Today, nearly one out of four young people in Sweden is unemployed. This mirrors the European Union average. Other than the Middle East and Africa, this is the highest rate in the world.
The impact this has on businesses in Sweden, and roles the country’s higher education system and companies have in addressing this issue was the topic for AmCham Sweden members who attended a Breakfast Seminar at the offices of Mannheimer Swartling in Stockholm on April 10, 2014.
Martin Hjerpe, a Partner at McKinsey and Company in Stockholm, and Ebba Sjögren from the Stockholm School of Economics, addressed the issue from both a research and academic perspective. The core of the presentation referenced “Education to Employment: Getting Europe’s Youth into Work” – a study compiled by the McKinsey Center for Government.
Hjerpe began with a series of questions that brought facts forward from the study. This included whether youth unemployment was a problem of supply or demand, if this was a universal challenge across all industry sectors, and what the real obstacles are in matching the wants of young job seekers with the needs of business.
“Despite the high unemployment rate, employers say they can’t find people with the right skills,” Hjerpe explained. “And 33 percent of employers and youth alike say they are not prepared for entry-level jobs.” Citing the study, Hjerpe continued. “Employers say that hard skills, such as math, English and computer competence are sufficient, but Swedish youth are not as well prepared when they attempt to enter the workforce with soft skills such as leadership and teamwork.”
Speaking from her experience as an accounting professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, Sjögren agreed with the study’s findings. “Understanding culture, politics, communication and argumentation are the sorts of soft skills that take time and are ambiguous for many students,” Sjögren stated. “High achiever students understand that good grades and experience are necessary to get the types of jobs they have been studying for, but this also means they have to be incredibly efficient. So they may not prioritize the time needed to develop soft skills.”
While a myriad of challenges exist for Swedish businesses to attract the best prospective young employees, and vice versa, some things are clear to both Hjerpe and Sjögren: The communication and expectation gaps between academia and business must narrow or Sweden could be facing a lost generation of workers who may never reach their full potential.