A school in Solna. Photo: Casper Hedberg

Solna solves it

“I worked as a dentist for almost 20 years in Syria,” says Adnan Kaba, who fled to Solna to escape the ravages of war. In many countries in Europe, Adnan could have expected to go many years before he ever saw a pair of wobbling tonsils laid back in a dentist’s chair again. Many migrants all over Europe are restricted from exercising their right to work, and their skills are left fallow for long periods.

However, things are done differently in Solna. Mayor Pehr Granfalk explains the Solna model without wasting too many words: “Basically, it’s all about making sure that everyone who can work will have a job.” The city tries to get its unemployed, whether from the migrant or the incumbent population, into appropriate work or education as rapidly as possible.

Chefs holding dough in front of a large pot in a kitchen in Solna
Many migrants in Solna find work in the catering industry

In the case of migrants, employment has an extra bonus, “The fastest way to integration is through jobs. Having a job speeds up language learning and fosters inclusion. In Solna it shall always be easier to get a job or relevant education than income support” Granfalk continues.

The fastest way to integration is through jobs.
— Mayor Pehr Granfalk

Dream Jobs

Ulla Johansson, Solna’s Head of Labour Market Department, breaks down how the model works. “We talk to newly arrived people who are interested in a job. Then, we discuss with and match with all the various employers that we have contact with.” Johansson stresses that this is not about putting any kind of person into any kind of job.

Through one-on-one interviews, they put together a picture of the kind of motivation each person has, their skills and their ideal career path. “We talk to people about their dreams,” Johansson explains, “but then we say, ‘okay, how will you actually work to reach your dream?’ So, it’s not that someone can be a nurse or a teacher immediately, but they might find work that helps them develop the right skills to do that later.”

We talk to people about their dreams.
— Ulla Johansson

Untrussed trust

Getting the right person for the right position is important for both parties, employer, and employee. The businesses in Solna place a lot of trust in the municipality. “We have been the most business-friendly municipality 13-years in a row,” Johansson says. The ambition to become outstandingly business-friendly was a bipartisan commitment made in response to the financial crash in the 90s, and one that has paid off.

To become Sweden’s most business-friendly municipality was never the end goal in itself. “Measures to improve growth shall also contribute to a sustainable local society” says Granfalk. “When the city helps businesses thrive, they shall also give back to and support the local community. One way of doing this is to offer jobs to Solna citizens in need of employment.”

A big part of fostering trust is the transparency with which the city acts. According to Johansson, the city always ensures that employers know the ambitions of the employee, for example, whether they are looking for short or long-term employment, and any difficulties that they might have in fulfilling the role. “We don’t hide things,” Johansson says. “We all have baggage that we carry and for some that is heavier than for others. We have to be clear about that.”

Being good human beings

Careful matching and this relationship of trust means that businesses are willing to give job candidates proposed by the municipality serious consideration, something that the city sees it as critical to maintain. “If we just sent out people to companies without thorough follow up, it’s easy that we would burn those places and not have them as a partner any longer,” Johansson says.

Meanwhile, it’s good for companies to show that they are invested in the local community. For Johansson, however, it goes beyond the optics for these companies, “We have a lot of really good managers in companies in Solna, people with big hearts who really want to make a difference in our society. They’re actually just good human beings.”

There is a practical advantage in that when these companies have vacancies that they need to fill, the city works quickly to find an appropriate candidate if they can. Employers have stressed how much they appreciate the great speed with which the city recommends carefully selected candidates.

It's very positive for the hotel that we can employ people from different parts of the world.
— Lars Ålund

“In most cases,” says Lars Ålund, General Manager of Solna’s Radisson Blu Hotel, “we contact the mayor’s office in Solna and tell them we need to fill these positions. We are looking for these qualifications, do you have a candidate?”  Ålund says that customers also appreciate the diversity that migrants bring to the hotel’s staff: “It’s very positive for the hotel that we can employ people from different parts of the world and with different backgrounds.”

Extra hard push

While there are many, like the dentist Adnan Kaba, who arrive with impressive qualifications, there are also many cases in which the city has to think creatively about the skills that a candidate may be able to offer. “My colleagues are like salespeople,” Johansson explains, “they say, ‘Sure, this person speaks very little Swedish, but he’s extremely good with the elderly, or he has worked with food in the country he came from, or he is extremely loyal to the work and always arrives on time.’ We look for the positive things. The employer says ‘Okay, we’ll give it a try.’ And once they get there it usually works.”


Two people sit at a table full of food in Solna
Working for integration can include all parts of a community. Photo credit: Susanna Kronholm

Sometimes, Johansson says, even the families of the candidates are surprised at how well they get on in their positions. “This man’s teenage daughter said, ‘Are you really sure he got a job? Is it really true? I mean with the Swedish he speaks?’ The whole family were super happy.” Being given the opportunity to work is very motivating for these candidates, and as a result, they tend to push themselves extra hard to do the job well.

It’s also a great way for those that don’t yet speak the local language well to master it. “In a job, you will probably learn much faster than sitting at a desk and you will focus on the actual vocabulary you will need for the job.”

Zero tolerance

Not every candidate is perfect, of course, and the municipality always follows up and seeks feedback. If the employee does not show the right attitude for the work, they will be asked to leave the programme until they are ready to commit fully to it.

The same stern approach is taken towards employers who are out of step with the values of the programme. Employers who want a string of wage-subsidised jobseekers and whose behaviour makes it clear they have no intention of offering permanent employment to those that perform well are taken off the list.

There is zero tolerance for that.
— Ulla Johansson

There is also zero tolerance for employers that express prejudice or racism.  “Here we are serious. If that’s what you stand for then we are not willing to cooperate with you. There is zero tolerance for that,” Johansson says. The city also tries to push back on gender stereotypes.

Win, win, win, win

Why don’t more municipalities work like this?
— Ulla Johansson

The city is convinced that this Solna model could be something that works in any locality in Europe, once the local politicians are on board. The attitude of Mayor Granfalk is that the practice is a “win, win, win, win” for the migrants and locals, the local businesses, the municipality, and the city as a whole. “The citizens become self-sufficient as well as part of the talent pool and the society. It provides an efficient recruitment process with speedy supply of workforce for businesses. For the municipality the effects are lower costs and increased tax-revenues. Finally, Solna benefits from reduced unemployment, reduced segregation, and increased educational levels”.


A man stands behind a laptop and desk with his hand raised for attention in a classroom in Solna
Work and training give newcomers confidence to navigate their new society.

“We have often asked ourselves,” Johansson queries, “why don’t more municipalities work like this? It’s really a question because it’s so efficient for everybody. That’s why we do our best to spread the word and explain the model.”

“Being a relatively small city with just over 80,000 inhabitants, could be an advantage for the functioning of the programme,” Johansson confesses, “but only because it lets us be very close to our politicians. The model itself could be effective in a city of any size.”

It’s not just adults that benefit from this system – the city applies its approach to all ages. The summer jobs programme for adolescents works with employers to open up spots for four weeks of summer work. Unaccompanied minors who arrive seeking refuge in Solna also take part in this programme, alongside the incumbent population. Here, too, the city also makes sure to include children with disabilities and to ensure a gender balance.

Qualified qualifications

One thing that still stands in the way of migrants entering the workforce is that more needs to be achieved on the recognition of skills. Even though Adnan Kaba had worked as a dentist for 20 years, he was not able to get his qualification recognised by the Swedish national government, and will have to go through all the classes and exams again in a Swedish context if he wants to practice in Solna. “I don’t have a Swedish dentist’s licence yet, so I work as a dental nurse in the clinic. I assist the dentist,” Kaba explains. The recognition of qualifications is an area in which the city would like improvement.

“A better system for validating qualifications is an area where a lot more could be done. Obviously, there are difficulties, because otherwise it would have been done much faster. It is a tricky issue,” Johansson explains.

Something for everyone

It is essential to be clear that neither the policy nor the ideology in Solna are about giving migrants preferential treatment within the labour market. The Solna model is for all those who have difficulty finding employment, for whatever reason. Participants also number local people of Swedish ethnicity, including those with various disabilities or those whom other factors have sent into long-term unemployment.

Two people sit at a table, one showing their phone screen to the other
New roles and jobs mean new connections and possibilities in Solna
Because when you live in Solna, you're a citizen of Solna.
— Ulla Johansson

“Whether you’re from the west coast of Sweden or from Tehran or from Asmara or Ireland, wherever in the world you might be born,  when you come to Solna you should get the best support in finding a job no matter where you’re from in the world.” Johansson emphasises, “because when you live in Solna, you’re a citizen of Solna.”

“The model is the same for everybody,”  Granfalk confirms, “The mentality is the same: It should always be easier to get a job or to go into education than to get income support in Solna. All the focus is put on supporting people in being self-sufficient, regardless of their background.”


Anthony Colclough Eurocities Writer