“With small means and good will you can accomplish a lot in a short period of time”, says Henrik Lundgren, CEO of EFL, the School of Economics and Management’s foundation for executive education. In six weeks, the foundation started an integration project for newly arrived academics in Sweden, several of whom have already acquired permanent employment.
EFL’s integration project entailed providing 19 newly arrived academics with strong CVs – mainly economists from Syria and Afghanistan – with 16-week internships at various businesses in southern Sweden. The internship was combined with evening classes in Swedish institutions, Swedish economic history and business administration.
It was learning by doing. EFL quickly realised that they could not target the many who arrived as refugees during the autumn of 2015, as they had not yet received their residence permits. Neither could they distinguish between war refugees and those who had arrived for other reasons
“We wanted to show that it could be done quickly”, says Henrik Lundgren, “and also that it wasn’t a problem getting teaching staff to agree to work evenings.”
One of the teachers on the course is Anna Glenngård, senior lecturer at the Department of Business Administration.
“This was a super challenging and fun experience. The students had very diverse skill sets. Some of them had a higher level of expertise than I had imagined”, she says.
Project manager and operational developer at the University’s holding company Erik Larsson finds that the strong commitment shown by both the teaching staff and the companies was something special.
“It’s very rewarding to work on something where everyone wants to help out, and when the course participants finally arrived they proved to be equally hard-working and committed”, he says.
The course evaluations from the businesses and the participants were generally very positive.
“But for the next course, we will try to schedule it one day a week during daytime, because it’s tough living in one city, doing an internship in another, and then attend evening classes in Lund”, says Erik Larsson.
So far, 19 of the interns have gained permanent employment, and even more are still with the company where they did their internship but on fixed-term contracts. Some of the companies that employed their interns found that this allowed them to avoid spending time and money on long recruitment processes. One of the interns who have become permanently employed since the integration course last spring is Mina Susnjevic.
“Many of us have had to leave a career behind, and being an intern might feel like starting over, especially if you used to hold a management position in your home country. But the internship led me to a job at my dream company. You have to take every chance you get”, she says with a smile, proudly showing her new workplace at Tetra Pak.
Back home in Serbia she worked for 15 years within media and coffee industry – then love brought her to Sweden.
“All of us who attended the course shared a frustration in our job search. Not being called to an interview, sometimes not even receiving a reply to your application – even if you are educated and have professional experience.”
Both the course and the internship taught Mina Susnjevic a lot about how Sweden and Swedish people work. The leadership style here is completely different; many perceive Swedish managers as unclear or soft until they understand how decisions are made – after discussions and many meetings.
“Swedish business culture is like a slow-moving turtle – you can’t tell that it’s moving but all of a sudden you find that it’s managed to cross the road without getting run over. A lot has to do with planning and avoiding mistakes. But is works! In the rest of Europe, decisions are made quickly and mistakes have to be corrected as you go along.”
Several other initiatives to help newly arrived academics into Swedish society are now up and running all around the University. Soon the second round of the integration project will begin, and this time the economists who arrived during the major refugee influx of 2015 will be able to apply for the EFL project.
“Our project is described as a success and we have even been told by the Swedish Government that we are seen as a good example. But after all, only 19 people have gained permanent employment. Meanwhile, there is a huge demand. Last year alone 165 000 people applied for asylum in Sweden”, says Henrik Lundgren.