Hybrid Theory: Re-skilling can close the large teacher gap in Sweden

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This article is part of a series in which OECD experts and thought leaders  from around the world and all parts of society  address the COVID-19 crisis, discussing and developing solutions now and for the future. Aiming to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields to help us rise to this critical challenge, opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.

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Sweden is a small country with only 10 million citizens situated at the very north of the globe. We are dependent on a highly skilled workforce so that our companies can compete on the global scene. We have a small domestic market and we cannot compete with lower labour costs or scale. This is our starting point and this is why our competitiveness and long-term societal health relies on our education system and our ability to produce motivated and skilled individuals. This includes upskilling throughout professional life.  

So where do we begin? It starts with having a great school with equal opportunities, not only in terms of access to education but also being given a fair chance to be successful regardless of background. This way we can utilise our whole — and for Sweden, limited — talent pool.

Also on the Forum Network: “Skills in Transition”: Highlights from the OECD Forum Virtual Roundtable by Willemien Bax, Head, OECD Forum

What constitutes a great school? Well, primarily the quality and motivation of its teachers. Estimates suggest Sweden will lack some 45,000 licensed teachers by 2025, primarily in the STEM areas and vocational teachers. We certainly have many great unlicensed teachers, but we still have a problem, both in the short term and long term.

This teacher gap stems first because in the past we have not been able to attract enough young students to teaching. Second, on the back of ten years of bull market, we have not seen enough interest for re-skilling through those second-cycle programmes designed for career change into teaching. Third, we have not been successful enough in retaining all of our licensed teachers in schools.

The solution? The increased unemployment caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is alarming, but it provides an opportunity as both white- and blue-collar workers become available on the labour market. With their great skills and vast experience, we are standing in front of a unique matching opportunity where we can solve two societal problems in one go.

We can create a new, partially online, complementary pedagogical training scheme. This would allow for people to start a new job in the school from day one and study to get their teaching licence in parallel. Through this hybrid track, teachers would usually get their licence within one to two years while also bringing completely new experiences, skills and personalities into the schools. This would be attractive for the individuals, who quickly enter into a new work environment, with new colleagues and challenges. For the schools, those extra pairs of hands from day one may be licensed teachers further down the line.

Also on the Forum Network: Addressing Europe’s reskilling challenge by Susan Lund, Economist & Partner, McKinsey & Company

I co-founded the Skill Shift Initiative with Fredrik Hillelson in March this year, reskilling cabin crew to enter into the health-care sector on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our experience is that to be successful in modern re-skilling you first need strong alignment between the employers providing the labour supply, the individual and the future employer. Second, you need financial incentives that will bridge the income gap until the new job starts. Third, you need to market/package this transition in a very clear and open way, to lower the threshold so individuals feel confident taking the leap into a new role, i.e. tailor-made matching. And lastly, you need to find a common purpose and through that collaborate with many different actors to get the job done.

To solve difficult problems you need innovative ideas, the perseverance to carry them through and the agility to adapt along the way. In this case, we need to create a new type of education with more flexible and digital content. We need deep collaboration between employers, social partner transition companies, schools and unions, as well as academia providing this new type of training and validation of skills. This is not an easy task, but the experiences of Skill Shift Initiative show that it is possible if we work together and are willing to enter unchartered territory with an open mind. We don’t have all the answers, but we need to look for them with an eye to the long-term benefits for individuals and society.

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Oscar Stege Unger

Senior Advisor, Wallenberg Foundations, Founder & CEO, Canucci

Oscar Stege Unger is a senior advisor to the Wallenberg Foundations where he previously served as a Director. In his role he focuses on investment management, governance, communication and the network for the Wallenberg Foundations and Family. Oscar is also the founder and CEO of Canucci AB, a company founded in 2020 (co-owned with the Wallenberg Foundations AB) with the goal to combine peer experience, technical expertise and data insights to support organizations and leaders with their transformative work. Oscar also serves on the board of airline SAS and is co-founder of several of the more cross societal engagements that the Wallenberg Family and Foundations are involved in such as Forum för Omställning (Future Work Forum), Digital@Idag and most recently Beredskapslyftet (Skill Shift Initiative), which reskilled the temporarily available human resources during the Covid-19 virus outbreak.

1 Comment

Go to the profile of Zoltán Dankó
Zoltán Dankó about 2 months ago

That will be tough. In my childhood I had teachers who were re-skilled from Russian to English or German, and the result was catastrophic. Especially, if the mindset and fixed-mindset of a person involved in this, combined with an existential pressure.