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Reflections upon the International Graduates to Work Life! project


Kiviaho-Kallio Pia

lehtori, kielet ja kansainvälisyys
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 20.09.2017

“The course “Self Branding Workshop” brought me a lot of practical values. I am now able to apply for jobs with my CV in Finnish and my own website. After the course, I feel confident in both social networking skills and digital competences. I will surely recommend this useful course to my friends. Thanks to all the inspirational course teachers!”

                                                                 Lien Dao, Haaga-Helia student

Traditionally, the Finnish work life has been rigid in opening its doors to foreign professionals, one major obstacle being the Finnish language. Furthermore, the Finnish work force has been rather homogenous with little international representation among employees, since companies have shown a tendency to hire people representative of local cultural heritage and values. However, due to the past decades of globalization, the Finnish work life is gradually becoming more diversified.

Yet, to be employed in Finland, an international graduate still needs to stand out more in the recruitment process than his/her fellow Finn. Thus, the job hunting skills of international professionals need to be coached into perfection. Naturally, our international students would also need a lot of encouragement and positive role models. They crave to hear those success stories.

Towards a Finnish career

It is possible for an international graduate to have a career in Finland! This was the point of departure for the EU-funded International Graduates to Work Life! project (IGWL), named Kansainväliset korkeakoulutetut työelämään! in Finnish. Accordingly, the purpose was to explore ways of enhancing the recruitment process of international students upon their graduation, thus making them well-equipped for the Finnish job market.

The IGWL project invited four Haaga-Helia lecturers from two campuses, Pasila and Porvoo, to develop a custom-made course to meet the specific needs of an international graduate. The outcome was a Self-Branding Workshop based on the multiple expertise of the teacher team involved in the course design: an international business expert, an ICT professional specialized in educational technology, a long-experienced Finnish as second language teacher and, finally, a qualified dance teacher with a degree in foreign languages. This unique set of competencies was employed for the purpose of creating a package with clearly defined goals: upon completion of the course, the students would be ready to present themselves in the best possible manner both live and online.

Upon the start of the Self-Branding workshop, it turned out that several course participants had some experience of Finnish work life, yet many seemed to lack confidence to seek more rewarding positions in accordance with their professional ambitions. To empower job-hunting process, a number of foreign-born professionals were invited to the workshop to share their career paths with the international students, the message being the following: as a foreigner, it is possible to create a successful career in Finland, as long as you are ready to overcome obstacles such as the language barrier and learn how to navigate past any cultural biases.

Often the recruitment process needs to be started all over from scratch. On the other hand, Finland needs to employ its international graduates, young professionals who have obtained their high-quality tertiary level education in our country. Alternatively, international students should be encouraged to become entrepreneurs. In a popular session offered by Irene Matinpalo from Yritys-Espoo, the course participants were positively surprised to learn that emerging entrepreneurs have the possibility of receiving a lot of guidance with business plans and bureaucratic matters. All for free! For many, entrepreneurship suddenly appeared to be a feasible and attractive solution to stay in Finland as an alternative to being employed.

Dialogue and empowerment for international graduates

Upon the outcome of the self-branding course, it may be concluded that the most rewarding educational experiences are those where the students and instructors learn from each other in an organic process. IGWL provided the necessary resources for profound reflection on both method and content. Moreover, initially, there was an opportunity to pilot the course during the intensive week of October 2016 with a small group of international students from Haaga-Helia and Diak.

The discoveries made from the pilot were then transferred as improvements into the spring implementation of March 2017, with students form Haaga-Helia, Diak and Metropolia University of Applied Sciences enrolled. Finally, the Self-Branding workshop offered a forum for dialogue and empowerment for our international graduates. Moreover, the combination of having both business students and students of social sciences within the same group resulted in unique group dynamics and flow. After a week of intensive studies, the students could present their own personal website, upgraded CV, as well as a full toolbox of sharpened job hunting skills. Hopefully, they also saw some windows of opportunity opening towards a successful future in Finland.

Looking back at the opening line: It is possible for an international graduate to have a career in Finland! Yes, indeed it is. And, on the other hand, Finland needs to understand the great potential in becoming more open to a multi-cultural work force. Here projects such as International Graduates to Work Life! play an important role.

The writer Pia Kiviaho-Kallio is a Senior Lecturer at Haaga-Helia.