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‘A real eye-opener’: the Swedish university future-proofing careers

Whether you live in Sweden or elsewhere, the kind of skills you most need for tomorrow’s job market are changing. This means one more challenge to overcome for anyone living abroad or wishing to move abroad.

‘A real eye-opener’: the Swedish university future-proofing careers
Photo: Linköping University graduate Elias Hallack working at SKF

But some educational institutions excel in helping you to prepare for the future. That’s certainly true of Linköping University (LiU) in southern Sweden, which ranks in the worldwide top 50 for universities founded in the past 50 years.

Do you want to specialise in sustainable engineering or making sense of migration? Aircraft design or ageing populations? LiU offers 30 international programmes taught in English, covering all these fields and many more. 

The Local spoke with two international graduates, now working in major Swedish companies, who took their future into their own hands through their choice of Master’s studies.

Browse the full range of Master’s and degree programmes taught in English at Linköping University 

An eye-opening education

“I would definitely say I’m helping to create a more sustainable future,” says Elias Hallack. “I feel sure that I’m contributing to the change in this industry – and in the world.”

Elias, who is half-Syrian and half-Brazilian, began working as an environmental analysis specialist at Swedish industrial giant SKF in September after completing a two-year Master’s in Sustainability Engineering and Management at LiU. 

He uses skills he learned during his studies “on a daily basis” to gain a true picture of what’s kind to the environment and what isn’t.

“You look not only at a product’s use phase but the whole life cycle – extraction of the raw materials, transportation, production and the end of life, whether that means landfill, incineration, or recycling,” says Elias. “Learning about this was a real eye-opener for me in terms of how to think about things and see all the dimensions.” 

Marcela Miranda, from Brazil, has been a sustainability specialist at Ikea for nearly three years. Like Elias, she’s concerned about climate change but feels sure she’s contributing to a positive transformation through the skills she learned during a two-year Master’s in Science for Sustainable Development.

Ikea is aiming to become a fully circular business by 2030 and Marcela analyses sustainability data and KPIs for paper suppliers. She’s “putting into practice” technological skills for powerfully illustrating potential climate impacts that she learned at LiU.

“There’s a Decision Arena at the Norrköping campus, where the whole room is full of screens,” Marcela explains. She says this was a priceless tool for using maps and graphs to clearly communicate the potential impact of different business choices.

Linköping University’s Decision Arena. Photo: LiU

“I use this approach a lot in my current job,” she says. “We collect our suppliers’ sustainability data and give them feedback every year, so we need [to create] nice visualisations.” This data is one of the factors taken into account in Ikea’s sourcing decisions, she adds.

Future-proof your own prospects: check out all Linköping University’s programmes in English and use this form to request further information on any programme

Comprehensive and collective 

Elias and Marcela, who both came to study in Sweden with scholarships from the Swedish Institute, each say that LiU offers a comprehensive approach to the topics they care about that sets it apart. 

“I chose Linköping University because the sustainable engineering programme included not only renewable energy and sustainable energy sources but also design and social aspects of sustainability,” says Elias.

Marcela, who came to Sweden from São Paulo in 2016 and completed her Master’s in 2018, says: “I looked at the course descriptions and there was a lot of really advanced technology that we don’t have in universities in Brazil.” 

Photo: Marcela Miranda and her parents at Linköping University

Looking back, one more reason now stands out: “I heard from students on other Master’s that the university always emphasises critical thinking, even with something like the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

This dedication to scrutinising everything in the search for solutions also inspires a collective feeling of belonging, according to Marcela: “There’s a real sense of togetherness among the students.”

Diverse paths to a future-proof career

If you’re looking to future-proof your career, focusing on sustainability is one option of many. Perhaps your interest lies in how societies should cope with ageing populations or in challenging and reimagining gender norms? There are Master’s degrees at LiU for you too. 

There are also a wide range of engineering and scientific Master’s programmes, such as Biomedical Engineering, Statistics and Machine Learning, and Communications Systems (with the university at the forefront of research into 5G). You can view all 30 international programmes in this 2022 prospectus and you can use this form to get more information on any programme within an hour.

Elias, who did a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in Syria, says the more relaxed style of teaching in Sweden helped him “grow in confidence” through discussions with his professors. Teaching staff also helped him submit research to a life cycle engineering conference in Belgium, where he hopes to make a presentation next year. “I believe these good relationships with my professors will also help me in the future if I ever need to ask for help,” he says.

Marcela praises the university’s CV workshops – which also encompass support with social media – for further supporting students to plan for the future.

And while she felt concerned about finding accommodation before leaving Brazil, she needn’t have worried. “As an international student, you’re really taken care of by the university and its international office,” she says. “They had everything arranged for me and also booked a taxi to pick me up at the airport. Everything was really easy, so don’t be afraid!”

Want a better future for yourself and the planet? Check out all Linköping University’s Master’s and degree programmes in English. Then find out how to apply (applications for 2022 close on January 17th)

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WORKING IN SWEDEN

‘Hard to know your rights’: three quarters of foreigners in Sweden afraid of losing job

With Sweden's economy likely to dip into recession next year, more than three-quarters of respondents to a survey by The Local have said they are "slightly" or "extremely" worried about losing their jobs.

'Hard to know your rights': three quarters of foreigners in Sweden afraid of losing job

Out of 53 respondents to our (highly unscientific) survey, 28 said they were “slightly worried” about losing their job and 13 “extremely worried”, with the remaining twelve saying they were not worried at all. 

Most of the foreign workers who weren’t worried either work in industries or companies expected to weather any downturn or have skills, such as IT programming, of which there is a shortage in Sweden. 

“I work in an area of IT that helps businesses reduce costs, so I expect my employer to be busier,” wrote Geoff, who lives in Stockholm. “I keep myself updated with the latest trending technologies,” added Sachin, who like Geoff works in IT. 

“My skills are needed in both Sweden and all over the world, and the company I work for can use my skills on those contracts,” said one American software engineer. 

Those who were more worried mainly worked in other fields.

One employee for a Swedish religious aid organisation said that a tenth of the staff had recently been made redundant, with a further 25 percent resigning in protest, and that he, as a result, now felt his position was insecure.  

READ ALSO: How will Sweden’s Employment Act reform impact foreigners?

What measures have people taken to make their financial positions more secure? 

There was a clear division among the survey’s respondents between those who have permanent residency, Swedish citizenship, or EU citizenship, and those who are employed in Sweden on a two-year work permit. 

“I am still waiting for my permanent residence permit,” said one. “There is a rule that requires you to be a permanent employee both at the time you apply and when the Migration Agency makes a decision. Current processing times are around six months and this creates a lot of uncertainties. If you lose your job while waiting for a decision, you will lose your right to permanent residence and it’s not clear how much time you will have to find a new job.” 

Although many of those on work permits were still members of an a-kassa, Sweden’s heavily subsidised unemployment insurance organisations, they said that they feared they would not receive the full benefits if they were made unemployed, as they risked being forced to leave Sweden. 

“If you are a permanent resident or citizen, the employee benefits from a-kassa and unemployment insurance is quite good,” one wrote. “But this doesn’t apply if you are on a temporary work permit. In that case, you will still have to leave the country in three months if you can’t find a new job and I am not sure if you can continue receiving unemployment benefits once your work permit expires.” 

A few respondents said that they had taken out additional insurance on top of their a-kassa membership, so they would replace their full salary if made redundant, while others said that they had joined the union in their workplace. 

However, a significant number of the respondents said they were relying mainly on their own private protection, with several saying they had reduced their spending to build up a cash buffer, others saying they had built up an investment portfolio. 

In addition, many said they constantly sought to improve their value as an employee through in-work skills training, working hard and making themselves indispensable. 

How did respondents rate the employment protection in Sweden? 

In general, respondents rated the system of employment protection in Sweden quite highly, with the 53 respondents rating it at seven out of ten, on a scale from “poor” to “excellent”. 

Source: Typeform/The Local

Strong employee rights and a fairly equal health system are important elements of Sweden’s system,” wrote one respondent approvingly, while another said it was a comfort to know that “there is a process that is more or less in your favour”. 

Several respondents added, however, that the system was confusing and difficult to navigate for foreigners. 

“Coming from a country where employment laws are written to protect the employer, it’s hard to know all of your rights in Sweden, said one, while another said the employment protection laws were “hard to navigate as an immigrant”. 

Some questioned how useful Sweden’s unions were when employers were abusing the system, with the charity employee saying he was “not impressed with the Swedish union model” on the basis of his experience. 

“The effectiveness of the union depends too much on inexperienced, ineffective local staff, and unions do not have real teeth they can use in a case where an employer just ignores them,” he argued.

“As strange as it sounds, an employer that is not negotiating in good faith can just ignore and exhaust union demands and complaints. The union is reluctant to take things beyond sending written complaints to the employer. Even in cases where age discrimination occurs, the penalties are so small that claims are not worth pursuing.” 

Are foreigners planning on taking advantage of the new opportunities for retraining? 

Under new employment reforms which came into force in October, employees in Sweden are entitled to special loans for retraining courses, called omställningsstudiestödet. All employees can from this month apply for a loan for courses starting in January.

Nearly 70 percent of respondents said they would be interested in taking advantage of the new scheme. 

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