Could making a difference be easier than we think?

Anna-Karin Jansson, Business Developer and Pia Jünger, Integration Coordinator both work at Novia University of Applied Sciences. They have both returned to Ostrobothnia after periods abroad, where language skills have played an important role in their working life. Though appreciating the high value of language skills, they would still like to challenge the tradition of automatically requiring Finnish and/ or Swedish of anyone who wishes to find work in our region.

Various reports show that the lack of needed competencies and work force is a major obstacle for the growth of Finnish businesses. Several national initiatives support and promote efforts to increase both work-based immigration and international students´ employment.

The competition for the best talents is harsh and it is taking place on a global arena.

Due to the above we simply cannot afford not to make use of all those people in our society who are available and wish to work.

We have a huge untapped potential in the hundreds of international degree students studying at the higher education institutions in Vaasa. As with all students, they can bring new perspectives to working life. That their international background is a huge asset in itself goes without saying. What we might forget, is that people who move abroad have by that choice shown their readiness to throw themselves into the unknown – something that requires both flexibility and perseverance, two useful skills in any workplace today. Surveys indicate that many international students in Finland are very eager to continue living and working in the country after graduation.

Could we as higher education institutions do something better to lower the threshold to hiring international talents? No doubt can we become much better at comprehensibly communicating what kind of knowledge, competencies, and skills our degree programmes equip the students with. In addition, we can make it easier for employers to find these versatile, motivated students just waiting for a chance to connect with the Finnish working life.

The students have already chosen Finland as their place of study, which lowers the threshold for companies and other institutions to network with them. But are we ready to and do we currently offer international talents a true opportunity to establish themselves in our region after graduation? This requires strong links to society, access to networks and often language skills in Finnish or Swedish – or even both. To complement national policies and efforts, we all have a role to play in making sure that people who move to Finland find their place.

We can’t afford not to make use
of all those people in our society
who are available and wish to work.

What we as employers easily can do is to critically evaluate whether fluency in Finnish or Swedish is really required for the jobs to which we are hiring doers. Could it be that the person perfect for the job does not necessarily have to be proficient in the local languages as long as he or she has the willingness to learn the language over time at the workplace? It is no doubt easier to learn a foreign language when interacting with local people in authentic contexts.

One of the identified obstacles for job seekers in Finland is the difficulty to get access to the needed networks. In many ways our personal networks are of course a resource. However, if we hire from within our established networks, we might automatically select people who are like us what comes to background, education, or interests. Thereby we simply risk losing opportunities.

If we manage to look also beyond our established networks, we can find potential employees who thanks to their unique background and experiences can look at things from completely new perspectives. This, in turn, can generate opportunities for companies, which they might not have realised otherwise. Diversity can contribute to more creative and innovative teams.

It is also a verified fact: if you are not actively looking for diversity – a mix of people – you will not get it. The decision towards diversity is first and foremost a strategic one. When that strategic management decision has been made, the rest will follow. The chance is that the benefits gained from a multicultural workplace will hugely outweigh the invested extra efforts.