Would you learn Finnish or Greek for work?

I bet you would hesitate and yet it’s often a requirement in Global Mobility.

We Want You card with colorful background with defocused lights

Having helped companies with corporate relocation to bring foreign talent to Sweden for 25 years it hasn’t come to my attention that Swedish is a core competency that trumps actual skills. Yet, it does.

Only Scandinavians and, a token few, know Swedish. It’s a very small language and most local people have a decent command of English. Our third language such as German and French, nevermind Chinese or Hindi is sadly lacking. I must admit that I’m just bi-lingual if Scandinavian is one language and it would be a major hurdle to learn a third language well. Trust me, I have tried and I have failed.

Over the years we have encouraged our clients with limited language skills that move to Sweden to study English instead of Swedish because it’s perfectly usable here and a person will obviously have greater use for it in the future if they move along in the world. If they are local hires and here to stay then Swedish is essential to integrate and have a higher quality of life since it’s easier to connect with people.

Recently we have come across notions that Swedish is important and that recruiters have a hard time getting acceptance for candidates that don’t speak Swedish. Also, companies that staff projects with consultants are met with the same resistance at the client site.

I have been pondering this for a while and have some inklings of what it can be.

Companies that engage recruiters have a wishlist and they stick to that longer than they would have if they did their own search and looked more deeply into each person’s credentials. When you evaluate a candidate then Swedish is further down on the list of important boxes to tick, especially if you don’t have many to choose from.

As a relocation company, one of the biggest hurdles is to close the gap between the “want to have” housing and what is actually available. So the wishlist often needs tweaking to correspond to the market at that time or they simply won’t have a place to live. Our last resort to close the gap is to give them access to our database with properties and then it dawns on them what they may have to compromise on. Learning by doing is a good way forward in home finding and perhaps in recruitment?

Finding talent is really hard and finding those who write beautiful code are rare finds.

So what are even savvy recruiters faced with? Often they have a really hard time finding those that are interested in a new position, in a new country, meeting new colleagues AND having to learn a new language that they definitely don’t know yet. Especially scary is to know that they are expected to learn quickly!

Can it be that companies that have consultants for hire or are recruiting meet more resistance when presenting candidates than inhouse recruitment teams that are solving an immediate problem? When you are in a bind a desperately need to fill a skills gap then compromises are made without much ado.

Exploring this a bit further I have been talking to recruiters and Swedish language schools the agree that in a majority of placement adverts stipulates a language requirement for both Swedish and English. It’s also mentioned that the Swedish must be passable and that the new colleague should be up and running within a specific time period. Presumably, there should be some progress by the time the probationary period is up, which is generally 6 months, at which point the co-worker should have developed toa satisfactory level.

Can you imagine what pressure is put on the talent that got the position on skills rather than linguistic proficiency? Would you be comfortable learning Finnish or Greek or another language as part of your new job?

We have actually never heard that someone has had problems performing at work due to not understanding Swedish, but we have heard many stories about feeling left out because of it. Obviously, at least understanding what is said will tremendously improve the relationships with people in the office and everywhere else.

Allowing newbies to start out with limited language aptitude is kind and providing tools and opportunities for learning is even better. There are many apps these days, voluntary groups where they can meet and practice conversation, private and public learning centers from SFI, Swedish for Professionals, Berlitz, GMS Language Services, and Folkuniversitetet to name a few.

Local HR and company contributions range from providing some options and ideas to including it in the relocation package. Some companies that have a few that are in need of language classes provide it at work which is great for team building as well.

Aiming to facilitate integration is done on many levels and language is an important one. Part of what we do to add to the experience is offering our FREE Professional Inspiration program to our clients in order to do our bit for a successful relocation.

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