My take on the hyped lack of engineers in Sweden

Recently I was out on the job hunt again. It was a lengthy and eventful experience where I allowed myself to be very picky and said yes only to the fourth company I engaged in serious talks with. As I already had had a job that was very good, I did not want to change to another very good one. Instead, I waited until my all criteria were fulfilled. During this time (actually for a while now) the Swedish economy has been going strong. This has been accompanied by a constant hype in the media about a lack of engineers (in multiple fields, but here I am focusing on software engineers). However, my experience showed that this lack of engineers was only a part of the story. The full ugly truth in my opinion reads – there is a lack of engineers that are willing to work for a low salary. Three out of the four companies that I talked with placed their salary offers below the (already low) current market conditions. Two companies were looking to grow with roughly 100 software engineers in the near future and had raised some serious venture capital. I want to stress here that my salary requirements were by no means unreasonable, they were backed by statistics and enriched with some anecdotal data from my friends and colleagues with similar experience to my own.

I am aware of the fact that Sweden is a country with high tax rates and that it is difficult for employers to remain competitive in the global market. However, I consider that lowering the compensation given to engineers (as arguably the most productive employees) is not a smart strategy in the long term. Sweden takes pride both in fair compensation and in being innovative – employers, please do not put this in danger by dumping the level of compensation for engineers.

Another aspect that few seem to take into account – the Swedish krona has lost considerable value over the last few years compared to the euro and the US dollar. This means that the price of labor has gone down for exporters (which a lot of successful Swedish companies are) – they typically get paid in euro or the US dollar for the products they export, and then pay their Swedish engineers in Swedish krona. For the same amount of foreign currency, they can now purchase a lot more krona than they could three years ago. I have not seen this surplus of money being forwarded to the engineers. So when the employers call out the Swedish government to ease the taxation, I cannot help but see the hypocrisy behind it.

It is not only the employers or the government that are at fault, however. Part of the problem lies with us engineers and our tendency to say yes to the low offers we instead should be turning down. So this is my plead to you my fellow engineers – stand your ground! If not for yourself, then for your colleagues. It will benefit us all in the long run.

Btw. if you want to read more about what is wrong with the job market today (not only in Sweden), take a look at the message targeting recruiters written by my colleague and friend Ivan Švogor. It was Ivan’s critique and his engagement that inspired me to write this article. For some general tips about looking for work in Sweden, you can check out my article here.

2 thoughts on “My take on the hyped lack of engineers in Sweden

  1. What makes the market conditions “low”? This nails down to what is a high/low salary.

    You mention that weaker currency should result in a higher salary because companies are making more money in local currency. I definitely do not understand most effects of the exchange rate fluctuations, but this sounds like an oversimplification. If you are traveling then you feel the effect, but at home you don’t really (at least I have’t). A few things to consider: would you be ok with lowering your salary when the local currency becomes stronger? What about companies which don’t export or do import in order to be able to export? Did the cost of goods and services increase because of the weakening currency?

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    1. I judge whether the current market salaries are high or low by two comparisons. One is a caparison of the engineering salaries with salaries for non-engineering roles. Engineers create value and their salaries in my opinion should be bigger than for roles that simply shift value around. There are many non-value-creating roles with considerably higher salaries than engineering salaries.

      The second comparison are engineering salaries in Sweden versus engineering salaries in other Western countries, such as Switzerland, England and the USA. Here again engineers in Sweden do not stand well.

      You are mixing the effect of currency fluctuations on companies and on us individuals. For exporters a weaker home currency is preferred. For importers a stronger home currency is preferred.

      For me personally, I travel enough to feel the effects of a weaker krona. In theory we should also feel it at home, because imported goods become more expensive with a weaker home currency. However, it could be that we did not feel the effects of this drastically because the importers lowered their margins.

      Yes, I would be willing to lower my salary when the krona becomes stronger, if my salary is increased when it becomes weaker. I would similarly expect the banks to lower the interest rates on housing loans to the same extent as the central bank lowers the reference interest rate. This has however not happened and as a result the banks’ margins on the interest rates have considerably grown over the recent years. This gives them a big buffer which would make it possible not to raise their rates now that the central bank raised the reference rate. But guess what – in this direction the banks were swift and they raised the rates.

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