In this article, Senior Researcher Georges Kazan investigates the gap between non-tech-oriented university graduates and opportunities outside academia. The author presents their ideas—both big and small—for bridging the gap.
My Experience In and Outside of Academia
My name is Georges Kazan. I’m currently a Senior Researcher at UTU. I arrived in Finland initially to complete a three-year position research position at the Turku Institute for Advanced Studies (TIAS).
My chosen project was in archaeology. This focused on establishing Christian relics as a source of historical evidence through the application of scientific testing, and I came to Turku because it is a major centre of expertise in this area. In addition to academic publications, I regularly disseminate my research through collaborations with international news media and documentary film series (for more info, see my website georgeskazan.com).
By the time I had completed this role, I had accomplished what I sought to do (the first International Conference on Relic Studies will take place in November 2021). I felt settled in Finland and began seeking opportunities that would enable me to stay on and add value to the country.
For the past 18 months, I have led two projects at UTU Department of Archaeology to build capacity for archaeological science in Finland by leveraging existing resources within UTU’s faculties of Natural Science, Technology and Medicine. I have spent most of my time as a Senior Fellow in Research Development. This enables me to research the present situation relating to research and innovation at UTU, in Finland and beyond, in order to develop new opportunities for TIAS.
While this is a new field for me, my work builds on my experience in interdisciplinary research colleges, including TIAS and at the University of Oxford. It also draws on experiences outside academia, including managing an SME in the UK and working as a management executive at a major multinational corporation, with training and placements across different functions (Sales, Marketing, Strategy, Finance, Operations). This experience has helped me to develop new ideas on how to bridge the gap between university talents looking for opportunities and companies looking for talents.
Humanities Graduates Facing Difficulties in Bridging the Gap
While Finland has initiatives improving internationalisation and bridging the gap between talents and companies, much could still be done. For example, many of the placements offered are for researchers in science and technology. I undertook a comparative study of the main strategic areas of the University of Turku, Åbo Akademi, the City of Turku and Turku Business Region, the Academy of Finland, Horizon Europe (EU Funding), EU Regional Strategy for Research and Innovation for Smart Specialisation (RIS3) Areas for Southwest Finland. I noticed that most of UTU’s faculties overlapped with many of these, meaning that researchers could not only choose from a number of funding sources, but also had a range of opportunities for work in the private or public sector. This bridge between academia and other sectors is also supported by organisations and cross-sectoral units like Turku Science Park Ltd., HealthCampus Turku and Technology Campus Turku.
However, fields within the Humanities, accounting for 18% of all UTU students and are similarly important in other universities in the region, represented something of a bottleneck, with limited natural outlets or theme areas for funding. While efforts to find work for technology students and researchers are essential, I also see an opportunity in providing bridges for Humanities graduates into the private and public sectors.
I have therefore started developing a number of ideas, which I hope to test by consulting leading authorities in these areas. These include Big Ideas, requiring larger changes and resulting in significant impact, and Small Ideas, which are easier to implement but may have less impact.
- Tandem work shadowing: Foreign experts possess the required expertise but lack Finnish language skills; Finnish Humanities students/researchers possess these language skills but lack technical training. This concept proposes teaming members of these groups together to accelerate the ‘translation’ of international and non-technological talent into the Finnish workforce.
- Focus on international academic talent: A range of measures could be used to enhance cross-over of international talent into the Finnish workforce. For example, an international area could be established within, for instance, the Science Park area to allow talents to receive orientation, training, placements (perhaps in co-operation with Boost and SparkUp) and operate effectively in English during their initial stages. This idea of an international ‘zone’ is inspired by the success of international talent at BioCity, where the working language is English.
- Careers, alumni development and mentoring: While Boost and SparkUp provide for enterprise start-ups, it would be useful to have an interface between companies and University members for non-entrepreneurial job-seekers. This could be done by engaging with alumni more intensively as alumni can provide a source of mentors, placements and even jobs for its students and researchers, in particular those with international backgrounds and/or in non-technical disciplines.
- Consultancy: Students receive basic training in business skills, and then form teams to conduct short pro-bono projects for companies. This could be developed alongside a dedicated consultancy platform for postgraduate academics to undertake paid research and provide advice to local business and government.
- Fact-finding is needed to establish a solid basis for any new initiatives: What sort of talent/expertise do companies and government offices need/want? How does this align with what universities currently offer? What resources and structures are currently available within universities, the public sector and the private sector?
- Continuing to attract external international talents: While open calls for immigration have been effective, it is possible to raise awareness further, particularly among target audiences. Finland and Turku for example, could establish a presence at career fairs of the world’s top 10 or 20 universities, and at major industry or chamber of commerce events, since Finland has a lot to offer in many areas (e.g. quality of life, education and childcare). According to a recent OECD Economic Survey, Finland is a leader in wellbeing, has the lowest poverty rates and so on. The aspects cannot be overstated to international audiences.
- Integrating international talents and improving language learning: Training materials and information packs for international talent arriving in Finland are currently being developed by the Talent Boost programme (organised in Turku by the City and Turku Science Park Ltd.) and HEI Life projects. Mastering Finland’s language and customs is key to long-term integration. International talent who do not speak Finnish will find their options limited at the end of their contract, and may have little choice but to leave or be unemployed, unless more English-speaking roles are created. This could be alleviated with a combined effort from the city, the universities and companies to focus on language learning.
- Turku as a gateway to Finland: Given its location, Turku can be a nexus for international experts and visitors to experience and connect with Finland, and for Finnish researchers and companies to engage with international knowledge, practices and products, and plan work placements in other countries. For academics and businesspeople arriving in the country, an integrated tourism and business attraction program would involve making Turku a ‘one-stop shop’ for visits to and work/investment in Finland. The current Joki exhibition space provides an excellent ‘fly-over’ video, overlaid with all the basic essential information required to quickly understand the assets that Turku has to offer.
- E-Mobility: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to online working. Experts in the technology sector are often able to work entirely online. Estonia is the first country in the world to offer a pioneering e-resident status to foreign entrepreneurs (https://e-resident.gov.ee/). Therefore, the need to attract experts physically to Finland, particularly in the technology sector, could perhaps be re-conceptualised. A form of e-citizenship, in which taxes and benefits are applied to registered non-resident staff, may be a way forward.
- Cross-sectoral knowledge exchange: It would be useful to increase cross-over between academia and other sectors. One approach could be for more placements for non-academic experts within academia, for example as mentors or Professors of Practice, and, in turn, to provide opportunities for more academics to serve on company or government boards. Universities could also be considered as a central site for the delivery of high-quality business skills training, and advise companies on effective methods and policies for staff recruitment and training, if possible with an emphasis on cross-department, cross-sectoral and international mobility.