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Helsinki faces Finland's worst-ever labour shortage

Thousands of nurses, early childhood education teachers and doctors will retire in Helsinki in the next few years.

Two nurses of different ages and ethnic background wearing face masks and blue shirts standing in a hospital room.
Nurses at the intensive care unit of Helsinki's Meilahti Tower Hospital.
Yle News

Helsinki faces Finland’s worst employee shortage. Thousands of new workers will be needed soon to care for and teach children, help the elderly and care for the sick in the capital.

City officials are grappling with how to attract low-wage workers to the capital while housing costs are rising and the new right-wing government plans to cut housing subsidies.

In the near future, thousands, if not tens of thousands, of social and health workers will be needed in Helsinki so that the city can handle its critical tasks.

A quarter of the capital's health and social care professionals are expected to retire within the next few years.

According to calculations by the municipal pension insurer Keva, 2,000 nurses will retire in Helsinki over the next decade.

City of Helsinki researchers say that figure is too low. They estimate that 3,000 more nurses will be needed within the next 10 years – and up to 6,000 by 2040.

This is because the population is aging while the need for services is increasing.

Brisk migration to the capital and a predicted increase in the birth rate, as well as the new requirements for caregiver ratios in elderly care and early childhood education, will also increase the need for workers.

Thousands of workers needed

Although Helsinki’s population is younger on average than in the rest of Finland, the number of people needing services is huge, as is therefore with it the personnel needed, especially in the care sector.

“Helsinki's lack of workers is accentuated compared to other cities,” says Hanna Ahtiainen, a researcher at the city’s Urban Research and Statistics Unit.

The capital’s unique demographics also bring challenges in early childhood education and teaching. Half of the country's immigrant population lives in the capital region.

“Helsinki is characterised by the diversity of its population. This can pose unique challenges to the need for services,” says Ahtiainen.

On the other hand, immigration is crucial for alleviating the labour shortage. Hiring foreign labour is not always easy though, she notes.

“It may require learning the Finnish language or harmonising educational credentials. Many professional groups have strict eligibility requirements that a foreign degree may not directly fulfil,” she tells Yle.

Costly housing worsens labour shortage

Helsinki's labour shortage is also aggravated by the high cost of housing, which makes it difficult to entice employees to work in low-wage industries.

“Helsinki’s labour shortage is particularly impacted by the scarcity of affordable housing. It's already a challenge,” says Ahtiainen.

According to the Helsinki City Information Service, only a fifth of the housing associations offer affordable rents, if the measure is that no more than 40 percent of one’s income should be spent on housing.

“That's quite a bit when Helsinki is competing for employees with other municipalities in the region,” she notes.

According to Ahtiainen, the jobs where there are shortages are mostly ones where workers must be physically present in the workplace, so their homes must be located within a reasonable distance, either in or near Helsinki.

How to attract people to Helsinki?

According to Ahtiainen, it is essential to find ways to attract workers to Helsinki so that children, the elderly and the sick can be cared for in the future. This includes more training for those sectors suffering from shortages as well as ensuring proper pay, management and workers’ wellbeing.

She also suggests that employers should consider hiring more retired people for part-time jobs while ensuring that older employees stay on the job rather than opting for early retirement.

Ahtiainen points out that others are vying for the same employees.

“Since Helsinki is competes with other cities and countries for workers, we should decide what the attractors are, why people would want to come to Helsinki,” she says.

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