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Digital Frontrunners spotlight: Sweden

Sweden is undoubtedly one of the digital frontrunners in Europe – coming second behind Denmark in the recently announced results from the DESI 2018 Survey. This article will outline the digital skills policy prevailing in the Swedish system and highlight recent efforts that foster the creation of a more inclusive digital workforce. We examine how the skills provision is carried out in the labour market and highlight the key players designing and implementing these policies.

In Sweden, nearly half of the population have advanced digital skills, and, on top of that, around a third more possess the so-called basic digital skills. According to the recently launched European Commission's Digital Economy and Society Index 2018 (DESI) survey, Sweden is among the EU's most advanced digital economies alongside Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands. A key area of strength is in the development of ​​human capital where Sweden ranks third and shows progress in all dimensions of the category: whilst the country has the second highest number of ICT specialists in the labor market (6.3 percent), Swedish employees also have the second highest average score in ICT-related problem solving among OECD countries.

It is also worth mentioning Sweden’s exceptional job security with a back-to-work rate for displaced workers that remains high. In fact, no other OECD country outperforms the Swedes in re-employment - around 85% of laid-off employees find new work within a year. Surprisingly, the system hardly requires any involvement from the government. The Job Security Councils act as a private safety net for citizens and offer an alternative to government led re-employment. Additionally, the active role of the councils ensures there is a stable and continuous delivery of training and upskilling services to re-educate the Swedes.

Regardless of the re-employment policy, there is strong collaboration between the government, industry and various social partners in Sweden. The ministries that are responsible for the skills policies are mainly the Ministries of Education and Research, Employment, Enterprise and Innovation and Justice. While the Ministry of Education and Research works together with universities and higher vocational education to shape the Swedish education system, the two other ministries are responsible for ensuring education meets the needs of the labour market. This skills provision is ensured together with the Swedish Public Employment Service, the Migration Agency, county administrative boards and municipalities. The industry sector, on the other hand, supports the system by offering training activities through education companies and a variety of workforce training initiatives.

Whilst Sweden is a leader in digital transformation, further work remains. The country continues to drag behind many other EU countries when it comes to graduates in science and technology and companies report difficulties in recruiting ICT-specialists. Demand outstrips supply and the relatively low number of graduates in STEM is not expected to increase in the coming years. The Swedish tech sector has raised its concerns around the issue – last year the Swedish IT & Telecom companies stressed that in 2022 there will approximately be a gap of 70,000 ICT specialists, unless urgent measures are taken to attract more foreign workers with IT and digital technology skills.

The industry sector is not alone in signalling the need for people with stronger tech skills such as artificial intelligence and systems architecture. The government has also been approaching the issue as a matter of priority. Although the current national Digital Agenda dates back to 2011, the new Digital Strategy was established last year with clear goals towards a more digitally inclusive society, addressing issues including digital skills and infrastructure. The Swedish newspapers recently reported that the government has allocated SEK 10 million for digital skills education. This digital skills education push will be delivered to local and regional council officials and employees across Sweden's 290 municipalities.

“There is too little knowledge and an urgent need for a lift”

The Minister of Digitalisation Peter Eriksson

There are some other initiatives which seek to address the digital skills shortage in Sweden. Here we highlight some of the most promising public sector initiatives.

Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition

Concrete actions to implement the national strategy

Sweden launched a Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition [1] in May 2018. It is a a multi-stakeholder partnership focusing on skills uptake and life-long learning. It aims to raise interest in IT among young people and women. It is also a way of implementing the national strategy to digitalise the Swedish school system. The members of the new coalition include the Government’s Digitalisation Council [2], Swedsoft, the Swedish National Agency for Education, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, The Association of Swedish Engineering Industries, The Internet Foundation in Sweden and the Swedish IT and Telecom Industries.
It is Sweden’s aim to be the best in the world in digitalisation, thus digital skills was introduced as one of the focus areas in the strategy. In May 2017, the Government presented a strategy for how digital policy will support this ambition of becoming more competitive and deliver employment for all. The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition is one of the milestones for reaching these long-term goals
The Coalition will run a pilot project with universities. These will carry out short courses to reskill professionals. It will also launch an open digital platform that offers comprehensive lessons in digital skills and programming for schools. In addition to this, the Coalition and its partners are keen to support Sweden’s migration and integration policy in order to attract foreign talent to solve the digital skills gap. During the launch [3], the Coalition fleshed out various ideas ranging from training immigrants to work in the IT industry to collaborating with Indian education organisations with the aim of developing IT skills and finding suitable candidates for the Swedish IT industry.
The outcomes of the coalition are yet to be seen – so far it has been successfully addressing the shortage of digitally skilled people and facilitating the building of synergies between different stakeholders for the design and implementation of strategies.

Kickstart Digitalisering

Deepening the tech competence in SMEs

Kickstart Digitalisering [4] is the largest project funded by the The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth. It aims to strengthen the digitisation and competitiveness of small and medium-sized industrial companies (SMEs) in Sweden. It seeks to harness the work of SMEs by forming a network and striving for better profitability through digitisation. The project works with a simple and efficient start-up model to support the digitisation agenda in companies.
For many companies, the biggest challenge today is to work out their digitisation priorities, to understand what skills are needed in the future, and how to acquire them in the company. Kickstart Digitalization was created with the aim to help small and medium-sized companies wishing to develop new business models and to strengthen the company with new technical skills.
The project offers an intensive two-day programme during which the company leaders are empowered to ‘kickstart’ their digital journey by learning about the benefits of transformation and opportunities for business and job growth. The concept of kickstart Digitalization is based on a workshop series consisting of three sessions where companies share their experiences and ideas. The workshop results in concrete digitisation activities that companies will implement. Both employers and employees are encouraged to participate in the workshops. The programme is carried out nationally by Teknikföretagen, IF Metall, Swerea IVF, RISE, SISP and IUC, together with a number of local and regional partners.
The project has been piloted successfully as part of the Tillväxtverket’s Digilyft [5] programme and aims to engage 1000 businesses by the end of 2018. Previously, Kickstart Digitalization has been run in 10 locations in Sweden with very satisfied participants. The forthcoming workshop series is aimed specifically at engineers, which means the content will be pitched at a higher technical level this time round.

Vist the Kickstart Digitalisering website

A competence centre for Artificial Intelligence

For advanced tech education

The recently launched initiative [6] is a new piece in the government's AI jigsaw to improve education in AI. Together, seven universities - led by the Chalmers University of Technology - have set up the initiative after being commissioned by the government to provide training in AI to professionals. A budget of SEK 40 million for the years 2018-2019 has been allocated to establish and run the new platform.
The Swedish Government has identified a need to create a structure for providing training in AI to professionals. There is a pressing demand to shift the basic and mid-level skills professionals possess, to more advanced competencies, including AI. This upskilling initiative will help Sweden be more competitive where innovation is concerned.
The new competence centre for Artificial Intelligence will be led by the Chalmers Area of Advance, ‘Information and Communication Technology‘, where researchers from several departments, along with industry partners, students and guest researchers, will work together to create training programmes for Swedish professionals.
Work on the new project has already started and the goal is to open the centre in January 2019.

Skills360 Hackathon

Towards a data-driven public sector

Skills360 [7] is an initiative by the Swedish Agency for Government Employers [8]. The programme aims to gather the entire labor market – the state, business, academy, startups and associations - together to address the challenges caused by digitalisation. The platform of stakeholders is working on finding ways to deliver relevant skills in to the labor market of today. According to the organizers, the Skills360 Hackathon is a knowledge hack, not a programming hack.
Skills360 project aims to raise awareness on how we can address inclusion in order to gain access to everyone's skills. The platform was set up because there is an urgent need for a cross-sectoral collaboration to achieve these goals.
The series of workshops are an essential part of the programme. Ten workshops have already taken place in the spring to set the groundwork for the forthcoming hackathon which was held on the 11th of September this year and hosted by the Swedish Employers' Office at the Stockholm Cultural Center. From 80 participants, 40 were coming from government agencies. Others were from a cross-section of society sectors - associations, business, academy and start-ups. The aim is to find new solutions for how to include skills that are currently excluded but in growing demand in the labor market. The solutions will be taken up to the government level.
So far, the programme has organised ten workshops during which there has been conversations around digital skills policy and tackling skills mismatch in the labor market. The organisers have received several hundreds of successful examples already and almost as many challenges have been incorporated in the programme.

Visit the Skills360 Hackathon website


Boosting the digital skills in the creative sector

Digicreate [9] is a regional growth project that looks at how digitalisation will affect future tasks in cultural and creative industries with regard to gender equality, accessibility and equal treatment. Entrepreneurs in cultural and creative industries in the Borås region launched the project to enhance the digital skills of entrepreneurs and employees through its network Creative Cluster [10].
The idea for the project was born after Creative Cluster identified a growing demand for the entrepreneurs in cultural and creative industries in the Borås region to adapt to digital transformation. The problem analysis of the project indicated that a large proportion of employees and businesses only have a basic knowledge of the consequences of increasing digitalisation and often lack a strategy for what actions their businesses can take to optimize their potential. The project aims to raise awareness of the possibilities of digitalisation and to develop the knowledge of those who want to work on concrete measures. At the national level, the programme builds on the existing digital agenda and strategy for digitalisation.
The project will implement different types of education efforts at different levels to enable inclusive participation. The Digicreate curriculum holds breakfast lectures, full-time seminars and courses that extend over a semester.
Starting in autumn 2018 and continuing into spring 2019, a number of full day seminars will be held. In the spring, a more extensive programme will also start in the region. The training will be conducted partly in groups to stimulate new collaborations and create new joint digital products and innovations.

Visit the Creative Cluster website


Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Programme and Research Support, Digital Frontrunners

Karoliina supported Digital Frontrunners, Nesta's programme for future skills.

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