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Privately-funded scheme aims to find jobs for 2,500 immigrants within next 3 years

Finland's employment ministry has launched a 'social impact bond project' promoting immigrant employment. The training targets residence permit-holding immigrants of working age that are registered as jobless.

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Avaava's Terhi Tamminen and Clara Gaspar Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

The Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment is supporting immigrant job seeking with a new Integration SIB project funded by so-called 'impact investment'. At the unveiling of the experiment last summer, the ministry said that unemployment among Finland's immigrants is a recognized problem.

"Immigrants’ unemployment has for years been 2 to 5 times higher than that of the native population, and it takes much more time for them to enter the labour market. In the experiment the employment of immigrants is facilitated by bringing training to workplaces and customising it according to what is needed to do the job," the June 2017 press release reads.

Clara Gaspar moved to Finland from Portugal years ago, after her husband started work here. Although she is a highly educated biologist, finding a job proved very challenging.

"I was so dejected. I looked for work for five years and it was very difficult because I didn't speak Finnish well. It was always the first thing I was asked, "Do you speak Finnish?" she says.

Gaspar says she thinks that in general immigrant employment is slowed by more than just a lack of Finnish skills, as the lack of social contacts is equally important. She says it is hard to network in a new country if you don't know anyone.

Jobs for 2,500 immigrants

Thao Nguyen from Vietnam is also a participant in the ministry's Integration SIB project. She hopes to eventually find work in the retail sector. In order to qualify, she had to prove she was of working age, holds a valid residence permit, and was registered as jobless at her local employment office. Story continues after the photo

Thao Nguyen
Thao Nguyen Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

She and her fellow participants represent a wide range of educational and vocational backgrounds, with an equally broad range of Finnish language skills.

"Of course [the language] is difficult. I learn by reading the Finnish newspapers and watching TV programmes and movies in Finnish. I listen to Finnish music and talk with people," she explains.

The three-year national programme seeks to provide participants with basic Finnish language instruction and training to help them better prepare for work and quickly find a job. The training and rehabilitation company OrtonPro is one of the service providers that the ministry has contracted to help execute the programme.

"The training is funded entirely with private investment that we have collected from private equity markets. The project does not make use of any of the money earmarked for integration by the Finnish State. […] If the results are good and the trainees find employment, the investors then receive a return on their investment," says the employment ministry's migration director Sonja Hämäläinen.

EIF supplying 10 million euros

Integration SIB has 14 million euros at its disposal for the three-year experiment. The lion's share of the new 'Juncker Plan' idea of private funding comes from the European Investment Fund, with the remaining 4 million sourced from private investors in Finland, Hämäläinen says.

Ex-Finnish PM and current European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen said back in June that supporting the integration of migrants to the labour markets is a good fit for the EU's new privately-funded investment fund, as it is meant to promote social initiatives.

"I wish everyone who is set to benefit from the education and training opportunities to be offered under this scheme, the first social impact bond scheme in Europe, every success in the future. We will monitor the success of this initiative closely and hope it can serve as an example for others to follow", he says.

Although the goal is to eventually help 2,500 unemployed immigrants in Finland to find work, only 550 people have joined the project since it started last autumn. One-third of the participants in Integration SIB training have found work since then, mostly in the fields of industrial work, public transportation, construction, the retail trade and property management.

"Immigrants have a clear desire to move beyond so-called entry-level professions. They also want to make real contacts and network in Finnish working life," says the ministry's Hämäläinen.

Happy ending for Clara

Clara Gaspar finished the Integration SIB project's work training and found work as a designer for Avaava, a Helsinki company providing accessible environment and communication services and signage design.

"I design signs, create 3D modelling and plan room layouts, among other things," Gaspar explains in Finnish.

Avaava's CEO Terhi Tamminen can't say enough about her new employee.

"I have been super-positively surprised. We have a new highly-educated member of our team, who shows tremendous competence. She enriches our work environment and brings added value to our business operations," says Tamminen.

Gaspar is thrilled about her new line of work and her work community. Her Finnish skills are improving quickly as she interacts with her new colleagues.

"I really like my work very much. I thank Terhi for opening her doors to me and having faith in my capabilities," she says.

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