From Northern England to Saimaa Shore to Study and Work

Image 1. Andrew McNichol with his wife Heini by lake Simpelejärvi. (Image: Andrew McNichol)

Will the door be open to international talents? In 2011 less than a half (45,5 per cent) of people with foreign background who had graduated from universities or universities of applied sciences were working in Finland one year after their graduation (CIMO 2014). In 2020 there were 15000 unemployed persons who were not native Finns and the unemployment rate of this group was 14,1 per cent.

Regarding the place of residence there is no data available of the unemployed persons who are not native Finns. Nevertheless, the average unemployment rate in Finland was 7,8 percent at the same time. (Tilastokeskus 2021).

To tackle this challenge and discrepancy LAB University of Applied Sciences is running a 2-year project where advice is given to companies to help them employ people who have completed their  studies and who have roots abroad. International workplaces and experts in South Karelia and Kymenlaakso is an ESF (European Social Fund) -financed project. It contacts together with the project partners such as LUT career center companies and tries to find work for talented persons.

Webinars are organized among other activities focused for companies. The aim of all activities  is to lower the treshold to employ talented workers whose native tongue is not Finnish.

Everyday reality

Students are interested in new study places and foreign countries. Andrew McNichol is not an exception. He came to Lappeenranta in spring 2014 as an exchange student for one semester to study at Saimaa University of Applied Sciences. The studies of occupational therapist went on so well that he found a girl among the study mates to become his wife.

Arrival in Finland was a minor cultural shock to Andrew although in advance he had no idea that it would be so. He arrived in Lappeenranta late in the evening when no grocery stores were open. The visit in the near-by grocery store in the following day was another shock.  The woman at the cashier point was complaining that the fruits were without price tags. He did not know that he was supposed to weigh the fruits and get the price tags himself.

These are small daily routines which a native Finn may not realize to tell what and how to do. Much bigger challenges are faced when a person is searching for a job in Finland. Are the language skills good enough? Even if the employer sees the challenge positive about recruiting a person with foreign background will the co-workers agree? What kind of language level requirement does the employer set for the open position?

Andrew has been in Finland since summer 2015 and most of the time unemployed. Can our society afford this? Why a person who is dedicated to his work does not get work?  

Desire to get employed

Andrew’s home and wife are here, he has also good Finnish skills. Andrew’s attitude towards his work is passionate. How can we help people like him to get employed?

One dream to live in Lappeenranta along the pure nature and close to good community services has become true but it is not enough. Andrew needs work. He is not the only one who is an unemployed talent. Our society needs people like him and his input.

Employers should seriously consider how to increase the level of recruiting people with international background. Speaking on economic terms: it is just stupid to waste resources. That’s what it is all about.


Tarja Vahtokari-Sahari is a RDI-specialist at LAB University of Applied Sciences in Faculty of Health Care and Social Services and she works in the project International workplaces and experts in South Karelia and Kymenlaakso.


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