Produced by The Local’s Creative Studio in partnership with Skövde Municipality

The fast-growing Swedish city attracting global talent

The fast-growing Swedish city attracting global talent

“It still feels kind of unbelievable and really exciting to be here,” says Wade Wang, a few weeks into his new life in Skövde, a fast-growing city in central Southern Sweden. “Moving from China to Sweden was a very big step for us. But we got the opportunity to live and work together in another country, learn a different culture, and enjoy a different way of life. We see this in a very positive way.”

They’re not alone. Skövde is the principal hub of Skaraborg, Sweden’s fourth largest labour market region. Talented workers from across the world are relocating to work in its leading industries, which include fintech and game development, as well as the automotive sector. 

After working as a design engineer and quality engineer in the automotive industry in China, Wade is the new Head of Plant Quality at Aurobay Skövde, a joint venture between Volvo Cars and its parent company Geely Holding. His wife, Shirley Liu, works at the same plant in Skövde as a project engineer for electric engines. Both have permanent contracts and with their first child due in January, they’re looking forward to making Skövde their family home. 

“Once I got an opportunity to be here, my manager and my company said ‘Why don’t we also bring your wife here?’” he says. “Then, we also found an opportunity for her – and now our baby will be born in Sweden and will also have different opportunities!” 

Find out more about the exciting career and educational opportunities for international talents living in Skövde

Wade Wang working at Aurobay in Skövde

Skövde is surrounded by natural beauty. Photo: Skövde Municipality

Embracing a new life 

Wade previously worked for Volvo Cars at Skövde’s sister plant in Hebei province and had visited the Swedish city a few times on business trips. Only now is he able to appreciate the quality of life it offers.

“It’s a very peaceful city but has everything you want,” he says. “Life in China is more fast-paced. We will have more family time to enjoy together and there are a lot of new things we want to learn.”

Skövde is also well-connected. Stockholm is around two hours away by train and Gothenburg only an hour, which is another plus for newcomers to Sweden. Wade loves to try new things and feels he’s in a great location to do just that. Is he worried about the Swedish winter? No! Actually, he can’t wait.

“The temperature isn’t an issue because I came here from a city in China where it reached -26C or -27C in winter,” he says. “I’ve never tried cross-country skiing but that’s the first sport I want to try in Sweden. This country has such nice nature, with the forests and lakes, I imagine it must be very beautiful in the snow.”

He’s also excited about trying to cook Swedish food. “The fish, shrimps and crayfish here are much better in general than what I had in China,” he says. “I like cooking. I got a book from a friend about how to cook Swedish food, so I’m learning – but I haven’t really figured it all out yet!”

Paula Cal and Flor Coletta moved from Berlin to Skövde. Photo: Skövde Municipality

A special working culture

This appetite for throwing himself into challenges also applies in Wade’s working life – and he’s impressed by the local business culture

“The people here are very open and honest, they share their ideas and then we challenge each other with respect and discuss how we can come up with the best solution and a common understanding,” he says. “That’s something I really like.”

 

Approximately 1,700 people work at the Aurobay plant. English is used as the company language, which has helped Wade to settle in. “But I’m very interested in learning some Swedish and I plan to join some language classes.”

As the home city of Sweden Game Arena, Skövde is also firmly on the games industry’s international map. Indeed, the University of Skövde runs northern Europe’s biggest and broadest range of game development programmes.

 

Paula Cal and Flor Coletta, a couple from Argentina, first moved to Europe to live in Berlin. But when they wanted a change of scenery only a year later, a friend told them about opportunities at game developer Palindrome Interactive in Skövde and they were impressed by the firm’s title Immortal Realms.

 

“We decided to get in touch with them and after our first chat, we were sure there was something special waiting for us over here,” says Paula. They weren’t wrong. Paula now works as a senior animator at the company, while Flor is a 3D artist.

Their employer is “not only interested in what you can bring to the project, but also in your personal development and how you are feeling overall as an individual,” says Paula. “We value that greatly.”

Furthermore, Palindrome Interactive contacted Sweden Game Arena for support with the couple’s relocation, including finding an apartment. “I think it is safe to say that it’s the nicest apartment we have ever lived in,” says Paula, of the home she shares with Flor and their two dogs, Lexa and Tita. “We could not be happier with the way it turned out.”

 

Skövde 

“It's a very peaceful city but has everything you want. We will have more family time to enjoy together.”

A perfect location 

As the city grows, around 400 new homes are being built per year and a major new central district of homes and offices is in development. Science Park Skövde is also expanding, adding central premises to the evolving Skövde Science City district. But wherever you live or work in Skövde, you have nature on your doorstep.


Wade and his wife chose to live in Skultorp, a small town just a few minutes outside the city. “The location is perfect,” says Wade. “Driving from my home to work takes 10 minutes and driving to Billingen [a nearby mountain with panoramic views of the city] takes 10 minutes.”

In addition to planning a career and a family in Skövde, Wade and his wife also plan to get the most out of life by fully exploring the region’s impressive natural environment.

“In China, if I want to do something really fun, I need to drive one, two or maybe three hours,” he continues. “Here, I can drive to either of the big two lakes in around 30 minutes. There’s also another lake I really like, Lake Hornborgasjön. It’s known for having a lot of birds and in different seasons, there will be different birds there, so it’s a place I’d like to go to regularly.” For Wade and his family, the adventure of a lifetime in Skövde and its surroundings is just beginning.

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WORKING IN SWEDEN

INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

The Local's Paul O'Mahony interviewed Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg, lecturer at Stockholm School of Economics and researcher at the Center for Responsible Leadership about the Swedish style of leadership.

INTERVIEW: Does Sweden have a distinct management style?

Does Sweden have a distinctive management style?

The Swedish style of leadership is often said to be characterised by so-called flat hierarchies, where everyone is able to – and expected to – contribute their ideas and input to tasks, regardless of whether they are in a leadership role or not.

Pernilla Petrelius Karlberg told The Local that there are a number of different aspects which can influence management style, although Sweden does have a distinct style.

“I think that there’s definitely an idea that there is a specific Swedish or Scandinavian management style,” she said. “But I think from a research perspective, it’s much more complex, because we tend to generalise or stereotype.”

“It’s got a lot to do with the company culture and the culture of the country,” Karlberg said, “There’s definitely an idea of Scandinavian leadership, I think we have a common idea of what that is, but then, is it actually practiced everywhere in Scandinavia or in Sweden? That’s another issue.”

“In many of our organisations we talk about Scandinavian leadership where the leadership is very international, it’s a mix of different people from different cultures.”

Sweden is a very individualist society, which is also reflected in Swedish business.

“I think the core of what we talk about when we talk about Swedish leadership is the fact that leaders and managers also call on co-workers to take ownership on the task and individualism comes into business,” Karlberg said.

“It’s even expected, and co-workers take that ownership, and they engage and they take responsibility for the outcome and the result. So it’s the total opposite of micro-management in that sense.”

This culture of ownership and engagement also applies to managers, Karlberg explained.

“To generalise, in a Swedish setting, if there’s a meeting with the boss, the co-workers will expect to be listened to, and to be involved in a conversation and give their opinion on things. And that’s also a way to motivate people, in a Swedish sense.”

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Can lead to cultural clashes

This expectation in Swedish workplaces can lead to clashes if employees from other countries are used to a different system, Karlberg said.

“In another culture, say Finland, for example – I’m just generalising – you go to a meeting with your boss and you expect the boss to motivate you and to tell you what to do. So if you had a Finnish manager in a Swedish context, Swedish co-workers would probably feel neglected or frustrated for not being involved. ‘No-one asked my opinion, I want to share my opinion, my opinion matters'”.

This can also happen in situations where a Swedish manager is managing a group of employees from a different culture or country.

“A Finnish crowd with a Swedish manager might be very frustrated if the manager just asks questions and doesn’t seem to have a direction of their own. There’s just different expectations”.

However, there is also a collective aspect to Swedish workplaces, which foreigners working in the country often pick up on.

“When I work with international crowds, they tend to notice that Swedish co-workers and managers are very collective, they want to have consensus, they have to discuss everything, and it takes forever and it can be very frustrating.”

Swedish co-workers aren’t afraid to speak up though, if they feel that the decision their manager is making is wrong.

“But there are a lot of behaviours where Swedish co-workers will not accept a decision. For example, if they feel that the idea that their manager is bringing is wrong, it will actually be their duty to speak up, not in a confrontational way, but to say ‘Hmm, you know, this idea about doing it this way, it’s probably not a good idea.'”

“And non-Swedish managers might not always appreciate that kind of reaction. And if it continues, and the manager says that this is the way we’re gonna do it, the typical Swedish coworker will insist that this is the best way, and then there is a clash – again, they expect to be listened to and taken into consideration.”

How do you know when a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace?

This need to feel informed and included in decision-making can in some cases make it difficult to understand at exactly what point a decision has been taken in a Swedish workplace.

“It’s a different process,” Karlberg said. “It often involves a calculated plan for taking the time to introduce the decision, discuss it, and make people feel that they have been informed.”

This aspect of the Swedish workplace culture caused issues during the pandemic, when many employees began to work from home.

“Decisions are taken in a much more informal way, and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when something was decided. And we also saw that during the pandemic, that the typical Swedish organisation – which is very non-hierarchical – suffered a lot, because a lot of leadership is practiced in an informal work environment.”

“So when people were taken away from that environment – because suddenly they were working from home – it was sort of, you know, ‘how do we practice leadership now?’, whereas in an organisation with a much clearer hierarchy, it was never an issue where decisions were made or how leadership was practiced, because it was done in a different way.”

“And in the more informal, flatter organisations, we had to find a different way to do that, to translate into the virtual room.”

Despite this, Karlberg does believe that Sweden’s leadership style is effective.

“I would say that it is, yes. We stand out pretty well as a nation when it comes to different types of national measurements of competitiveness. We score quite high on that. Of course, there’s also a drawback, if people don’t want to take that responsibility and ownership, because then it’s not typical that the manager would step up and change the leadership style. So it depends on whether you actually share the same expectation.”

Where does the Swedish leadership style come from?

Sweden’s collaborative leadership style is perhaps a product of Sweden’s history, Karlberg said.

“We have always been a small country, very dependent on export. And that means that we had to adapt to the rest of the world and to other markets, but also having to collaborate – we’re too small to quarrel or fight.”

“This has been a way to bring people together in the same direction – it’s a little bit like how we work with the unions with much more of a collaborative focus instead of being confrontative, because it’s simply not rational for a small country like us.”

There’s also a strong tradition of independence in Sweden, Karlberg explained.

“There’s a genuine tradition of independence in the sense of mutual respect. And of course, a lot happened during the 20th century with the development of equality and the whole idea of individualist thinking. Where we’re individualistic with regard to family, with regard to gender, with regard to our roles in society.”

“I think that plays a part as well, with equality and also that everyone matters in that sense.”

You can hear Paul O’Mahony’s interview with Karlberg in our Sweden in Focus podcast where we discuss all aspects of life in Sweden and shed light on the latest Swedish news. Listen and subscribe.

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