A friend, almost graduated from University, is looking for a job within his own field. He participated in a recruitment event where organizations and companies were introducing work opportunities for young talents. The event was also aimed at international students.
My friend does not speak Finnish on a native level and noticed that when he started a conversation in English, people quickly lost interest in him. One of the organizations had English as their working language, but their orientation material was in Finnish. Thus, making it difficult for potential recruits to understand the job.
This particular story is not the first one of its kind that I have heard. Still, we all know, that there is a need for competent employees and a labour shortage within many fields in Finland. Social work, hospitality and construction businesses need more workers.
Could it possibly be that employees and employers do not meet each other due to outdated language attitudes in our work culture?
Integrating international students is not optional
Recently, I participated in a seminar and a workshop where we discussed the integration of international students into the work force. Our discussions focused on how the university community can support international students’ integration in the labour market and how to change society’s and employer’s attitudes towards international students.
Universities can give early career support and help international students build networks with employers to offer internship possibilities. One of the main challenges that keeps coming up is the the lack of Finnish language skills.
In the workshop, we spoke about the language level and what would be the minimum level of Finnish language required. Universities encourage students to learn Finnish but despite that, most of the organizations still have the structural problem requiring a native level of spoken Finnish. It is not very realistic to expect students to learn a new language in 3-4 years, while at the same time completing their degree. As a body, we really have to question these structures in our working environment.
International students need support and opportunities
Companies should focus on the level of expertise of the international students in their own field, which is equal with that of the Finnish students, and not on the level of proficiency in the Finnish language. It is significant to end the division between international and Finnish students.
The universities can help students to integrate and network with each other. All of the student events should be organized for everyone, not only for specific language groups. All students need more encounters with future employers and in general, the companies need more advice on international recruitment.
If the goal is to have more international students in Finland, we also have to make sure that we have the equal working opportunities for them within their own field. Supporting international students in their career journey has to start in the early stage of studies.
Universities setting an example
The universities can set an example by hiring international talents and offering internships in their work community. When a university environment is international, it creates more space for a diverse community and enhances a more equal education policy.
Everyone should be expected to have an equal opportunity to participate in a recruitment process. The attitudes are deep in the structures in Finland and the journey to fix this is long. We can all do little things, when it comes to Finnish language skills. We can encourage our students to talk in Finnish and give them opportunities to practice their language skill, instead of changing directly to English.