Employing talents without perfect Finnish skills is not only doable, it is smart business 

8 kesäkuuta 2020

In the third part of our interview series “Foreign talent at work” we meet with Saku Tihveräinen. Saku is a recruitment professional, part-time Ph.D. researcher and a true doer in the sphere of international talent. He has created a network of 742 international talents, at the time of writing, in Finland and organizes meetups to support foreign talents navigate the Finnish job market. Early June this year he released a new documentary called Future Finland, with a message to business leaders.

Jonna Louvrier (J.L.): Saku, a few days ago you released a film called Future Finland. You are not a filmmaker by profession; you did this besides your day-job. What motivated you?

Saku Tihveräinen (S.T.):  I got the idea to make the film because I felt frustrated about media discussions. On one side I saw newspaper pieces telling about how difficult it is for IT-companies to relocate talents to Finland.  And on the other side a lot of the media space was taken by debates around far-right political perspectives to immigration. At the same time I knew the figures. The country is graying, and we have thousands of foreign students who have chosen to study and live in Finland. When they graduate the majority would be interested in working here. But 25% of them leave within a year after their graduation. They perceive that they are not wanted. So my question was ”Why don’t we speak about this more, and why don’t we use the talent available?” The film is a way to create that discussion.

J.L: What is the film’s main message?

S.T.: The message is twofold. The first point is that Finland is in serious trouble. We have a graying population and we will face a true lack of workforce in the future. The second point is that diversity in organizations can generate a lot of profitable new business; it can open up new pathways that companies might not even have thought about. With these elements in the background, the main message is that employing people who are not fluent in Finnish is fully doable, and without the drama that some people expect.

It’s more complicated than thinking that Finnish is the only obstacle.

J.L: So is lacking Finnish language skills the main reason for foreign talents to have difficulties finding jobs corresponding to their competencies?

S.T.: No, it’s not that simple. When we’re talking about people who graduate from university, junior professionals who can become the very top experts in their field, they are very unlikely to be using Finnish in their working life. So it’s more complicated than thinking that Finnish is the only obstacle.  Junior professionals in general and people moving here especially have a challenge of gaining their first foothold on the local career ladder. It takes a lot of networking and activity and getting to know people. But that is what is going to land the opportunities, not whether you’re somewhat fluent in Finnish or not. So it really is more complicated than just language.

J.L.: In the film you meet people who employ foreign talents and have great experiences to share. Is there some example that stuck with you?

S.T. I really liked the example of Siili, a company using both Finnish and English with some very international teams. We interviewed Matti Kiviluoto who works as team leader of one of the international teams. He talked about compassion and the importance of lean philosophy, that you just apply empathy to what you’re doing. He really highlighted the fact that it is not complicated.

J.L.: That is interesting. I think compassion is a very important aspect of this and probably something that we’re going to hear much more about in the future. Empathy and compassion could be directed towards others, being empathetic and show compassion towards your colleagues, but also towards yourself. And my suspicion is that one of the reasons for us not to have that much diversity in organizations is that people are afraid of not knowing how to be or how to do the right thing. Do you think that if we had more compassion towards ourselves, and courage to try out things, we could be moving forward at a higher pace?

S.T.: Yes, that’s a good question. I suppose when it comes to the bare simplicity of how that’s done it is all about having psychological safety in place. In the film Henrik Dettmann speaks about this. About how it is important that people share this feeling that you are allowed to come as you are, to join in and then be curious about one another. And when having that curiosity, diversity also makes the journey more interesting.

Diversity definitely can make money.

J.L: Absolutely. If you could choose one thing to change in our labor market, what would it be and who would be creating that change?

S.T.: I would want to see teams in all organizations, starting from the public sector to the private sector, hiring their first foreign talent. We’re not talking about charity here. We’re talking about a possibility to a lot of companies to open doors that they didn’t realize existed. I would want to see more of a ”Yeah, we could give it a try,” sort of mentality, a bit of intellectual curiosity. This also relates to risk management: “is the thinking inside our organization diverse enough?” So I think that’s my biggest wish, that people would start doing. We’re not talking about massive changes to companies but just giving it a try and seeing how it goes. And I think it is board members, CEOs and HR who should be invested in this question. Because as Alf Rehn says it in the film: diversity is very much a strategic decision. And diversity definitely can make money. That’s why the film’s main message goes to business leaders.

Jonna Louvrier, CEO, Includia Leadership, jonna.louvrier@includia.fi

See also other interviews in the series:

Register now for the ”Foreign Talent in Finland” event by FIBS and Includia Leadership, August 20th 2020.  The event is open to all FIBS members.

Includia Leaderhip is one of FIBS Partners



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