Project Description

Meet the network that helps Stockholm attract – and retain – top international talents

Meet the network that helps Stockholm attract – and retain – top international talents

By Louise Nordström

One of the biggest challenges Sweden faces right now is the ability to attract, but more importantly, retain international talent. Highly skilled professionals rarely move here alone: they often bring along a partner or a family, who are an important factor in the decision whether the family will stay in Sweden or not. Since 2015, the Stockholm Dual Career Network (SDCN) has helped its members establish a professional and social life in Stockholm – thereby contributing to an increase in the number of internationals who actually choose to stay here.

Run by the Stockholm Academic Forum, SDCN was founded five years ago as a collaboration between Stockholm’s 18 universities and the City of Stockholm in a bid to solve a recurring problem: the difficulty for universities in Stockholm to retain their top foreign researchers.

“It was hard enough to recruit them – top researchers can pick and choose among various universities across the world – but even when the universities managed to bring them here, several of them went home because their partner couldn’t get a job and adjust to living here,” says Maria Fogelström Kylberg, CEO of Stockholm Academic Forum.

“But Sweden is not very open to people who come from from abroad. Networking and  informal contacts matter a lot here. There are not that many job adverts out there and it’s particularly difficult to make it on the job market if you are new”, Maria Fogelström Kylberg, CEO, Stockholm Academic Forum

“But Sweden is not very open to people who come here from abroad. Networking and informal contacts matter a lot here. There are not that many job adverts out there and it’s particularly difficult to be visible on the job market if you are new,” Maria Fogelström Kylberg, CEO, Stockholm Academic Forum

Networking is ‘the only thing that Matters’

Maria, who has herself lived and worked abroad for many years, started to think about different ways to better support accompanying partners and thereby improve the chances of retaining international talents.

“Because if a partner just sits at home and feels dissatisfied all the time, it will affect the whole family and there’s a possibility that they’ll leave Sweden. These partners are often highly educated and have a career of their own, so when they come here, it’s only natural that they want to continue working too,” she says.

“But Sweden is not very open to people who come here from abroad. Networking and informal contacts matter a lot here. There are not that many job adverts out there, and it’s particularly difficult to be visible on the job market if you are new.”

In the spring of 2015, Stockholm Academic Forum organized its first meeting for what would later become SDCN.

“We had expected around 10 people to come to the event, but more than 60 showed up – from 30 different countries – which proved to us that we were really onto something,” Maria recalls. The huge response made the need for a network like SDCN crystal clear.

Today, the network has 550 members from 47 countries and offers career support groups as well as language courses, recruitment events, and all kinds of social activities – from ice skating to guided tours and walks.

“I was terrified. It was the first time in my whole life that I had lived abroad. I didn’t know if I would get a job and I didn’t understand the culture, or the language,” Mehdi Attarpour, Java Developer, 3 Sverige

“I was terrified. It was the first time in my whole life that I had lived abroad. I didn’t know if I would get a job and I didn’t understand the culture, or the language,” Mehdi Attarpour, Java Developer, 3 Sverige

‘Terrified’

Thirty-three year old Mehdi Attarpour had never set foot in Sweden before he and his wife moved from Iran to Stockholm in early August, 2018. Mehdi’s wife, Fatemeh, was starting a doctoral program at the Royal Institute for Technology in Stockholm (KTH). For Mehdi, who came along as her partner, the move meant resigning from his secure job as a data analyst and arriving unemployed in Sweden.

“I had a very good life in Iran. I had everything; a house, a car, a good job with the Iranian railway, a good salary; so it was a very difficult, and a very big decision to leave all that behind.” He says that Fatemeh’s career opportunities finally tipped the scales towards a move to Sweden.

But what the couple had hoped would become an exciting adventure for the both of them, quickly turned into a gloomy reality for Mehdi. Without a workplace to go to, without friends, and without any other social connections, he isolated himself more and more, spending almost all of his time holed up in the couple’s apartment. Alone, and equipped only with a computer, he frantically tried to google how data analysts work in Sweden.

“I was terrified. It was the first time in my whole life that I had lived abroad. I didn’t know if I would get a job and I didn’t understand the culture, or the language,” he says.

“The first few weeks I didn’t go out at all. The only person I interacted with was my wife.”

Mehdi’s tough introduction to Sweden quickly had the couple doubting whether they had really made the right decision, and they started discussing whether they should perhaps return to Iran before it was too late.

“We reasoned that if we returned home quickly enough, then maybe I could get my old job back,” he says.

The Turning Point

But after the summer holidays ended, Mehdi’s situation finally reached a turning point. Through Fatemeh’s job at KTH, Mehdi came into contact with the Stockholm Dual Career Network, which offered a number of career-related lectures and workshops for partners of newly-recruited international talents. The meetings helped Mehdi understand the Swedish labor market, the Swedish work culture, and for the first time in several weeks, he finally felt a sense of community.

“It just changed everything!” Mehdi laughs and talks about how he learned, among other things, that long CVs are not as popular in Sweden as they are in Iran.

Mehdi was admitted to the Software Development Academy, a collaboration between KTH and Novare Potential which is tailored to welcome new arrivals with academic backgrounds. After the training, he was hired as a software developer at mobile operator Tre, where he still works today. Mehdi says that SDCN was exactly what he needed in order to create a stable and pleasant life in Stockholm.

“We don’t even talk about going home anymore,” he says.

In December 2019, Mehdi was awarded the 2019 SDCN International Talent of the Year Award at a ceremony at the City Hall.

“There is a lot that is different here from what I am used to – from submitting an application to understanding the work culture itself once you get a job – so it helped a lot,” William Gastineau-Hills, Transport Specialist, Sweco

“There is a lot that is different here from what I am used to – from submitting an application to understanding the work culture itself once you get a job – so it helped a lot,” William Gastineau-Hills, Transport Specialist, Sweco

A Plunge into the Unknown

The key to SDCN’s success relies mostly on the network’s members themselves, who actively share information and tips with each other.

“It’s an incredible exchange,” says Maria and refers to the network’s Facebook group which is peppered with posts ranging from links to job vacancies, to invitations for outings and inspiring testimonies from SDCN members who have found jobs.

William Gastineau-Hills agrees and recounts how reassured he felt in being able to turn to SDCN for support when he, his partner Danielle, and their two sons, emigrated from Australia to Sweden two and a half years ago. The family was looking for an adventure, so, when Danielle was offered a lectureship in cultural geography at Stockholm University, they decided to take the plunge into the unknown.

“We chose to try a completely new culture and a new language, but it’s still very nice to know that there’s somewhere you can go and talk to people who are in the same boat as you are,” he says about SDCN.

SDCN primarily helped William understand the Swedish job application process and coached him ahead of his job interviews.

“There is a lot that is different here from what I am used to – from submitting an application to understanding the work culture itself once you get a job – so it helped a lot,” he says.

After eight months, William got a job as a transport planning specialist at the technology consulting company Sweco – one of the organizations he had been eyeing from the very start.

“The way it looks now, we will probably stay here in the mid- to long term,” he says happily. “We like Stockholm and have a good balance between work and family life. It’s also nice to always be so close to nature.”

Spotify and Northvolt

After a couple of years in operation, Stockholm Academic Forum decided to expand SDCN beyond the academic world and invite companies with international employees in need of support for their partners.

“It turned out that many companies were in the same situation as the universities, when it came to top international talents who moved to Stockholm with a partner or family,” Maria says.

“No company that really wants to achieve anything can limit its recruitment to Sweden anymore. Companies must keep in mind that their new employees often bring another person along with them, and in some cases, an entire family. And if you want to keep the talent you have managed to recruit, well, then you have to take care of their partner as well, so that they both thrive and want to stay. You have to be able to say: Come here and work, we take care of your partner as well.”

In a recent survey conducted by SDCN among international talents, more than 80 per cent of those surveyed answered that they were prepared to leave Sweden if their partners did not get a job.

Today, SDCN collaborates with some of Sweden’s biggest success stories: Spotify, iZettle, Truecaller, King, Northvolt and 0 + X.

“Personally, a network like SDCN would have helped me a lot in the beginning, because in Sweden you have to find your network to get ‘in’,” Diana Baul, Global Mobility Specialist, Electrolux

“Personally, a network like SDCN would have helped me a lot in the beginning, because in Sweden you have to find your network to get ‘in’,” Diana Baul, Global Mobility Specialist, Electrolux

Hot Topic

Several other large export companies, such as Electrolux, are also investigating how to make life in Sweden easier for their foreign talents’ partners and families.

Diana Baul, a Global Mobility Specialist at Electrolux, says that support for accompanying partners is one of the hottest topics in her industry right now.

“Most people think that it is enough to give the partner some kind of compensation or subsidy, but Sweden is not an easy country to move to. There are a lot of things you can do for partners that don’t cost very much but add huge value,” she says, explaining that there are as many as 67 different nationalities among the 1,200 employees at Electrolux’s Stockholm office.

Diana herself moved from Brazil to Stockholm two years ago after meeting her Swedish boyfriend. She says that even though she already had a job waiting for her upon her arrival, it took her a long time to get used to the rigid, often slightly reserved ‘Swedishness’.

“Personally, a network like SDCN would have helped me a lot in the beginning, because in Sweden you have to find your network to get ‘in’.”

“Thanks to my job and my personality, I found my network anyway, but not everyone is that lucky,” she says.

“When it comes to the tech industry, for example, it is not unusual for the partner to have some type of digital education and digital competence. And even if they don’t have it, it is clear they are educated and can greatly contribute to the Swedish business world,” Marie Wall, start-up manager, Ministry of Trade and Industry

“When it comes to the tech industry, for example, it is not unusual for the partner to have some type of digital education and digital competence. And even if they don’t have it, it is clear they are educated and can greatly contribute to the Swedish business world,” Marie Wall, start-up manager, Ministry of Trade and Industry

Highly Educated Workers in High Demand

The Swedish need for international talent, and the need to retain it, has also become a government issue as Sweden climbs higher and higher in international innovation rankings. According to a study by the UN intellectual property organization, WIPO, only Switzerland beats Sweden on the list of the world’s most innovative countries.

“Sweden has an incredibly dynamic start-up ecosystem and an ability to create ‘unicorns’ just as much as Silicon Valley per capita,” Marie Wall, start-up manager at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, states and points to the country’s successes in areas such as gaming, tech, fintech, musictech and life science.

“Our large and well-known ‘unicorns’ have acted as very powerful magnets for international talents in this ecosystem,” she says, and goes on to explain that these companies have created “ripples on the water” and driven development for other companies, which now need more staff.

“All Swedish companies are desperate for highly educated talent now.”

However, she says, even though many employers take responsibility for making sure their international hires feel comfortable and happy at work, their partners – whom she refers to as an “untapped talent pool” – are often overlooked.

“When it comes to the tech industry, for example, it is not unusual for the partner to have some type of digital education and digital competence. And even if they don’t have it, it is clear they are educated and can greatly contribute to the Swedish business world.”

In this context, she feels that SDCN’s work is next to invaluable.

“SDCN contributes to clearing up a huge obstacle that we don’t have any actual public structures in place to handle. The way they work, in the sense that SDCN members help each other out, is incredibly much more effective than if there had been some form of public employment service in place for the partners,” she says, attributing the word “passionate” to Stockholm Academic Forum’s staff.

“My first impression was: “Wow, this feels like a real office”, and “this is a place where I can feel valued again,” Lili Wang, Engineering Manager, Klarna

“My first impression was: “Wow, this feels like a real office”, and “this is a place where I can feel valued again,” Lili Wang, Engineering Manager, Klarna

To Feel Valued

‘Value’ is something that many of SDCN’s members talk about. For Lili Wang, from China, this was the single most important thing the network could offer her after she left her home and a career in the Philippines in October 2017 to live with her Dutch partner in the “cold and dark” in Stockholm.

Lili, who describes herself as a “total workaholic”, says that she first had plans to go into hibernation as the Swedish winter approached but felt – only after a few days – that she would go crazy if she didn’t find something to do. To remedy that, she sought out SDCN, if only to get out and about, and to catch some fresh air on her way to the SDCN office.

“My first impression was: ‘Wow, this feels like a real office’, and ‘this is a place where I can feel valued again’”, she recalls.

Lili started hanging out at Stockholm Academic Forum’s premises and quickly offered to help out as a volunteer by collecting data and other statistics for the network. After a LinkedIn workshop held at the fintech firm Klarna, she connected with someone who worked at Klarna’s HR department and who was up for a fika after Lili had chosen to illustrate her LinkedIn profile with a cat picture. That coffee resulted in Lili securing a job as an Engineering Manager at Klarna just a few months later. Lili loves her new Swedish workplace.

“I am quite outgoing as a person, but just the fact that SDCN welcomes you in a professional setting from the start helps you find your value again and it becomes easier to get a grip on things. You get things done.”

Today she calls Stockholm and Sweden “home”.

“I have settled down here now, gotten married, got a million cats and a mortgage so I will probably stay here for a long time,” she jokes.

Although Lili no longer needs SDCN, she makes sure to keep tabs with the network and is constantly on the lookout for members that she could recruit to Klarna. In 2018, she was the very first recipient of the SDCN International Talent of the Year Award.

This article was originally published in Swedish on 11 March 2020.

Last updated 2020/10/15

By Louise Nordström

One of the biggest challenges Sweden faces right now is the ability to attract, but more importantly, retain international talent. Highly skilled professionals rarely move here alone: they often bring along a partner or a family, who are an important factor in the decision whether the family will stay in Sweden or not. Since 2015, the Stockholm Dual Career Network (SDCN) has helped its members establish a professional and social life in Stockholm – thereby contributing to an increase in the number of internationals who actually choose to stay here.

Run by the Stockholm Academic Forum, SDCN was founded five years ago as a collaboration between Stockholm’s 18 universities and the City of Stockholm in a bid to solve a recurring problem: the difficulty for universities in Stockholm to retain their top foreign researchers.

“It was hard enough to recruit them – top researchers can pick and choose among various universities across the world – but even when the universities managed to bring them here, several of them went home because their partner couldn’t get a job and adjust to living here,” says Maria Fogelström Kylberg, CEO of Stockholm Academic Forum.

“But Sweden is not very open to people who come from from abroad. Networking and  informal contacts matter a lot here. There are not that many job adverts out there and it’s particularly difficult to make it on the job market if you are new”, Maria Fogelström Kylberg, CEO, Stockholm Academic Forum

“But Sweden is not very open to people who come here from abroad. Networking and informal contacts matter a lot here. There are not that many job adverts out there and it’s particularly difficult to be visible on the job market if you are new,” Maria Fogelström Kylberg, CEO, Stockholm Academic Forum

Networking is ‘the only thing that Matters’

Maria, who has herself lived and worked abroad for many years, started to think about different ways to better support accompanying partners and thereby improve the chances of retaining international talents.

“Because if a partner just sits at home and feels dissatisfied all the time, it will affect the whole family and there’s a possibility that they’ll leave Sweden. These partners are often highly educated and have a career of their own, so when they come here, it’s only natural that they want to continue working too,” she says.

“But Sweden is not very open to people who come here from abroad. Networking and informal contacts matter a lot here. There are not that many job adverts out there, and it’s particularly difficult to be visible on the job market if you are new.”

In the spring of 2015, Stockholm Academic Forum organized its first meeting for what would later become SDCN.

“We had expected around 10 people to come to the event, but more than 60 showed up – from 30 different countries – which proved to us that we were really onto something,” Maria recalls. The huge response made the need for a network like SDCN crystal clear.

Today, the network has 550 members from 47 countries and offers career support groups as well as language courses, recruitment events, and all kinds of social activities – from ice skating to guided tours and walks.

“I was terrified. It was the first time in my whole life that I had lived abroad. I didn’t know if I would get a job and I didn’t understand the culture, or the language,” Mehdi Attarpour, Java Developer, 3 Sverige

“I was terrified. It was the first time in my whole life that I had lived abroad. I didn’t know if I would get a job and I didn’t understand the culture, or the language,” Mehdi Attarpour, Java Developer, 3 Sverige

‘Terrified’

Thirty-three year old Mehdi Attarpour had never set foot in Sweden before he and his wife moved from Iran to Stockholm in early August, 2018. Mehdi’s wife, Fatemeh, was starting a doctoral program at the Royal Institute for Technology in Stockholm (KTH). For Mehdi, who came along as her partner, the move meant resigning from his secure job as a data analyst and arriving unemployed in Sweden.

“I had a very good life in Iran. I had everything; a house, a car, a good job with the Iranian railway, a good salary; so it was a very difficult, and a very big decision to leave all that behind.” He says that Fatemeh’s career opportunities finally tipped the scales towards a move to Sweden.

But what the couple had hoped would become an exciting adventure for the both of them, quickly turned into a gloomy reality for Mehdi. Without a workplace to go to, without friends, and without any other social connections, he isolated himself more and more, spending almost all of his time holed up in the couple’s apartment. Alone, and equipped only with a computer, he frantically tried to google how data analysts work in Sweden.

“I was terrified. It was the first time in my whole life that I had lived abroad. I didn’t know if I would get a job and I didn’t understand the culture, or the language,” he says.

“The first few weeks I didn’t go out at all. The only person I interacted with was my wife.”

Mehdi’s tough introduction to Sweden quickly had the couple doubting whether they had really made the right decision, and they started discussing whether they should perhaps return to Iran before it was too late.

“We reasoned that if we returned home quickly enough, then maybe I could get my old job back,” he says.

The Turning Point

But after the summer holidays ended, Mehdi’s situation finally reached a turning point. Through Fatemeh’s job at KTH, Mehdi came into contact with the Stockholm Dual Career Network, which offered a number of career-related lectures and workshops for partners of newly-recruited international talents. The meetings helped Mehdi understand the Swedish labor market, the Swedish work culture, and for the first time in several weeks, he finally felt a sense of community.

“It just changed everything!” Mehdi laughs and talks about how he learned, among other things, that long CVs are not as popular in Sweden as they are in Iran.

Mehdi was admitted to the Software Development Academy, a collaboration between KTH and Novare Potential which is tailored to welcome new arrivals with academic backgrounds. After the training, he was hired as a software developer at mobile operator Tre, where he still works today. Mehdi says that SDCN was exactly what he needed in order to create a stable and pleasant life in Stockholm.

“We don’t even talk about going home anymore,” he says.

In December 2019, Mehdi was awarded the 2019 SDCN International Talent of the Year Award at a ceremony at the City Hall.

“There is a lot that is different here from what I am used to – from submitting an application to understanding the work culture itself once you get a job – so it helped a lot,” William Gastineau-Hills, Transport Specialist, Sweco

“There is a lot that is different here from what I am used to – from submitting an application to understanding the work culture itself once you get a job – so it helped a lot,” William Gastineau-Hills, Transport Specialist, Sweco

A Plunge into the Unknown

The key to SDCN’s success relies mostly on the network’s members themselves, who actively share information and tips with each other.

“It’s an incredible exchange,” says Maria and refers to the network’s Facebook group which is peppered with posts ranging from links to job vacancies, to invitations for outings and inspiring testimonies from SDCN members who have found jobs.

William Gastineau-Hills agrees and recounts how reassured he felt in being able to turn to SDCN for support when he, his partner Danielle, and their two sons, emigrated from Australia to Sweden two and a half years ago. The family was looking for an adventure, so, when Danielle was offered a lectureship in cultural geography at Stockholm University, they decided to take the plunge into the unknown.

“We chose to try a completely new culture and a new language, but it’s still very nice to know that there’s somewhere you can go and talk to people who are in the same boat as you are,” he says about SDCN.

SDCN primarily helped William understand the Swedish job application process and coached him ahead of his job interviews.

“There is a lot that is different here from what I am used to – from submitting an application to understanding the work culture itself once you get a job – so it helped a lot,” he says.

After eight months, William got a job as a transport planning specialist at the technology consulting company Sweco – one of the organizations he had been eyeing from the very start.

“The way it looks now, we will probably stay here in the mid- to long term,” he says happily. “We like Stockholm and have a good balance between work and family life. It’s also nice to always be so close to nature.”

Spotify and Northvolt

After a couple of years in operation, Stockholm Academic Forum decided to expand SDCN beyond the academic world and invite companies with international employees in need of support for their partners.

“It turned out that many companies were in the same situation as the universities, when it came to top international talents who moved to Stockholm with a partner or family,” Maria says.

“No company that really wants to achieve anything can limit its recruitment to Sweden anymore. Companies must keep in mind that their new employees often bring another person along with them, and in some cases, an entire family. And if you want to keep the talent you have managed to recruit, well, then you have to take care of their partner as well, so that they both thrive and want to stay. You have to be able to say: Come here and work, we take care of your partner as well.”

In a recent survey conducted by SDCN among international talents, more than 80 per cent of those surveyed answered that they were prepared to leave Sweden if their partners did not get a job.

Today, SDCN collaborates with some of Sweden’s biggest success stories: Spotify, iZettle, Truecaller, King, Northvolt and 0 + X.

“Personally, a network like SDCN would have helped me a lot in the beginning, because in Sweden you have to find your network to get ‘in’,” Diana Baul, Global Mobility Specialist, Electrolux

“Personally, a network like SDCN would have helped me a lot in the beginning, because in Sweden you have to find your network to get ‘in’,” Diana Baul, Global Mobility Specialist, Electrolux

Hot Topic

Several other large export companies, such as Electrolux, are also investigating how to make life in Sweden easier for their foreign talents’ partners and families.

Diana Baul, a Global Mobility Specialist at Electrolux, says that support for accompanying partners is one of the hottest topics in her industry right now.

“Most people think that it is enough to give the partner some kind of compensation or subsidy, but Sweden is not an easy country to move to. There are a lot of things you can do for partners that don’t cost very much but add huge value,” she says, explaining that there are as many as 67 different nationalities among the 1,200 employees at Electrolux’s Stockholm office.

Diana herself moved from Brazil to Stockholm two years ago after meeting her Swedish boyfriend. She says that even though she already had a job waiting for her upon her arrival, it took her a long time to get used to the rigid, often slightly reserved ‘Swedishness’.

“Personally, a network like SDCN would have helped me a lot in the beginning, because in Sweden you have to find your network to get ‘in’.”

“Thanks to my job and my personality, I found my network anyway, but not everyone is that lucky,” she says.

“When it comes to the tech industry, for example, it is not unusual for the partner to have some type of digital education and digital competence. And even if they don’t have it, it is clear they are educated and can greatly contribute to the Swedish business world,” Marie Wall, start-up manager, Ministry of Trade and Industry

“When it comes to the tech industry, for example, it is not unusual for the partner to have some type of digital education and digital competence. And even if they don’t have it, it is clear they are educated and can greatly contribute to the Swedish business world,” Marie Wall, start-up manager, Ministry of Trade and Industry

Highly Educated Workers in High Demand

The Swedish need for international talent, and the need to retain it, has also become a government issue as Sweden climbs higher and higher in international innovation rankings. According to a study by the UN intellectual property organization, WIPO, only Switzerland beats Sweden on the list of the world’s most innovative countries.

“Sweden has an incredibly dynamic start-up ecosystem and an ability to create ‘unicorns’ just as much as Silicon Valley per capita,” Marie Wall, start-up manager at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, states and points to the country’s successes in areas such as gaming, tech, fintech, musictech and life science.

“Our large and well-known ‘unicorns’ have acted as very powerful magnets for international talents in this ecosystem,” she says, and goes on to explain that these companies have created “ripples on the water” and driven development for other companies, which now need more staff.

“All Swedish companies are desperate for highly educated talent now.”

However, she says, even though many employers take responsibility for making sure their international hires feel comfortable and happy at work, their partners – whom she refers to as an “untapped talent pool” – are often overlooked.

“When it comes to the tech industry, for example, it is not unusual for the partner to have some type of digital education and digital competence. And even if they don’t have it, it is clear they are educated and can greatly contribute to the Swedish business world.”

In this context, she feels that SDCN’s work is next to invaluable.

“SDCN contributes to clearing up a huge obstacle that we don’t have any actual public structures in place to handle. The way they work, in the sense that SDCN members help each other out, is incredibly much more effective than if there had been some form of public employment service in place for the partners,” she says, attributing the word “passionate” to Stockholm Academic Forum’s staff.