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Who is making your coffee?

By: Alice Langridge, Denise Dalla Colletta, Tiia-Maria Taponen


PhD. Roza Mononem, age 49, relocated to Finland in 2001 hoping to continue her studies, but teaching jobs are hard to come by.

Roza Mononen can serve your coffee in seven different languages and always with a smile. Her customers may not know that the same lady who makes their sandwiches has an impressive academic career behind her. She has written plenty of books, and worked as a university researcher for years.

When she came to Finland in 2001 to finish her doctoral thesis, she didn’t want to be reliant on Finnish unemployment benefits. But after a while she realized that it was very difficult to get a teaching position without speaking fluent Finnish. “I also needed to study more, to get the license to be a teacher here; my Russian qualifications weren’t enough,” she says.

Rosa is a Russian and Fenno-Ugric language teacher, researcher and a licentiate of Philosophy. Before she moved to Finland she published plenty of Mari language books for Russian students and published numerous scientific articles. Since arriving in Helsinki 13 years ago she has worked primarily in the University cafeteria.

Although she now speaks fluent Finnish and has a European license to be a teacher, she still can’t find a job. “I’ve tried that every year, and it’s very frustrating. Last summer I sent more than 60 applications.” According to her, most employers didn’t answer and those who did only told her that she was not chosen. But she is determined. “I’ll not give up.”

A recent study conducted by Tiina Ristikari, reports that in 2013 across the world an estimated 214 million people live outside their country of birth, 100 million of whom are labor immigrants. The number of immigrants has also significantly increased in Finland in the last two decades. Numerous reports highlight the direct and indirect discrimination which immigrants experience in European labor markets. According to the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, 14.2 percent of immigrants of working age were unemployed in Finland in 2012. This is almost twice the number of unemployed Finnish nationals (7.5 percent).

Rosa is now a part-time Russian and Mari language teacher at the University of Helsinki. Besides that she works in the cafeteria and writes her doctoral thesis. She says that even though it’s not her dream job, she likes to work in the cafeteria because she has afternoons free so she can also teach at the university in the evening. Economic independence has always been the most important thing to her and she has never been unemployed. “Before I became a part time teacher I also earned money by selling hand-made needlework.” A full life, is indeed a busy life. “I’ll finish my thesis next year. I like active life and I won’t let my brain rust away.”

Insufficient credentials

A high level degree doesn’t guarantee job in Finnish labor market. “The knowledge, attitudes and know-how based on that might be ‘the wrong kind’ in Finland,” states Henna Kyhä, PhD in education. To prove that you’re able to work in Finland you need to get a degree that equates to Finnish standards, and you need to know how to speak the language. It is always better if you have Finnish citizenship or permit and some domestic work experience. “The process is long and it takes a while to get a job related to your education.”

Rosa has lived in Finland for over a decade. She has a family here, she knows the language, she has the experience and she’s actively looking for a job – Why should it be this difficult?

Henna suggests that this is not only a Finnish trend, but a globalized issue. A part of being an immigrant is accepting the possibility of a lower position before finding a job related to previous educational background. Sometimes credentials can be an obstacle for the lower positions also. “It might be ethnic discrimination but it can also be that employers are afraid that educated people won’t stay long and may run away the moment they find a better job”, she says.

 Only 29% of those who immigrate to Finland have working arrangements secured before arrival.

Only 29% of those who immigrate to Finland have working arrangements secured before arrival.


The language barrier

A lack of language skills is usually the main reason used by employers when denying a job to an immigrant. “Finnish is important depending on the work you are applying for”, states Meg Sakilayan-Latvala, a psychologist and project worker at the NGO NiceHearts. Speaking fluent Finnish should not be necessary if the employee is working in a very technical field, not on the front desk. “Of course the immigrants may learn the language if they want to build networks and fully integrate into the Finnish society”, says Sakilayan-Latvala. As an immigrant from Philippines herself, she recalls that she had to exercise her social skills. “When you move to a different country you have to start over, to interact with people, to rebuild you networks”, she advices.

According to her, another relevant issue is the recognition of qualification. In her opinion this is becoming a less complicated process in Finland since she got here seven years ago. “It depends on how willing the official agencies are in facilitating it”, Sakilayan-Latvala states.

Even though recognition of qualification was not a problem for Russian immigrant Petr Bocharnikov – he got two of his three degrees in Finland – like Rosa, he has been struggling to find a job that matches his educational background for almost ten years. He too sees the language barrier as an excuse but his employment issues are run deeper than this than this; “The truth is that the Finnish market is small and it is not very dynamic in many fields.”

Petr looked to distinguish himself with a technical education, so he would be valuable to employers despite his basic Finnish skills. He has specialized in new modelling software in urban planning. However, the Finnish companies in this field are working mostly for the governments, using old software. “They do not need to be innovative, to hire people with differentiated skills, basically, what a highly educated immigrant is”. That is why the 34-year old urban planner is settling into his own consulting company. “I have to sell my service myself to show companies that they need to innovate,” he states.

Stepping-stones and guidance

Maisa Holm, Service Manager at career coaching company Työvalmennus Futuuri, says that the group is currently working with the Finnish employment agency, TE-Services to help job-seekers improve their chances of securing a job in Finland.

Maisa suggests, that some one who has been job-hunting for a long time may need a coach to help freshen their approach by brainstorming and even making contact with employers, especially if the person does not speak Finnish well. She says, there are employers out there that will hire people who don’t speak Finnish, but help may be required in facilitating this contact.

Immigrants who are looking for work should not be disheartened by jobs that don’t relate to their chosen field or tertiary background. Sometimes these positions can be the stepping-stone into better jobs and also provides an opportunity to meet Finnish people and sharpen language skills.

While sound, this advice is like a broken record to the valuable people who wait, and wait. Is it really the only option to remain optimistic and take a menial job in the meantime? Will there ever be a good opportunity to move out of these ‘temporary’ positions when the time is right? These are questions that are left mostly unresolved.

Rosa is aware that she has the option to go back to Russia if she wants to, but this is her home now and she see’s a future. Two years ago she bought a house in Helsinki with her son and strongly believes that once she graduates her job opportunities will grow. “I’m self-confident and I know what I’m doing,”

For Petr his struggles are seen in a different light. “I feel that Finland has delayed me a lot, I’ve tried for too long”. He suggests that he will try for another six months in Helsinki. “If I am unsuccessful, I will just move to another country with a more dynamic market.”

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