Why does Finland have such a problem to keep great people?

I took an early train to Turku on the morning of November 12th to attend the third (my first) Talent Boost Summit, that’s organised by Business Finland, amongst many others, with the aim of educating businesses, regions and cities, the government and organisations in attracting and retaining international talent. In other words, what can be done to make highly skilled foreigners choose to come and make them stay in Finland? The event tried to find answers and discuss opportunities – but with all that talk – where is the action?

Attracting people to come to Finland isn’t the biggest issue here. Helsinki is undoubtedly one of the greatest places to live and work in, the infrastructure in Finland is great for the international community, with great services and resources available in English, widely accessible. A Capital city that has a great international reputation for the quality of life, easy procedures; Finland has great healthcare and social services, public transport functions (mostly) seamlessly and we are definitely in an exciting and still up-and-coming environment, that is open to innovation and where leaders listen to the voices of population and change-markers. So from this point of view, we’re at a really good starting point. So why the struggle?

Finland is facing quite the dilemma. It lacks skilled labour, and the problem isn’t going to get any better in the next years, the country is facing an ageing population and low birth rates – so frankly, it needs foreigners to come in. But is Finland ready for internationals? For the main part, not really, apparently. With the exception of the IT and gaming sector and fairly limited to the Capital region, finding a job in Finland is a struggle for many – despite the obvious need for them. In online groups for international jobseekers, you find many who are frustrated and resigned, who don’t as much as even get a reply from dozens of job offers they applied to – and I can confirm that from personal experience. While there is strong competition and probably many unqualified or careless applicants, it’s shameful that nobody is surprised anymore if you never hear back from an application you spent hours on. I would have liked to hear this side of the spectrum represented at the event as well.

All of these things I already wrote about many years ago, and while I’m glad that this conversation finally has reached the stages of events like this, it’s time to do something about it. The team behind the Talent Boost Summit did a wonderful job at curating a relevant programme that speaks both to the problems that organisations and companies are facing, but also brought up the problems that the job seekers and internationals in Finland have to deal with, I was especially happy to hear the conversation to go the diversity problem and the importance of family when we talk about attracting international talent. While there were many possible solutions and strategies discussed, it’s now time to put them into action. The afternoon parallel sessions gave the attendees the chance to join the discussion around different topics and interact outside of the pre-booked meetings.

My main takeaways from the event are that there are three main issues here:

1 Many companies are still too close-minded: worries about opening up to foreign talent, with company structured and processes limiting recruitment to Finnish speakers, for instance, many are still not willing to invest in developing their international standing. There’s a need for training HR professionals and leaders in this and make it seem less intimidating – if that’s what it is. Because any company can benefit from great people and multicultural staff. What needs to happen? Support in changing to or adding English as a corporate language, train managers in ways to hire from abroad. There are many companies who are succeeding wonderfully, and who lead by great example. Let’s learn from them and then take it from there.

2 Too little support for university graduates: The government and universities do too little to help graduates find work in Finland. More than half of the international students who receive their high education in the country leave again after graduation, which is concerning given how much is invested in them and that’s is a really silly problem to have. While other countries struggle with getting great people there in the first place, Finland has more of a problem in retention. Many great people leave a country behind they would love to live in, contribute to society and economic development, let’s make sure they get a chance.

3 Talent retention goes beyond just successful relocation: Once people are here and settled, that’s when the actual work begins, because if we put it bluntly: nobody wants to stay in a place that doesn’t feel like home and where you don’t have friends. Starting with an initial introduction to Finnish culture, the work environment and everyday life, in addition to the company onboarding. Successful integration and retention go further than just a couple of weeks into their stay, it needs to be a continuous aspect of people’s lives. Like Joel Willans – who is the man behind the “Very Finnish Problems” memes said in his opening keynote: have some fun with it. Employers need to play their part in creating access to the culture both at the workplace, but also act a facilitator outside of the office – for their employees and their spouses and families. Again, many companies do a great job and show off wonderfully how it’s done – but at the same time, it seems that many others are not ready to really invest in this.

Beyond Relocation is a cultural onboarding program that offers both a “Welcome to Finland Day” for new locals that have just relocated, as well as cultural events for companies, with a very personal approach and flexible offers. See more about that and get in touch if you want to chat about it!

I’m already curious where we’ll be in a year, at the next Talent Boost summit. I believe that there is now time to take action, and make sure that many of the great ideas will actually be reality soon! Many great minds and motivated leaders, eager companies and a very aware ministry are promising factors into solving the issues that were discussed. Let’s do this, Finland. 

1 Comment

  • Meenakshi

    Rightly articulated.. there is huge implementation issue here .. govt wants to get skilled people from abroad but companies are just not ready for that.. I think there should be some incentive for the companies for implementing the same .. there should be a mechanism to check if it is implemented .. lot of great initiatives / strategies fail if it is not implemented properly ..

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