By Salla Korpela, updated July 2011
Finland has woken up to the fact that when the post-war baby-boom age groups retire, it will face a labour shortage that its own younger generation will be unable to fill.
If all the jobs that will be vacated in healthcare services over the next few decades had to be filled by Finns only, then one in four of Finland's young people would have to train to be nurses. Since that situation is obviously a non-starter, there is a clear need to recruit people from abroad in the coming years, especially in the service and healthcare sectors.
The idea of taking either a short-term or a permanent job in Finland, or actually settling here, is not as extraordinary as it was a mere ten or twenty years ago. The attractions of working in Finland include good working conditions and high employment security. Even the intriguing Finnish language poses no barrier to newcomers willing to make an effort, although admittedly it may slow them down a bit.
Labour mobility has in fact sped up considerably with enlargement of the European Union. In 2008 more people moved to Finland than ever before since the nation achieved independence in 1917. The numbers totalled 29,100, topping the previous year by 3,000 and exceeding the number of people who emigrated in 2008 by a good 15,000.
Finland has been, and still is to some extent, a culturally, ethnically and linguistically homogeneous country; the attitude towards newcomers has been largely one of caution among both officials and the population in general.
However, Finland has decided to bid immigrants a warm welcome. The political programme of Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen's second government, which took office in spring 2007, makes a clear transition from a policy on aliens to a policy on immigrants. Despite the current economic crisis and its effects on the labour market, Finnish employers will need more skilled hands in the long run.
Mobility is currently encouraged, especially within Europe. When European citizens wish to move abroad to work, they are assisted by EURES, the European Employment Services network. More than 800 advisers in public employment services in the EU Member States are involved in EURES. In Finland there are 31 of them at Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment in major towns. These experts help companies looking for workers from outside Finland and people in Finland seeking jobs abroad to find the necessary contacts and channels.
In recent years, it has become common for numerous countries to arrange recruitment fairs. The countries where Finnish employers have attended fairs include Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Hospitals all over Finland have actively encouraged Finnish expatriates in Sweden to return home.
"Those who come to talk to potential Finnish employers at fair stands include young people in particular, who may have studied in Finland through programmes such as the Erasmus exchange programme. They have pleasant memories of Finland and often speak some Finnish, too," says ministerial adviser Tiina Oinonen of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, who has been involved in EURES for a number of years.
Though immigrants are supported in many ways, coming to work in Finland does of course require a certain spirit of enterprise and an open mind. The most important issue, and the biggest, is language. There are very few jobs where it is possible to work without knowing any Finnish at all, and for reasons of occupational safety alone it is vital to be able to communicate.
Local authorities – and indeed many employers too – provide immigrants and their families with language training, either free or at very low cost. There are individual differences in how fast people learn a new language, of course, but Oinonen reckons that with six months of intensive effort one should learn enough to get by at the average workplace. The level of Finnish skills necessary depends greatly on the nature of the work.
Finland sets great value on vocational training, and statutory qualification requirements exist in many fields and positions. Anyone who has studied and gained a qualification outside Finland would therefore do well to check in advance that their qualifications are officially accepted in Finland.
Immigrants are entitled by law to integration services, with local authorities and employment and economic development offices carrying the prime responsibility for organising them.
So what does Finland have to offer workers from abroad? Why is it worth coming to Finland?
"Finland can offer good, high-quality working conditions, employees have a secure status, children and adolescents enjoy good educational opportunities, public services run smoothly and we have many successful, internationally respected companies," Oinonen states.
And then of course there is our wonderful northern countryside with its multitude of recreational and sporting opportunities, a lively cultural life, a wide range of inexpensive study choices, clean and comfortable housing, and a society that really functions well in every way. Welcome to Finland!
10 steps to working and living in Finland
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