Fay Lundh Nilsson

Fay Lundh Nilsson


Personal profile


The labour market position of the unskilled has deteriorated markedly in recent decades. For those who lack qualifications required in the “knowledge society” it has become almost impossible to compete with better-educated groups at the labour market. The phenomenon has been widely noticed in the political debate that has followed the increased unemployment rates among young people. Parallel to these high unemployment rates, the industry experiences shortage of skilled labour. Among politicians, vocational education and training (VET), especially in the form of apprenticeship, has been pointed out as a solution to the youth unemployment problem. The industry, on the other hand, is trying to solve the shortage of skilled labour by engagement in secondary vocational education through the independent-school system as well as in creating regional Teknik colleges to meet the specific regional demand for labour.

The consequences of a particular strategy are, however, difficult to assess without the knowledge of historical experience in the field. Over time, economic and social conditions have changed significantly on several occasions, which in turn have led to different educational solutions. It is therefore an important research task to highlight the issue of skill formation in a historical perspective. 

The purpose of the on-going project, Technical Education and Regional Development – Technical secondary schools as nodes for industrial development in Sweden 1850-1920, funded by SRC, is to highlight the role of the often overlooked medium level technical education as a regional recruitment base for well-educated technicians for the emerging industry during the First and the Second Industrial Revolution. Two fields are investigated: 1) the strategic considerations and forces behind the geographic dispersion of the technical secondary schools, and 2) the role of the schools in regional industrial development during the period 1854-1920. Within the first field, some crucial questions are to be considered: What kind of discussions preceded the decisions about where to establish the technical secondary schools? Were there similar thoughts behind the localisation of the technical schools as those that led to the expansion of the Swedish railway network that is, to promote industrial development all over the country? What role did regional economic interests play? Who were the stakeholders and how did they argue in favour of their sake? Within the second field, we ask questions like: How did the schools and their teaching develop over time? How big were the catchment areas for students? To what extent did they stay in the region after graduation? To what extent were former students to become entrepreneurs and innovators?


In Sweden, basic VET is mainly provided within the upper secondary school. This form for organisation of VET has been criticized for being poorly adapted to working life conditions and may have contributed to a decreasing interest among young people for choosing vocational programs. The project The formation of vocational education and training in Sweden 1940-1975, funded by the Swedish Research Council (SRC), aimed at analysing when and why apprenticeship disappeared as an option during the second half of the 1940s and why the labour market parties withdrew from the scene from the 1960s, in spite of the fact that they had gained a very strong position in relation to vocational education in the early 1940s.

During the 1900s, Sweden developed gradually into an, in proportion to its size, important “knowledge nation”. The domestic educational sector at all levels, played an important role, but the formal and informal education that many Swedes since long have gained in other countries has also been important. The same applies to the knowledge and experience that many skilled workers from other countries have contributed with, for example when they came to Sweden as labour migrants during the decades after the Second World War. In recent decades it has also become increasingly common for young Swedes to spend some time working abroad. The overall aim of the project, Learning and knowledge transfer through labour migration – knowledge transfer to Sweden through skilled labour, funded by SRC, aimed at investigating knowledge transfer via international mobility of skilled (industrial) workers at lower levels of education. Three periods were chosen: 1) the decades around 1900 (workers in the engineering industry), 2) the decades after the Second World War (labour migrants) and 3) the beginning of the 2000th century (technical skill versus intercultural competences).

The Swedish folk high schools have aimed at providing groups with weak educational traditions educational opportunities ever since the first schools started in the 1860s. A starting point for the project Vocational education and training in the name of democracy – vocational education and training in folk high schools 1868-2005, funded by SRC, was that current problems and challenges are not unique but have been encountered also during previous periods. The project showed, among other things, that the folk high school has been, and still is, an important player, not only in adult education but also as regards vocational education and training.



Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

UKÄ subject classification

  • Economic History

Collaborations the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or