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Labour market inclusion more important than learning Finnish
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Labour market inclusion more important than learning Finnish

| Text: Bengt Östling

Why should it take seven years for immigrants to get nothing more than low-paid work, when there are expensive labour market measures in place? When can they get a well-paid job in the private sector after just one year!

Daniel Rahman believes he has the answer. His company Integrify is currently recruiting some 50 motivated immigrants in Finland for IT training. There is an acute labour shortage within the sector. The start has been good.

“Integrify’s aim is to facilitate the integration of immigrants through modern technology,” explains CEO Daniel Rahman. This means teaching immigrants with highly appreciated software development and IT skills and then connecting them with the technology industry and start-ups.

Finland lacks 10,000 programmers. That need is expected to triple within a few years. Finland is a good place to start pilot companies, believes Rahman. But he is aiming higher.

“Everyone’s a winner”

“IT companies really need more labour. They can offer well-paid jobs, a secure, long-term income and we give people good training soon after they have arrived.”

Everyone’s a winner, says Daniel Rahman: Immigrants get good jobs straight away, the technological ecosystem gets its labour, the state wins by getting people out of unemployment and expensive measures.

“Why doesn’t everyone do this?”

Rahman’s company Integrify is well up and running after just over a year, but not much further than that yet. There are complex plans and supposedly the outside interest is big.

International media is already following Daniel Rahman’s project, which sounds so simple. He recently participated at a conference in Oslo. The reaction there, according to Rahman, was “why doesn’t everyone do this?”

From asylum reception centre to programming course

Daniel Rahman has company experience but not an IT education. While he was studying at the Helsinki business school he founded a recruitment company, and later an asylum reception centre.

That is where he discovered the multitude of skills, enthusiasm and burning interest in fast integration among refugees in Finland.

 Photo: Bengt Östling

One year ago Integrify started a pilot course for five computer programmers, recruited from refugee centres around the country. The training took a few months. Four out of the five completed the training, and got jobs within the Finnish IT industry.

Right now interviews are being carried out for the next course. Hundreds of interested people have signed up. The course is due to start this autumn with 50 participants.

Could be profitable, but not yet

There is still a need for further financing. So far Integrify has been running it at a loss for the three founders and around ten partner companies who have helped finance the venture.

Daniel Rahman does not want to give any concrete details about the company’s European expansion, but negotiations have started with the aim of spreading the concept. The idea sounds simple, but Rahman underlines that his company has special knowledge when it comes to training and the matching of interested technology and start-up companies with immigrants who have been given the correct training.

“Normally it takes five years before an immigrant gets a job in Finland, and it is nearly always a low-paid job."

Years wasted

It takes on average two years to get refugee status, a time often spent doing nothing in a refugee centre, according to Daniel Rahman. When you have been given asylum, Finnish language training begins, because that is considered important for the integration process.

The immigrant is still not allowed to study during this time. Instead he or she is registered in the unemployment register and the Finnish Social Insurance Institution, explains Daniel Rahman. Professional training comes later.

So the first seven years in Finland are wasted. But Integrify wants to take care of the newly arrived after only a few months. And some months after that, at the end of their training, they can get a job.

“We remove six and a half years of unnecessary waiting,” claims Daniel Rahman. Anyone can calculate how much that saves the state.

The short pilot course had five students from different countries and backgrounds. It was held in English and was the stress test of the Rahman’s idea – and it worked.

“English should become an official language”

But there is a need for a new language policy, Rahman believes.

“It is unnecessary to learn Finnish. In Helsinki you can get by in English. It is more important to get a job, it will really integrate you into society,” he says. Later you could learn Finnish at work.

Finnish workplaces are becoming increasingly international. This makes it possible to hire immigrants who do not speak Finnish, he thinks. This is especially true within the technology industry, IT consultancies and start-ups. The capital region is particularly international.

But Finnish language skills are expected for most jobs in Finland, and sometimes, within the public sector, Swedish too. Rahman thinks this is wrong.

“We believe English should become Finland’s third official language as soon as possible. That would ease the integration of immigrants. We see more possibilities than threats.”

Labour shortages everywhere

The need for foreign labour within the IT sector has been debated for some time, but mostly in terms of jobs abroad. Many companies want to move their business back to Finland, but the labour shortage is a problem.

While the number of available IT jobs will triple in Finland by 2020, shortages are large everywhere; according to Rahman the Swedish IT sector needs 20 to 30,000 new workers, Germany needs 80,000 and Norway more than 10,000.

Finnish competition needs foreign labour

“Finland needs an incredible amount of foreign labour. In our labour market more people retire than we manage to replace. You don’t need to know much maths to see that this does not work. Our pension funds bleed as the gap widens.”

Labour has to come from somewhere, to pay taxes and pensions. And Finland needs highly educated foreign labour in order to compete internationally.

A large number of engineers, teachers, businesspeople and other highly educated people arrived among the 2015 flow of asylum seekers. It is wrong not to accept them, says Daniel Rahman.

“Finns have stopped cleaning”

Why should immigrants always get the low-paid jobs, do the Finns want it to be that way? One reason, of course, is that the public sector needs a lot of labour within jobs that do not necessarily demand a higher education.

“But there are also jobs that Finns no longer want to do.”

One example, says Daniel Rahman, is that Finns no longer do cleaning jobs.

“I don’t know when I last saw a Finnish cleaner at work,” he says.

Finns look at immigrants as a grey mass, where individual differences cannot be seen, Rahman also claims.

“It is tragic and very regrettable that our bus drivers are engineers and doctors who cannot find jobs within their own sector. This could also have to do with racism or prejudice among some people.”

Political reasons stopping new measures for asylum seekers

In future, Integrify wants to do more for those who have already been granted asylum in Finland, despite the fact that they would like to start training them as soon as they arrive. This is due to the political reality, says Daniel Rahman.

“Finland does not invest one cent in people who have not been granted asylum, and has no interest in keeping them active or helping them before they have been granted asylum. As a result, Integrify cannot take them in either.”

Rahman keeps coming back to the governments’ greedy attitude. But he underlines he is not critical, just realistic. His own refugee reception centre in Loviisa also had to close recently.

“The Finnish government seem to focus a lot on closing down the systems which were put in place in 2015 in order to receive the larger number of refugees,” notes Rahman. Most of those who arrived in 2015 are now being given negative asylum notices. Those who have time to participate in Integrify’s training and land a job, can apply for work permits instead.

Rahman also says he met many government officials at the Oslo conference who approached him after his talk to express their interest. Yet at the same time they were sorry that the state sector is so slow to act.

Nokia knowledge outdated

Many foreign publications have pointed out the paradox that there are so many IT jobs available while there is a surplus of people that should be available since mobile telephone giant Nokia made thousands of engineers unemployed. 

“Technology and programming languages develop very fast,” says Rahman. He has to keep up, and that takes a lot of motivation and dedication. Most Nokia programmers used Symbian some years ago. There is sadly no-one left in the world who wants that anymore, according to Rahman.

Old programming languages have been replaced by new ones, which you do learn quicker if you know some of the old ones. But there is a problem in the meeting between old knowledge and new needs.

Daniel Rahman believes in his idea of training brand new Finns to fill available jobs. Many educational institutions for Finnish youths probably have the same idea, but there does not seem to be any immediate or considerable interest. Rahman is not scared of the competition either. As he told the Oslo conference:

“Governments are not the most dynamic and adaptable players in a rapidly changing field.”

Immigration issues triggered governmental crisis

Finland started the summer with a ‘mini government crisis’. The leaders of the Centre Party and the National Coalition Party announced they could not cooperate with the Finns Party’s newly elected leader, the MEP Jussi Halla-aho, because of unbridgeable value differences. The two party leaders underlined the government programme’s sustainable principles like human rights and the rule of law, as opposed to hate rhetoric or discrimination. 

This was solved the next day when 20 of the Finns Party’s 35 MPs left their parliamentary group, among them Timo Soini who was leaving the leadership post after 20 years. The group’s four other government ministers have also left their parliamentary group and have been excluded from the Finns Party. The new group is called ‘Blue Reform’.

As a result, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä decided the government did not have to resign but could carry on as before, among them Jari Lindström as Minister of Labour (although he had to resign the justice portfolio in May because he was nearly burnt out). The government programme has not been changed. Many Finnish commentators have expressed surprise that things like the stricter immigration policy, which was negotiated by Jussi Halla-aho, have been left in place.

When the leader of the National Coalition Party Petteri Orpo proposed to increase the annual quota of refugees by 300 to 1,050 (in reality taking it back to what it once used to be), the coalition partner Blue Reform immediately refused. “We have not agreed this in the government programme.”

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