Five international professionals and their families visited the southwest Finland city of Turku last week after winning a career competition organised by a local business network. Talent Call Turku (siirryt toiseen palveluun) was a "contest aimed at professionals worldwide looking for new career opportunities", according to its website, and sought to promote the city as a place to live and work.
Turku is facing a shortage of skilled labour, especially in the cleantech, creative, health, maritime and technology fields, according to the contest's organisers, Turku Business Region, the city of Turku and Business Finland. _ _
The contest was an attempt to plug this gap, and the call from Turku was heard across the world - with over 1,000 applicants from 75 countries signing up for a chance to visit the city.
Applicants and their families from Singapore, Lithuania, India, Iran, Albania and Latvia were given a chance to get to know the city, particularly options for employment and family life. Five of the families - with the exception of the Taefi family from Iran - spent last week visiting companies, schools, kindergartens and tourist attractions in the Turku region. Although many other cities hold similar competitions aimed at recruiting talented professionals, Talent Call Turku's organisers believe their contest stands out because each winner's entire family was brought along for the visit.
All of the competition winners and their families have now returned to their home countries. Some have reportedly already begun discussions with representatives of the companies that interest them, while others are regularly receiving information on possible jobs in Turku.
App Developer Audrey Kow, Singapore
Singapore native Audrey Kow and her husband Ryan Ho were impressed by the kindness of Finnish people during their visit, and in particular recounted what happened in front of a Turku mailbox. The couple were attempting to send a postcard to their relatives in Singapore, but were unable to understand the instructions on the front of the box, until a passing stranger stopped to help.
"Can you imagine there was someone beside me asking if she could help," Audrey says, almost in amazement, adding that nobody in Singapore would pay any attention to a tourist in need.
The young couple knew little about Turku or even Finland in advance of their trip, but learned a lot from visits to local businesses, as well as from a trip to the island of Nagu in the Finnish archipelago.
Kow worked for six years as a chemist in the chemical industry, but changed careers last year and is now a web application developer. She hopes to find work in the field in the Turku region.
Ho, for his part, is currently the Human Resources Manager at the Port of Singapore, and laughed when asked if he would consider working at the port of Turku.
"The port of Singapore is one of the largest in the world, so there is a difference in size. But why not?"
Service engineer Andrius Dvinelis, Lithuania
Lithuanian service engineer Andrius Dvinelis visited Turku with his wife Viktorija Zepnickaite and their 11-month-old Vainius, after a Facebook advert for the Talent Call Turku competition caught the eye of the service engineer from Vilnius.
"Facebook has a lot of job offers from Germany and the Netherlands, for example, but Finland has similar values [to Lithuania]," Dvinelis says, explaining why he entered.
The marketing of Finland as a place to live and work has been quite successful in Lithuania, according to Dvinelis, who lists the positive features he associates with his prospective new home country: safe, happy, clean and environmentally friendly.
Dvinelis has been working in the pharmaceutical industry for seven years, but recently began to feel that he needed a fresh challenge, so was encouraged by his wife to find something new. Zepnickaite, a molecular biologist and genetics researcher, plans to return to work after her maternity leave.
Dvinelis says that the first Finnish word he learned was hampurilainen (hamburger) as it was the only word he understood on the menu of a fast food kiosk in Turku.
Software developer Jinu John, India
Senior software developer Jinu John and software developer Meera Baby, who live in the port city of Kochi on India's southwest coast, say the invitation to Turku was a dream come true.
A colleague who worked in Finland told John and his team of four about the Talent Call Turku competition. The group immediately dug our their phones and scrambled to apply for the competition as quickly as possible, John recalls, adding that he could not believe his luck when he heard he had been selected.
"Believe me, there are enough talented people in India," John says.
Baby has been at home with their children, six-year-old Jonathan and three-year-old Ashley, but is planning to return to work as soon as possible.
Before their trip the couple, who have been married for 10 years, said they knew Finland had a reputation for clean tap water, which they had heard was the "best in the world".
The couple were also very impressed by a trip to a Finnish kindergarten, as well as an elementary school, and they reserved special praise for the cleanliness of Turku's streets as well as the happiness of the Finns they encountered.
Software developer Yllka Curri, Albania
Software developer Yllka Curri, from Tirana, Albania, cites the Finnish education system as one of the main reasons she entered the Turku contest. She says she wants a good future for her four-year-old daughter Sind and two-year-old son Edon, but fears that this is not possible in Albania. Instead, she believes Finland is the best country to raise children.
"A friend living in Finland invited me to participate. I watched videos of the city and immediately fell in love," Yllka says of her first impressions of Turku.
Curri's husband Afrim has worked as an accountant but has been studying agriculture in recent years, and would like to work in this area if the family does make the move to Turku.
Brand specialist Maris Staris, Latvia
Latvian brand specialist Maris Staris, who has been running his own advertising and marketing agency for a couple of decades, is also interested in new challenges. Maris, who lives in Mãrupe, a suburb of the capital Riga, discovered the Talent Call Turku competition on Facebook.
"We hope to be able to combine work and family life, and that our children can be children for as long as possible," Staris says of his reasons for entering the contest.
His wife Ilze Staris works at a bank as a digital services developer. Their eldest daughter Sofija, aged eight, has just completed first grade while four year old Betija enjoys outdoor activities and folk dancing - a hobby that the whole family shares.
The Staris family were particularly interested in the history of Turku, also cited the direct flight from Turku to Riga as a big plus. Both parents added that they were impressed by the city's diverse educational opportunities.