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Sweden is a country slightly larger than the State of California (about 3,731 square miles or 49,964km2) with a population of about nine million.
The capital is Stockholm, which has about one million inhabitants. Sweden favors a constitutional monarchy in which King Carl XVI Gustaf is head of state and Fredrik Reinfeldt the head of government.
Sweden is a highly industrialized country enjoying low inflation and strong economic growth, although unemployment hovers about 6%.
The average rainfall is 22” (560mm), and agriculture used to account for nearly all of Sweden’s economy. However, that sector now employs less than 2% of the workforce.
The replacements are mining (iron ore), hydroelectric power and large areas of forest which, through the use of technology, have helped position Sweden as a leading exporting nation.
About 80% of the Swedish workforce is unionized. Operating alongside most unions are counterpart employer organizations. The unions and employer groups are independent of the government and political parties.
According to Roine Kristianson, chief executive of the plumbing and heating organization in Sweden, VVS Företagen, the Swedes take their plumbing very seriously. Entry qualifications for a plumber are extremely high – greater than for an engineer and on the same level as someone wishing to enter the medical profession.
Courses for training installers are also very popular, Kristianson says.
VVS Företagen, an employer and industry association, has about 1,400 companies as members. It is a part of the big Swedish trade organization Svenskt Näringsliv, which caters to a range of companies in plumbing, heating, air-conditioning, refrigeration, ventilation, insulation and sprinkler installation.
“In Sweden we have VVS-konsulter (technical engineers) who design plumbing. Some of the big plumbing companies have their own in-house designers, but the plumbers carrying out the installations often complain about the quality of the technical drawings and must do several corrections to the plans.”
Sweden is in a very strong financial position. Gross domestic product grew 3.6% in the second quarter of 2007, placing it in the top five countries in Europe.
Kristianson says environment protection is a big business in Sweden and everyone is talking about it. Companies like Sweco, WSP and AF have built an excellent international reputation.
VVS Företagen members employ about 20,000 staff. The three biggest companies are Bravida, YIT and NVS. All three have more than 1,000 employees. Most plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) companies employ between one and 10.
According to a large national survey, the plumbing and HVAC business sector grew 14% in 2006.
“It’s fantastic,” Kristianson says. “Now our turnover is equivalent to US$3 billion a year.”
The market is still growing, and the Government has offered large financial incentives to stimulate energy efficiency and modernization of the housing stock. The development of new housing is high.
Kristianson says the plumbing sector has undertaken a huge campaign in Sweden called ‘Säker Vatteninstallation’. The concept translates to ‘guaranteed safe water installations in all types of buildings’. Nearly 10,000 plumbers have been educated and licensed, and the program has had positive feedback from insurance and real estate companies.
“Even the Government has applauded the initiative,” Kristianson says. “This year Säker Vatteninstallation won the top award in the building sector in Sweden – Innovation of the Year, 2007.”
A big problem for the plumbing sector is the low charging rate for labor, and many plumbing companies complain of poor profitability.
In Sweden debate rages in the building sector about how to reduce costs.Continued...