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Migration may promote Swedish textile production

Could the textile industry benefit from the opportunities that come with migration? Could we make use of migrants’ skills, and how? Would it be possible to pair them with the Swedish textile companies that want to re-establish their production in Sweden? These and other questions are discussed in the pre-study ‘Konfektion 4.0’.

‘Konfektion 4.0’ is run by Science Park Borås in collaboration with, among others, researchers at the University of Borås.

“This is a pre-study that could lay the foundation for a long-term investment”, says project coordinator Ulrika Nilsson. “The idea of the project could be described as follows: Knowledge in textile production decreased in Sweden as the production was moved abroad decades ago. As the interest in taking back production to Sweden is now increasing, it is difficult to find skilled employees. At the same time, migrants who come here need jobs. Some of them have professional backgrounds in industrial sewing, the clothing industry, or tailoring. If we could make use of their skills, the textile industry might re-establish in Sweden. This may sound easy, but in order to succeed you need to weigh in a lot of aspects and analyse them so that ways of working, regulations, and appropriate methods could be developed.”

One way to start is to map the needs of the target group, for example how to validate knowledge in textiles from other countries and which skills the textile industry needs. Anna-Karin Reis at Proteko, project manager for business development and competence development of this project, has engaged herself in some of these issues.

“I have found a lot of newly arrived with textile vocational skills via the Swedish Public Employment Service as well as educational associations. The Swedish Public Employment Service has documented that around 2,000 newly arrived have skills in sewing, industrial sewing, or tailoring. But we need to become even better at showing that we exist and reach out to them. Among migrants with skills in textiles, all categories from former factory owners to tailors are represented. Company visits and discussions about their respective interests and needs in focus groups with the business sector and the newly arrived were other parts of ‘Konfektion 4.0’.

For example, several companies want to make samples and repair textiles in Sweden. Often, small-scaled and new companies want to place their entire production here to promote sustainability and social responsibility. Besides this, we need more skills in automatization and digitalisation, which could supplement basic knowledge in textiles.”

This project could lead to a testbed environment for development.

“As an extension of this project, we hope to set up a testbed environment for new business models that could promote the development of circular economy in the clothing industry”, Ulrika Nilsson says. “This could be made in a flexible way with employed staff and renting the machine park to small or larger companies. We also want this business to include advising, competence development, validation, matching, and sewing production. In this way, we could make it easier for textile companies to move back to Sweden after having been relocated to other countries.”

Another long-term goal is to develop new business models for these sorts of activities. This could be connected to Re:textile, a project at Science Park Borås aiming to reduce the use of resources by designing products for a circular economy and developing production processes for upcycling textiles as well as services for extending the life of garments.

We need more skills in automatization and digitalisation.

 

Around the world, initiatives are taking place to utilise the competences that migrants take with them into their new countries. Large-scaled companies such as IKEA and NCC have their own models, and in various Swedish municipalities there are different kinds of on-going projects.

“The new development of the Swedish textile industry brings about a new labour market for migrants with textile sewing skills”, Ulrika Nilsson says. “Today, there is no branch-specific validation model for the textile area. This is what we want to develop in the next step.”

In late May, representatives of ‘Konfektion 4.0’ travelled to Brussels to participate in an EU dialogue in the form of roundtable discussions about how to utilise the advantages of migration, arranged by EU: s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs.

“We listened to many different actors and realised that we often struggle with the same issues. Which problems, obstacles, and initiatives could contribute to building the capacity in the field?

One researcher participating in ‘Konfektion 4.0’ is Kennerth Orlenius, professor of pedagogical work and director of the Centre for Sustainable Society Development at the University of Borås. Among other things, Kennerth contributed with a comprehensive analysis.

“In my analysis, I looked at the conditions for initiatives such as ‘Konfektion 4.0’, at several levels: individual, institutional, and societal levels”, Kennerth says.

The individual level is about people with special skills who want to enter the labour market. The institutional level concerns the needs of the branch and how the different actors could collaborate. The societal level is about methods to hold together our increasingly more polarised society.

“I can see that we need a common understanding of the terminology. Which terms do we use and what do they stand for? Immigrants, newly arrived, migrants – what do we mean by that? And how about assimilation, integration, and inclusion? We should be careful with our words so we do not end up in an ‘us and them’ perspective.”

Kennerth Orlenius has also reviewed research on migration and working life, and for example noted that Sweden needs an immigration of approximately 100,000 people a year to ensure that the workforce remains sufficient.

Konfektion 4.0

These actors have collaborated with Science Park Borås in ‘Konfektion 4.0’: Marketplace Borås, Proteko, Modeink, The Swedish Public Employment Service, Borås Stad, Kanico AB, TEKO, and researchers at the Centre of Sustainable Society Development as well as The Swedish School of Textiles at the University of Borås.

The project is funded by the asylum, migration and integration fund (AMIF; a part of the Swedish Migration Agency). The name of the project, ‘Konfektion 4.0’ was inspired by the concept ‘Industry 4.0’, the so-called forth industrial revolution where digitalisation and automatization are important parts. 

“The demographic structure is a problem here”, Kennerth says. “We have an askew age distribution with an increasing proportion of older people. What saves the situation is the immigration of people of working age. If they have an education from their home countries, this saves Sweden a lot of money. Initiatives such as ‘Konfektion 4.0’ make us think of those people who often are seen as a cost as an asset instead.”

The pre-study ‘Konfektion 4.0’ was completed this summer but there will probably be a continuation.

“We are applying for additional funding”, Ulrika Nilsson says. “We can see that ‘Konfektion 4.0’ could be one part of a platform for circular fashion and sustainable environment for all Science Parks in the region. We want to expand our collaborations to include more actors, both at a national level and around Europe.”

Read more about Konfektion 4.0. (External link)

Read more about Kennert Orlenius.

Text Lena M Fredriksson
Photo Anna Sigge, Ulf Nilsson, and TEKO, Henrik Eriksson