‘Swedish for Immigrants’ (SFI) is the national language learning course offered for a minimum of two years to all immigrants in Sweden. The programme is compulsory for resettled refugees and their financial benefits can depend on attendance. In 2009, SFI added a vocational training component to the language training. The programme is the first of its kind in Sweden and is currently carried out in ten municipalities across Gävleborg. The Labour Market Training courses amount to 25 hours per week and are taken in addition to the required 15 hours of Swedish. Labour Market Training courses last from 20 to 60 weeks, depending on the profession. Courses include welding, bus driving, personal assistance/care, gardening and cleaning. A language teacher is present during vocational training to provide work-related language instruction and classroom communication skills. Unemployed refugees who have been in Sweden for less than three years and are registered at the employment office may apply for the Labour Market Training Programme. Generally, refugees participating in the vocational training component have an intermediate to advanced level of Swedish; however, two new training groups (cleaning and gardening) have been added for refugees with beginner’s level Swedish and low literacy skills. Upon completion of vocational training, refugees receive an official certificate of their professional, accredited training. The employment office liaises with employers in order to introduce both the programme and the refugees looking for vocational placements.
A government-sponsored study completed several years ago in Sweden expressed concern that some refugees were only finding steady work after seven or eight years in the country. This project was initiated to address the dual challenge of integration into the job market and language acquisition. Connecting language and vocational training was proposed as a way to focus language training and speed up labour market integration. By adding a ‘realworld’ employment focus to language training, the programme aimed to help refugees both avoid isolation and develop their skills.
In 2011, approximately 200 places (10 different training groups) were made available. Companies and training centres alike have been very satisfied with refugee participants due to their strong motivation to work and learn.
Refugees may have to travel long distances to attend classes; some travel up to 200 km per day on public transport. This reflects the fact that some small towns in Sweden take in significant numbers of refugees but do not have enough vocational training or job opportunities. Consequently, refugees must be willing to travel in order to train or work. Maintaining effective communication and cooperation amongst the various partners throughout the country is also a constant challenge.