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Northvolt ramps up its recruitment efforts

An entirely new form of industry is being set up in Skellefteå, which is putting demands on educational systems and recruitment. Several thousand people will need to be employed in a short period of time, which will require a very new approach and new ways of thinking. “Essentially, it all boils down to tearing down the barriers that exist between the various forms of education,” says Björn Flintberg, Digital Education Strategist at RISE.

Northvolt’s new factory for lithium batteries in Skellefteå is expected to be fully completed by 2025. But some parts of the production process will be up and running already next year. Once completed, and with approximately 3,000 employees, it will be one of the largest battery factories in Europe. What is now starting to evolve in Skellefteå has been described as “a completely new basic industry” and of course, it is a dream scenario for any municipality. Because, it’s not just a battery factory that is being set up. It will also be an entirely new ecosystem of subcontractors, with all the ripple effects of labour migration derived from that. Skellefteå Municipality has estimated that the number of new jobs there could range from 7,000 to as much as 18,000.

There are however, a number of major challenges associated with all of this. Several thousand people will be employed in an entirely new form of industry, for which the right education system does not currently exist. And that, is a daunting issue to resolve indeed.

RISE has thus been engaged to collaborate with Northvolt, Skellefteå Muncipality and Luleå University Technology on this task.

“Essentially, it all boils down to tearing down the barriers that exist between the various forms of education today. For example, process operators at the factory need training and education for certain steps and some of what they need to know is on the syllabus of courses offered at vocational colleges, while other parts are included in university courses,” says Björn Flintberg, Digital Education Strategist at RISE. He then mentioned the 26-week-long training that will start up in December at Luleå University of Technology and which has been designed for foreign-born engineers.

“It is an attempt meet the needs, without requiring a person to complete a full engineering program,” he says. 

We want to ensure that we have a lot of women working for us

Katarina Borstedt, Northvolt
Katarina Borstedt, Northvolt

Up and running quickly

Getting to the point of implementation has gone quickly and collaboration has involved the construction of a new building that will house the competence centre, VR (virtual reality) platforms for remotely practicing actual training tasks and a matching platform that will be used as a meeting venue for companies and job applicants. 

“We have worked extremely closely and intensively, establishing an excellent collaboration between all four parties that is both frictionless and transparent,” says Björn Flintberg. 

RISE is participating as a partner in all parts of this effort, but it is primarily responsible for creating the training components in a VR environment. 

“We are mainly looking at how to improve learning and create new opportunities using digital structures and solutions. It involves thought and consideration about the appropriate level of detail and striking the right balance between being able to operate a machine and understanding it,” says Björn Flintberg.

Recruitment both locally and internationally

Northvolt’s recruitment of employees is in full swing and the search for talent is at all levels (locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally). The reason for this is that there simply isn’t a large enough labour force in the region to meet the needs of industry. 

“It would not be beneficial to the local society if we only targeted our recruitment efforts at those who currently live in the region. Such a large drain of labour to meet this new demand would hit local industry hard and it might even trigger unhealthy wage spirals, which would be negative for everyone,” says Katarina Borstedt, Head of Growth at Northvolt. 

She also points out that the focus now is not just on meeting the need for training, education and expertise for Skellefteå and Northvolt. It could also be the start of something larger, where Sweden could become a market leader. 

“The demand for batteries is growing by 30 percent per year and that is just the start. This is a fantastic opportunity for Sweden to establish expertise and generate interest in these types of industrial establishments, because the conditions are extremely good here when it comes to, for example, green energy,” says Katarina Borstedt. 

Northvolt is also very interested in redefining the word industry itself, which traditionally conjures up an image of dirty factory floors where men are in the majority. 

“We want to ensure that we have a lot of women working for us. The experience from other workplaces is that people perform better in teams where there is equality. The old-fashioned image of this being heavy, dirty work does not apply to our industry either. In fact, it is quite high-tech,” says Katarina Borstedt.

Knowledge is, after all, the raw material for the information age.

Education system with several paths

In her opinion, the critical factor for finding the right expertise today and in the future is an education system that has several paths to choose from, depending on how much work experience a person has. 

“Those who are switching to a new industry, for example, will need supplementary education, while a person who wants to switch into an entirely new career, mid-life, will need basic education tailored to their needs,” says Katarina Borstedt.

Even if the willingness exists to meet the new demands for expertise that are so rapidly emerging, it is a difficult task for colleges, universities and vocational schools that are not centrally controlled.

“There is no lever to pull, or button that you can push. Rather, it’s all about dialogue, discussions and anchoring, which takes time, and different amounts of time at that, depending on which organizations are involved,” says Björn Flintberg at RISE.

Growing educational needs

The need for education in order to switch to a new industry or obtain more in-depth knowledge that can take you further in your career has been growing in recent years. It is a trend that is accelerating even more now too, because of the pandemic. Björn Flintberg has also noticed that much more focus and attention is being given to actual knowledge rather than the number of university credits.

“It is becoming increasingly important to simply know your stuff, even if you didn’t learn it at university. I think what we’re seeing here is a mental shift, where we accept that others than just universities can provide education,” he says.

In order to be internationally competitive, it is also essential that Sweden becomes more flexible and creates the right opportunities for education and expertise.

“Knowledge is, after all, the raw material for the information age. For the Sweden of the future, it is what iron and forest once were to the country during the industrial age. So, how we manage that raw material, preserve it and keep it both vibrant and up-to-date is absolutely critical,” says Björn Flintberg.

Published: 2021-09-13
Björn Flintberg

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