International students face unique obstacles when it comes to finding employment opportunities in Finland. Recruitment is hampered for example by language barriers, lack of local professional networks, and unfamiliarity with the local job market. At the same time, Finnish companies are facing labour shortages and an increasing need for new talents.
This blog post introduces actions and results of the Talent Helsinki project, which was shared by Haaga-Helia, Laurea, Metropolia and the City of Helsinki.
Mentoring model for international students
The main idea of the project was to create a mentoring programme, where companies and international students can meet and learn from each other. We aimed for the following.
- Students were to learn about the work culture in Finland and the skills they would need to enter the local job market.
- Students were to gain valuable experience and build their network.
- Companies on the other hand were to gain first-hand experience on the benefits international students bring to work life with their diverse viewpoints and skills.
- Companies were to have the option to try what it would be like to have an international talent in the team without long-term commitment.
Support for both parties
In the preparation phase we designed actions to prepare and educate students for the Finnish job market. We offered a crash course about Finnish work life, interview practice as well as individuals CV consultations. For companies, we created a ready-made mentoring model with continuous support and recruitment help.
In the autumn of 2022, we contacted close to 200 companies to gauge their interest. From these initial contacts, we got a positive response from 25+ companies, and in the end, eight of them decided to offer a work placement for our international students. Positions were offered for hospitality, business, and business IT students.
Unfortunately, during the process some companies had to withdraw their offer due to financial reasons and internal changes. In the end, nine students could start their work placement in 2023.
Valuable lessons learned during the recruitment and matching process
For many companies work placements are still high threshold. Having an international intern was in many cases perceived as too cumbersome, labour intensive or costly. Some companies simply rejected the idea based on their preconceptions of how difficult it might be to handle language and cultural differences.
To overcome this, in the spring of 2023 we organised two company visits for our international students. Our experience was that these visits were well received from both sides, and this successful model we hope to continue also in the future.
Companies know very little about work placements. We had lots of questions about our international student body and the practicalities surrounding their work placements. To solve this issue, we decided to create a user-friendly webpage that offers basic information and guidance on hiring international students.
Contacting companies is difficult “out of the blue”. However, Haaga-Helia’s teachers and staff have useful contacts with the business world, and these contacts can be utilised more effectively. We also found that reaching out to Haaga-Helia alumni was an excellent way to involve actors within the Finnish labour market. Utilising these contacts in the future can be a good starting point for other similar projects too.
Feedback from our participants
At the end of the project, we collected feedback both from the students and companies through surveys. We included every student who initially wanted to take part in the project, even though not all of them managed to secure a position for themselves.
Students expressed their gratitude for the opportunities provided, and the chance to prove themselves in a professional environment. The low-threshold service allowed them to bridge the gap between their education and the practical skills demanded by the job market.
Participating companies were highly satisfied with the performance of our international students. The companies also praised the students’ high motivation, commitment, and proactive mindset. Company representatives were also pleased with the lively and keen discussion and excellent questions that our international students brought with them to company visits.
Lowering barriers for international student recruitment
This project helped us to build new connections with companies, and support our international students in their career in Finland. It was also a terrific way to promote our talented and motivated international student body in the Finnish business circles.
Based on our experience, we identified several tasks for the future and best practices to continue empowering international students. Work should not stop here. There needs to be ongoing efforts to actively build contacts and networks within the employment field. Regular company visits should also be continued and expanded.