Gustavsson, the Head of Employment, at the Employment Agency (Arbetsförmedlingen), who said “We are at the top of a boom, it is the highest capacity utilization we have ever measured among employers … a record high percentage of private employers now state that they need to recruit … (and) the proportion of employers who report that they are having difficulty recruiting is also at record levels, preventing them from growing.[1]

Given the huge demand for employees, which contrasted with the mixed experience that our respondents reported, Mundus’s conclusion was that Sweden could do more to enrich the experience of foreigners moving here. We are happy to say that one place is giving the issue priority. Lund municipality is raising the bar, and here we are highlighting their achievements, which we think could be observed as a national benchmark. In fact, in several ways, it already is, and Gothenburg is following the Lund lead.

Why Lund?

The town of Lund, just 50km north of Malmö, is regarded by many as a picturesque, slightly sleepy university town. While parts of that story are correct – it is picturesque and it has a historic university, that is only the first part of the story. Lund University itself is regarded as one of the best universities in Sweden and does very well in global rankings as well[2].

But Lund’s academic interest now extends well beyond the university. The amazing MAX IV facility, products the highest quality of X-rays available to scientists in the whole world. These X-rays are used to understand and explain the world, allowing scientists to develop new materials and products, such as medications with fewer side-effects, nanoparticles for paints, catalysis or computing, or lighter and stronger packaging materials.

The European Spallation Source (or ESS) is also under construction. ESS will complement today’s leading neutron sources, enabling new opportunities for researchers across the spectrum of scientific discovery, including materials and life sciences, energy, environmental technology, cultural heritage and fundamental physics. Together, ESS and Max IV mark Lund out as a place of major scientific discovery.

The area around Lund has also become a place for cutting edge businesses to be spun-out from the university. Many of these are housed in Ideon, a science park and innovation centre adjacent to the university. A number of major companies, such as Sony, are also clustered in the area and Lund has plans to build from existing strengths – creating clusters around materials science, cleantech and smart mobility. Given its growth ambitions, Lund needs to think strategically about how it attracts talent, and then helps people and companies to perform at their best.

Talent attraction and management for cities

Much has been written about the war for talent in the last two decades. There are regions which are considered global talent centres with their ability to attract the best and brightest. Silicon Valley is the most obvious, but also the area around Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, and Singapore, in Asia. But, what do regions do which have the ambition to lift their economic performance and competitive standing, but lack an existing brand? This gap has inspired a new pedagogy – Talent Attraction. What began a decade ago with one or two regions trying to put themselves on the map has motivated others to try. This is particularly an issue for lesser known European regions, but also extends to North America and Singapore. Professionals working in the area need to master a range of issues; from how to brand their city, getting the message out to the world, recruiting and then ensuring a soft-landing for individuals. Those are the basic issues, but the challenges rarely stop there, as constraints such as visas or lack of housing frequently need to be overcome.

To Lund’s credit, it is thinking about these issues strategically. Three years ago, Lund municipality decided to establish the International Citizen Hub Lund (ICHL). The hub is a home-away-from-home, where its’ easy environment is designed to help expats settle and to provide them with information that they need – everything from the Swedish tax system to cultural adjustments. Recently, ICHL hosted a workshop in which participants from a number of European regions participated to benchmark best practice and learn from other practitioners about Talent Attraction and Management.

The attendees listened to the experience of Kajal Sanghrajka, a Churchill Fellow Researcher, who studied entrepreneurship amongst immigrants in 9 countries. While Kajal had many takeaways, her overarching theme was that talent attraction without talent retention was a recipe for failure, a conclusion that segues nicely to our next theme.

What does the International Citizen’s Hub do?

The Hub is very focused on the issue of talent retention and makes practical improvements to expats lives in a myriad of ways. At its simplest this means being a one-stop-shop for information about Sweden, Lund and the southern region. Information is available via its newsletter and website, but the Hub goes much deeper than that, bringing experts from Skatteverket (tax) or migration lawyers onsite for seminars. The Hub hosts more than 100 such seminars each year, providing a constant draw for internationals to come onsite and meet with other members of the community.

Much international talent is of course moving with their families, and the lot of a trailing spouse is frequently the make or break factor in deciding whether the family will stay. So, each year the Hub has space for 120 spouses to go through its’ Kick-Start program, training new arrivals in vital skills for the local market – everything from writing a resume the Swedish way to interview tips and starting your own firm. The free program, funded by the Lund municipality, makes a big difference to large numbers of spouses and their families.

Opportunities in Lund

Lund has a very large number of opportunities becoming available every year. Ideon Science Park, which is just one part of the growth ecosystem in the region houses over 400 companies employing over 10,000 people. Ideon aims to employ around 500 extra skilled programmers each year to work with its high-tech start-ups, which is several times the number trained at the university. Given that start-ups frequently lack the resources to import the talent themselves, Ideon finds itself working alongside the companies to locate and attract talent. With such a deficit of skills in the region Ideon needs to be adaptive to the opportunities available. It has found Syrian refugees to be a great resource, and has landed roles for dozens, and uses EU programs to bring in European students. But, with over 1,000 international employees onsite the talent comes from almost everywhere, including China, Japan, north Africa and South America.

Where to next?

With many different types of challenges to be overcome, the team at Lund needs to be focused on operations. Delivery is key. Nonetheless, 3 years into its mission it is now poised for expansion. Part of that is to think about what it might achieve next. Malmö has already partnered with the Hub, and there’s room for expansion of this relationships. But with Stockholm seeming to lack anything of the scale or sophistication of ICHL, perhaps there are opportunities to export the model north?



[2] The Times Higher Education ranks it third in Sweden and #93 globally!/page/0/length/25/sort_by/rank/sort_order/asc/cols/stats