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Foreign workers untapped resource in Finland’s growing demographic crisis

In some areas half of foreigners are jobless, even though demographic projections show Finland needs more immigrants to shore up the dwindling labour force.

Kotileipomo A-L Sorsan työntekijöitä marraskuussa 2018.
Phenphon Makkonen (left), Piyamat Soininvaara, Jelina Kartonen and Anna Chingina make Karelian pies at a bakery in eastern Finland. Image: Annika Martikainen / Yle

Significant regional differences exist when it comes to foreigners' ability find jobs in Finland. In Joensuu, eastern Finland, 52 percent of all foreign-born residents were unemployed at the end of last year, nearly double the country average of 27 percent, according to figures from the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Poor Finnish skills and prejudice stand in the way of migrant employment in the region, Tanja Manner from the local economic development centre in North Savo told Yle.

She said she believes that employers in Joesnsuu and North Karelia harbour more prejudice against foreigners than those in the rest of the country.


Kotileipomo A-L Sorsan työntekijöitä tekemässä karjalanpiirakoita marraskuussa 2018.
Alex Salich Mola (left), who moved to Finland from Greece in 2004, said he has never had trouble finding work. Image: Annika Martikainen / Yle

Sustaining the welfare state

Meanwhile fresh demographic projections show that if the birth rate continues to decline, Finland will face a continually-shrinking working-age population.

Business and labour groups have warned that Finland needs to overhaul its pension system to address the country's declining birth rates. Last week, Statistics Finland reported that during 2018, Finland is projected to see more deaths than births for the third consecutive year, with the agency citing immigration and more babies as the only remedies for Finland’s shrinking working-age cohort.

No foreigners, please

Jorma Mikkonen, corporate relations director at Lassila & Tikanoja, told Yle the proportion of foreign employees and managers at the cleaning company has steadily risen over the past 15 years. Immigrants now make up some 60 percent of the company’s workforce in the capital area. But he said some of Lassila & Tikanoja's customers still have preconceptions about foreign workers, especially beyond the capital.

"Lassila & Tikanoja receives a lot of informal demands on what types of workers we can have. We have to fight for all of our employees to have the same standing regardless of sex or nationality,” Mikkonen explained, adding that his company’s working language is English.

Finland trails behind other European countries--particularly neighbouring Sweden--in terms of becoming a multicultural society, according to Mikkonen, who said many sectors have yet to realise that Finland is running out of workers.

”Serious measures are needed in the future to fill jobs.”

During the past eight years, Finland’s working age population has shrunk by more than 100,000 people. New projections indicate that by 2030, the number of working age adults will decline by 57,000 compared to today.

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