Finnish employers often require immigrants to have a master’s degree comparable to that of a native, which limits employment prospects | Yle Uutiset
Like many other immigrants, Kimberley Gowdy, an American who lives in Lahti, is highly educated. She studied linguistics and, as part of her professional career, was a university teacher, expert in electronic products, translator and business analyst. She is fluent in English, Spanish and French.
In Finland, however, Gowdy has not been a sought-after employee as she is not fluent in Finnish.
Gowdy denounces the difficulty of finding suitable Finnish lessons. What the employment office considers to be adequate language skills is not enough for the employer.
“There are no courses to fill this gap. We are marginalized because we cannot go any further. This is how we are forced to work as cleaners or guards. Why should I work in these professions and give up on my dreams? That’s not fair, “she said.
According to a survey commissioned by the Kotona Suomessa project (At home in Finland), last year almost half of companies suffering from a labor shortage wanted employees of foreign origin to speak Finnish at a native level.
The requirements remain strict, although, according to a survey by Finnish chambers of commerce, three out of four companies suffer from a shortage of employees in Finland. The situation will worsen as more and more professionals retire.
The labor shortage will not only end with lower language skills requirements. In the survey, companies estimate that only eight percent of recruitment problems are due to the lack of mastery of candidates. But lowering language requirements would help thousands of businesses get the much-needed workforce while employing more immigrants.
Employment of immigrants by reorganizing work assignments
Many jobs require a thorough knowledge of Finnish on the part of all their employees, although the requirements for the positions vary. Botond Vereb-Der, project manager of the Lahti TalentHub project in Päijät-Häme, hopes companies will think more carefully about tasks for which Finnish is essential. For example, in a restaurant, a kitchen worker does not necessarily need to know Finnish as well as a waitress working in customer service.
Employers could also rearrange assignments so that not all employees provide customer service, Vereb-Der said.
Bias behind language requirements
Anna bruun, ministerial adviser on migration and integration policies at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, believes there may be conscious or unconscious biases behind the high language requirements. An employer may require employees to have unnecessarily high language skills due to their own uncertainty. For example, an employer may think that work permit issues might be difficult to resolve or fear that an immigrant might change the work community.
Many employers are prejudiced against people of foreign origin. Akhlaq Ahmad, a sociology researcher at the University of Helsinki, conducted a test in 2016-17, in which he sent 5,000 applications, with both Finnish and foreign sounding names. These fictitious people all spoke Finnish well. Job seekers with Finnish-sounding names received by far the most interview requests.
Bruun admits that changing employer attitudes is a slow process. The Ministry’s Talent Boost program for the acquisition and application of international know-how has been underway since 2017.
In Bruun’s opinion, a lot has improved. For example, employers are offered more support and information on hiring immigrants. The process for resolving work permits has also been speeded up.
Immigrants encouraged to become entrepreneurs
Another option is to encourage immigrants to start their own businesses. You can do it on your own, even if the word conjugations are not always perfect. Bruun sees entrepreneurship as a good option, as long as immigrants don’t have to become entrepreneurs because there are no other options.
Gowdy took TalentHub’s entrepreneurship course in Lahti while on maternity leave. Now, she bakes gourmet cookies and other pastries as part of her own business.
“In America, they say that when you follow your passion, the money will follow,” she says.
Even as an entrepreneur, Gowdy hasn’t completely escaped language barriers. She is frustrated by the difficulty of competing with native Finnish competitors. Gowdy also had difficulty finding official information on authorities’ web pages at times, using his current language skills.
Despite these difficulties, Gowdy believes in his business and has already found sellers who want to sell his product. Its intention is to develop its activity abroad, not just to conquer the domestic market.