Talent Boost Summit 2019 offers concrete solutions, encourages companies to act

The 3rd annual Talent Boost Summit took place on Tuesday 12 November at Logomo Teatro in Turku. This year’s theme was talent retention and how to boost business through international talents.

The event started with welcome words from Timo Harakka, the Finnish Minister of Labour, who reiterated that they are working to shorten processing times for work permits. Sonja Hämäläinen, Migration Director for the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment then emphasized the need for concrete ideas on how to recruit and retain international talent.

– I want to emphasize how important it is that we are truly, honestly willing to hire international talents. We say that we are, but are we really doing it? Finnish companies already know the reasons for hiring internationals. But I think some are scared to take the leap, Hämäläinen said. She offered tools the Talent Boost Network makes available to companies. Talent Boost provides companies with services to find international experts to fill shortages that cannot be filled by local talent. This includes mentoring programmes, matchmaking events and workplace language and cultural trainings. She encouraged any interested parties to contact their local Talent Boost Coordinator.

– The first speaker was Joel Willans who is known for his viral social media account Very Finnish Problems. Of British nationality but living in Finland for the past 16 years, he offered his very Finnish solutions to some Finnish problems. These included biases Finnish people may have against internationals, culture shock, long winters and the work culture. He suggested meeting more people to shatter preconceptions as well as when dealing with the culture shock. Culture becomes less shocking when you’re invited to be part of it, Willans said. Other suggestions included coping with the long winters by trying to find the positives. For Willans, it was learning to ski and accepting that he may have to stay on the kiddie trails for a while.

The topic of English, as a working language and having all necessary materials in English, was mentioned by almost every speaker and on panels. Terhi Pietari, HR Director for the engineering firm Ramboll, said that was one way they support hiring managers and by setting clear processes for international recruiting. In the fireside chat, all company representatives said English should be the default. Suvi Alavilo, HR Specialist for NAPA said having information in English is important when it comes to attracting talent and getting them to stay with the company. Ilkka Immonen, CEO of BON Games said it is part of making employees feel welcome. They don’t feel part of a team when everyone else is speaking a language they don’t know, Immonen said.

Another important goal of the summit was to share concrete actions to increase talent attraction.

Johanna Kakkuri, HR manager for Wärtsilä said they embrace diversity as a good business decision. It’s not about recruiting international talents, it’s about recruiting the best of the best – regardless of the background, Kakkuri said. We know there are many benefits to multicultural teams. When you put together different individuals, new ideas pop-up and we as a company need to be innovative.

Pietari said along with clear recruiting processes, they help connect their international employees with local networks and provide information on different cultures. Immonen said because they are a small company, he tries to makes sure to find housing and contact schools and KELA to have any necessary information for employees before they arrive.

– The topic of embracing diversity was on display during the panel discussion, “Is the Finnish Labour Market Truly Ready for Internationals?” The panel of four union representatives consisted only of Finnish men with no international background. They also admitted that of the four unions present, the Confederation of Finnish Industries, Academic Engineers and Architects, Finnish Business Graduates and the Finnish Education Employers, none of them had international talents working within their unions. Many admitted that their requirement of fluent Finnish was the main barrier. Though the lack of women was because of a last-minute cancellation. Jari Jokinen with Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland admitted that Finnish companies in his industry are only partly international. We have branches in other countries, but we don’t make sure there is diversity or that students are getting into networks, Jokinen said. Ted Apter with Finnish Business Graduates said that many companies will not even have the conversations even as they face worker shortages. He suggested starting to try and connect international students at the beginning of their studies.

– Many speakers mentioned that the Finnish language is not completely forgotten. At Ramboll, they arrange language cafes for their international employees who are studying Finnish and need a safe space to practice speaking. Jarmo Tanskanen, CEO of Visuon said that while the working language at his company is English, he regularly speaks Finnish with international employees who would like to practice. Willans said he considers Finnish a hard language to learn, but it’s not impossible. He tries to make it fun for his employees. We have Finnish hour where we only speak Finnish, which is quite a slow-moving part of the day. But I try to encourage learning Finnish in ways where it doesn’t seem like a chore and it doesn’t stress people out, Willans said.

Other speakers focused on the causes of exclusion and how to combat them. Inklusiiv founder Katja Toropainen stressed that there is no diversity without inclusion. If an employer says that women or migrants never apply, the employer should think about why the company or organization is not attractive for these groups, Toropainen said. Ceyda Berk-Söderblom of Globe Art Point, said the association seeks to promote equal working conditions for foreign-born artists and cultural professionals working in Finland.

After speakers and discussion panels, attendees were able to attend five parallel sessions:

  • Changing Roles: From International Talents to Professionals – Attracting talent from the perspective of higher education institutions and how to connect students before graduation. Harakka said of the 5,000 international students who graduate from Finnish universities each year, over half leave because they can’t find employment, even when they have the needed skills.
  • Talent Retention 2030: Aalto University, City of Espoo – Trying to make the talents already in Finland feel accepted both in society and the workplace. This includes how organisations react and change when their personnel becomes more diverse.
  • Country as a Service: The example of International House Estonia – Examples included International House Estonia and International House Helsinki and the current status of International House Turku and how they serve as a one-stop shop for internationals arriving in a country in relation to things like tax cards, address registration and social security.
  • Diversity session: Supporting companies and employees on their road to diversity – How to support companies in becoming more international. During the session, attendees had a chance to test a beta version of a diversity index, which is being developed by the Finnish government, as a tool for companies.
  • Spouses Matter – The need to support spouses and help them integrate and find employment. Tampere’s Hidden Gems program was presented as a successful example program. According to Jaana Hernelahti of Southwest Finland’s employment office, most failures in international talent retention are because the spouse was not happy in the new country.

A recording of the 2019 Talent Boost Summit can be found here.

Talent Boost Attracting and Retaining international talent (video by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment

Next year’s Talent Boost Summit will take place in Espoo on 29 Oct 2020. Welcome!!!