To succeed you must have the skills required for internationalisation
Business Finland is an organisation operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment and one of its key tasks is to boost the growth of Finnish companies worldwide. This also includes attracting international talent to Finland. Business Finland works in close cooperation with the Talent Boost network in developing and steering this process. The former Head of Talent Boost at Business Finland, Ulla Hiekkanen-Mäkelä shares her insight on the talent attraction and retention.
The efforts to attract international talent to Finland began as a Business Finland campaign, which gradually developed into a long-term programme, resulting in the establishment of the permanent Work in Finland unit at the start of 2022. Ulla Hiekkanen-Mäkelä has been involved in the Talent Boost activities from the start and she has been able to witness the changes in the international field over the years. The expertise and vision, which are based on the valuable experience she has accumulated, also benefit other actors interested in internationalisation.
“We have grown into a team of 12 people, which has built networks with Talent Hub actors in cit-ies and with a broad range of country image, student and talent actors in the world,” Hiekkanen-Mäkelä explains.
The most important task of the team is to attract growth companies to Finland, for which there is a separate service path. It includes submitting opinions to the Finnish Immigration Service and help-ing companies to use the services of the Finnish startup ecosystem. Attracting experts to Finland, especially in the fields of technology, ICT, software and health technology, is the second key task of the team. This includes promoting Finland in the world and cooperating with companies that have launched campaigns to recruit talent.
International recruitment also involves challenges arising from intent, which are countered with incentives and support services.
According to Hiekkanen-Mäkelä, encouraging Finnish companies and employers to recruit interna-tional talent is an important part of the team’s work: “There are still SMEs and growth companies with international business that do not have any foreigners on their payroll. These same companies are facing a shortage of talent but are not prepared to recruit people from outside the Finnish bub-ble.” Business Finland offers companies an incentive in the form of the Talent Explorer grant and makes partner network services available for recruitment and settling-in and support services.
Good practices lead to comprehensive action
You learn by experimenting and when you cannot rely on ready-made models, you have to create the practices yourself. Business Finland has carried out projects in cooperation with cities and EURES from the outset. The network has expanded over the years.
“The flow of information is a major challenge in broad-based networks. The existence of a net-work outside Business Finland is crucial to our success. Working on an everyday basis requires constant communications as the group of actors is expanding. A joint mission and the desire to help talent and companies are the things that are common to us,” Hiekkanen-Mäkelä explains.
According to Hiekkanen-Mäkelä, a mutual flow of information boosts cooperation and helps the parties to keep up to date with developments.
“The newsrooms that the ministry has set up to make the latest news available to the entire net-work are also an excellent thing and this service is highly useful to us. And of course, it also pro-vides a quick way to disseminate information when we need to share it with others. Our twice-yearly Network Day event has also proved a big success and I hope that we had many useful face-to-face meetings in this year’s autumn event.”
The efficiency of the organisation was put to the test by the challenges of the last few years
Business Finland was one of the many actors whose expertise and capacity were severely tested during the coronavirus pandemic. The organisation had to cancel all its events and campaigns and as people stopped travelling, some of the international experts already recruited by companies were unable to come to Finland. However, Business Finland was not discouraged by these setbacks and ways were found to adapt to the difficult situation.
“We had to learn digital operating models almost overnight and managed to set up virtual recruit-ment events and webinars for students and more experienced actors quite quickly. This was a ma-jor challenge but we tackled it successfully,” Hiekkanen-Mäkelä says, describing the situation dur-ing the coronavirus period.
“The cautious attitude of Finnish companies is the second big challenge. They fear that employing foreigners and international talent will change the companies’ culture, dynamics and routines too much. The coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine have also created uncertainty over busi-ness prospects and cost increases. In fact, many companies have said that, for the time being, they are not planning any new recruitments.”
Business Finland is working to find new export markets for companies and to help them to over-come the challenges described above by seeking new business models that help and encourage companies to recruit international talent.
Employing international experts already living in Finland
Experts already living in Finland are also a major resource. Business Finland has created opportu-nities to use this resource by organising Matchmaking events in cooperation with companies and by launching a joint campaign with the Confederation of Finnish Industries and Technology Indus-tries of Finland aimed at encouraging companies to recruit international students.
“There is already a large number of international experts in Finland and they include students that have graduated in this country and spouses of people who have moved to Finland. There seems to be a mismatch in the labour market as it is difficult for experts already here to find work matching their training. At the same time, companies feel that international recruitment is expensive and involves great risks. We are working to ensure that employers and talent can find each other.”
Individual-based and international recruitment will play a key role in the future
Understanding individuals is an important perspective in the recruitment of talent.
“We are talking about companies, employers and talent and at the same time, we are treating them as huge groups. However, in my opinion, we should consider these people as individuals. It is es-sential to take a look at the team leader and the rest of the team at the workplace so that the com-pany can get the right experts. When the company finds the right person for the right task, both the employee and the employer will benefit. The human dimension of this process should be high-lighted in our stories and customer cases.”
The Talent Boost action plan makes many things possible but why is it considered important in Business Finland and why is there so much talk about international talent at the moment?
“Finnish companies are talking about a shortage of experts and complain that they cannot find the right people. Work-based and talent-based immigration is one solution to this problem. We have all seen the population statistics and realise that Finland is ageing and that the only way to tackle the labour shortage is to attract a lot of talent from other countries. This is a major challenge fac-ing the Finnish economy and a solution must be found during the next five years or otherwise we are in deep economic trouble,” Hiekkanen-Mäkelä warns.
She relies on her solid experience when analysing the comprehensive benefits of internationalisa-tion:
“I have an international business background and I have seen how multinational and multicultural teams can quickly respond to customer needs in the global market. You start understanding cus-tomers operating in different parts of the world when you are working with people from different backgrounds. I really believe that this is an enormously important success factor for Finnish com-panies.”
“We have gone a long way and now we have to tackle the challenge of strengthening the Work in Finland programme. Even though the economy and politics around us are in turmoil, we must keep our focus on building a long-term operational basis. I would like to thank my colleagues and the network for excellent cooperation as I am handing over the responsibility for managing Business Finland’s talent attraction work to Laura Lindeman,” Hiekkanen-Mäkelä concludes.
The interview with Ulla was conduced and the article was written by Amani Al-mehsen. Amani was an intern at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employement in the summer of 2022.
is a public actor providing companies with internationalisation and financing services. It was established in 2018 by merging Finpro and Tekes and comprises an innovation funding centre and a company focusing on customer activities. Operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Econom-ic Affairs and Employment, Business Finland works to boost Finland’s competitiveness and create new jobs. Business Finland also comprises Finland Promotion Services, which promotes tourism, foreign investment and knowledge-based immigration to Finland.