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Yle survey: Helsinki only major city with immigrant hiring policy

Finland has been slow to embrace non-Finns in the workplace – at least when it comes municipal sector jobs. However some cities such as Helsinki are moving to increase the presence of migrant minorities on city payrolls. In most of these cases, recruiters are looking for more diverse language skills.

Varjokuva ihmisistä.
Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Yle approached recruitment professionals in the country’s 20 largest cities to find out if they had guidelines relating to hiring non-Finns and how such guidelines were applied. In cases where municipalities didn’t have any explicit directives, Yle asked whether or not migrant job applicants received any special consideration when they applied for work.

Potential employers almost unambiguously responded that they did not have any clear guidelines on getting migrants into the municipal workforce. Helsinki was the only city with a clear policy that amounted to something like "affirmative action" for immigrants in the job market. Officials in Hämeenlinna said they plan to adopt similar guidelines in the future, while in Lapland's Rovaniemi, immigrants are given a nod in the city’s guidelines on equality.

However the vast majority of the 20 cities polled said that they treated all applicants equally regardless of country of origin, language or ethnic background.

Language skills a major factor

Yle found that city officials were divided when they were asked whether or not they practiced some kind of affirmative action in hiring immigrants. In general, recruiters did not see a foreign background as any kind of inherent advantage. On the other hand many viewed diverse language skills as a desirable quality, particularly for service-oriented jobs.

Yle speculated that as Finland’s orientation becomes more global, immigrants may find themselves holding a trump card when it comes to finding work, largely because of language and cultural knowledge.

According to personnel director Marju Pohjaniemi, the practice in Helsinki is for migrants to be valued for their language skills - although the city’s guidelines allow it to bypass capable Finns to hire non-Finns.

"Competence is first and foremost the deciding factor and competence depends on the skills required for certain tasks. For example in youth work it would be good to have immigrants who know the background and mindsets of young migrants," Pohjaniemi said.

Trying to reflect capital region demographics

Nearly half of Finland’s migrant population live in the capital region. Espoo, Vantaa and Helsinki are trying to increase the presence of non-Finns in the workforce to meet growing foreign language requirements.

In Helsinki the proportion of workers speaking foreign language was 4.6 percent in 2011 and 6.6 percent in 2014. That’s a far cry from the 12 – 13 percent of the population who speak languages other than Finnish and Swedish.

Some cities haven’t had to agonise over the question of hiring quotas since the proportion of non-Finns is so small. In the case of Iisalmi in central Finland, for example, just 310 residents have a migrant background in a population of over 22,000.

Some support for employment of migrants

Other cities are also pondering ways to get immigrants on the payroll, since this group often finds it difficult to find work.

The city of Hämeenlinna is offering apprenticeship positions to immigrants and Tampere has introduced a small quota for immigrants in its summer employment scheme.

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