Language skills key to job market

Gaining employment is a central challenge for immigrants - and learning the language is essential for getting a job. Nikolay Karpov, who emigrated to Finland from Russia, helps immigrants get started in the Finnish job market.

“The fact that Finland needs more immigrants is repeated in numerous reports and seminars, as the country is aging quickly,” says immigration coordinator Nikolay Karpov from Sastamala Municipal Education and Training Consortium SASKY.

In his work, Karpov helps immigrants gain a foothold in the Finnish job market. He helps them with the practical basics of getting started in a new country such as filling out applications and opening a bank account.

Karpov has an excellent perspective on finding work as an immigrant, as he has emigrated from Russia to Finland himself. “It was easy for me to settle in Finland, I did not have any problems.”

Language skills are essential

Learning the language is a central challenge for immigrants looking for work. For Karpov, the language was an asset instead of a challenge - he graduated as a Finnish teacher and translator from university. His work as an immigration coordinator includes a lot of interpreting.

Karpov was hired as immigration coordinator in 2007 when forty Russian welders arrived to work in Parkano. A person fluent in both Finnish and Russian was needed to help the newcomers settle in.

“In my previous work in Finland I had already noticed that there are many Russians here who do not speak good Finnish, and I had wondered about how they manage.”

Karpov used to help out his Russian friends in Finland before he started doing it as his job. “It is difficult here if you do not know the language.”

Learning Finnish is more difficult for many than learning English, for example, says Karpov. He adds that it can be challenging to take evening classes in a new language if you are working a full time job. “The welders came here with no knowledge of Finnish. Starting to learn a new language from scratch as an adult is not easy.”

“Of course, there are always those people who quickly become proficient in a new language,” he adds.

Competence is key

Finding work is essential for integration into a new country. The welders who arrived in Parkano were in a good position as they all already had employment contracts.

“An employment contract is like a passport, it opens many doors in society,” says Karpov.

He emphasizes the importance of being proactive in the job search. “If you only rely on mol.fi, you will pass up on many job opportunities. You should utilize all possible channels: ask your acquaintances, friends, family.”

As the recession hit, some of the welders were temporarily laid off. An active job search paid off, however. Some of them found work in different parts of Southern Finland; some found jobs as far away as Lapland.

Education completed abroad presents its own challenge in looking for work in Finland. You can apply to the Finnish National Board of Education to have your qualifications completed abroad officially recognized. This enables you to demonstrate to a potential employer what Finnish qualification your degree is equivalent to. The National Board of Education will not necessarily recognize your degree as is, but may require further study to ensure your education fulfils the requirements of the relevant Finnish qualification.

Many public sector jobs require recognition of a degree completed abroad. In certain fields, specific authorities are responsible for granting professional practice rights.

Even though one may need to get one’s degree recognized to apply for many jobs, Karpov emphasizes the importance of the job seeker’s skills and competences. He notes that employers’ position on foreign qualifications depends entirely on the field. There is a big difference in an employer seeking a graduate engineer or a welder.

“For a welder, it is easy to test him on site to see what he can do. The important thing is that he knows his job well.”

Having a goal is important

For Karpov, moving to Finland was a natural choice. He trained as a Finnish teacher in Petrozavodsk. He says that there is demand for Finnish skills in St. Petersburg and Moscow. “But Finland is closer to Petrozavodsk than Moscow”, he adds with a smile.

Karpov had a clear goal: he wanted a job where he could utilize both his skills in Finnish and his native Russian. Having a clear objective is important for an immigrant, he says.

He notes that many immigrants are attracted to Finland because of its safety rather than wages. You can make more money in St. Petersburg.

“It also depends on your personality whether you want to move to Finland. Finnish silence is not for everyone,” he laughs.

Text: Juha Rudanko
Photo: Samuli Siirala

Gaining employment is a central challenge for immigrants - and learning the language is essential for getting a job.

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