Stockholm (Picture from Wikimedia)Sweden has long been considered by its European neighbours as a model in terms of its skilled workforce and qualifications in vocational training, but the situation has changed.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the Swedish education system did not react sufficiently rapidly to the technological changes experienced by industry and upheavals on the job market. The country is also experiencing a fall in the number of skilled workers. With the active participation of businesses, Parliament has therefore recently decided to set up new training programmes that are better adapted to the needs of the labour market.

The government has focused on strengthening the link between education and the world of work, within both upper secondary and tertiary VET. An apprenticeship centre has been established to promote and increase provision of apprenticeships. The government has also adopted regulations on a professional introductory period of employment, including vocational training and the possibility of having an apprenticeship contract when in upper secondary school. Education contracts, agreements between young people, the employment services and the home municipality, were introduced in 2015; these encourage unemployed young people aged 20 to 24 to start or return to studies to acquire an upper secondary qualification. Studies within the contract can be combined with work or practical work experience.

The swedish education system – 2013





The vocational pathway in Sweden


Secondary education

One of the objectives of the Swedish education system is to avoid a gap forming between vocational education and mainstream education. Pupils from both pathways follow classes in the same school and have joint classes in certain subjects.

At the end of compulsory schooling, at the age of 16, Swedish pupils can go to high schools.

The new high school reform of 2011 has introduced 18 streams (social sciences, languages and literature, hotel management, technical studies etc.) and changed the entrance criteria: each stream has specialisations: for example, the health care stream offers several options such as health and well-being, sign language, natural sciences etc.

This means the distinction between theoretical courses preparing pupils for higher education and practical courses training pupils for specific trades is more clear cut.

  • To be admitted onto a theoretical course, 16 year-old pupils must pass examinations in Swedish, English, mathematics and at least 9 other subjects.
  • To be admitted onto a practical course, they must pass Swedish, English, mathematics and at least 5 other subjects.

The various streams available at high school can prepare pupils for higher education, trades or a mixture of both. Each stream is made up of 4 component parts: 8 core subjects (English, arts, sports and health, mathematics, sciences, civics, Swedish and theology); subjects specific to the course chosen; personal work; work placements for courses leading to a trade.

The school-leaving certificate, Slutbetyg från gymnasieskolan, is the equivalent of A-levels. If the grades obtained are not sufficient to apply for certain courses, pupils can improve their results by retaking an exam or by enrolling for further training.


Higher education

Post-secondary vocational education is included in higher education. An agency is in charge of post-secondary vocational training programmes.

Advanced or post-secondary vocational education covers a 2-year course leading to a professional qualification in sectors such as industry, health and new technologies. One third of training is conducted in a work situation. These courses are organised in co-operation with enterprises, municipalities and educational organisations.



Apprenticeships are not well developed in Sweden. A pilot program called « learning at work » (LIA) is currently being explored.


Key figures

  • 71% of men and 76% of women in the 25-64 age bracket follow a training course. It is by far the highest participation rate in Europe. (National Education Agency)
  • The government has invested in an information campaign targeting pupils, parents, teachers and study and vocational counselors in compulsory school. Aiming at increasing VET quality and attractiveness, the government together with employer and employee organisations has declared 2016 as the Swedish year of VET. (CEDEFOP – 2016)
  • Apprentices in Swedish upper secondary schools have increased continuously from 6000 (autumn 2013) to 6500 (spring 2014) to 7300 (autumn 2014). (EUROPA – 2015)
  • Among first-grade students in upper secondary school, numbers of apprentices have risen by 9% from the year before. (EUROPA – 2015)
Last update : 21/02/2018