A LACK OF PROFESSIONAL NETWORKS or insights into one’s field of work in Finland are some of the key challenges foreigners face when seeking employment matching their skill levels. During the past year, Luckan Integration’s professional networking concept Dörren has answered these challenges by connecting locally established professionals and foreign-born professionals within the same industry.
We spoke to staff and so-called “Door Opener” at Dörren to find out how their service is helping both locally established and foreign professionals find opportunities in Uusimaa.
Unemployment among foreign-born people in Finland has long been seen as a systemic issue and a barrier to growth. The unemployment rate of foreign-born people in Finland at the end of 2019 stood at 23.7%, compared to 6.2% for the Finnish economy as a whole.
In addition, many foreign-born workers currently in employment tend to be working in jobs that do not match their skill levels, with evidence showing that many immigrants end up working in low-skilled, low-pay jobs in the service sector.
Many foreign-born professionals face significant structural barriers to gainful employment, not least language barriers and having to contend with a “two-tiered” job market in which many positions are not advertised openly, but rather through personal networks of friends, colleagues, and professional contacts that many arrivals do not have access to. These barriers have been acknowledged as a significant drag on Finland’s economic growth, with policymakers introducing a range of measures aimed at better integrating foreigners into the labour market in recent months.
One initiative that is trying to address some of these barriers to employment among foreign-born professionals is Dörren, a professional networking service in Uusimaa that is funded by the European Social Fund and the Svenska Kulturfonden foundation. Founded in January 2020 by the non-profit Förening Luckan, Dörren provides a free matchmaking service for foreign professionals, connecting them with established professionals in the Helsinki area that can help them broaden their local insights and build the kinds of networks that often lead to employment.
The service is also designed to provide an opportunity for locally established professionals to broaden their own perspectives and networks. Since launching, Dörren claims to have matched 150 new connections and is continuing to match established “Door Openers” with foreign-born professionals throughout the spring. A Door Opener can be anybody who has a foothold on the Finnish labour market and who wants to network while lending a hand to a professional at the same time.
One local professional who has offered her services as a Door Opener is Verena Rentrop, a German-born professional in Helsinki who worked for Nokia in Düsseldorf for years before permanently relocating to Helsinki nine years ago. Verena says she signed up to Dörren because she is always keen to expand her own network and because she has intimate experience with the kinds of challenges many foreign-born professionals might face when they first arrive in Finland.
“I’m a crazy networker, and my own experiences in Finland have taught me the difference that the right contacts can make”, remarked Verena, who also runs a large online community for former Nokia employees.
“I was already deeply connected to Finland through my time at Nokia, which has given me an extensive professional network in the country’s IT industry. The service provided by Dörren felt like an opportunity to give back”.
As a Door Opener, Verena is matched to a foreign-born professional who has signed up to the Dörren platform and matches her own industry experience. It is then up to Verena and the foreign-born professional to arrange a one-hour mentoring meeting, the goal of which is to provide the professional with information about the local job market and local opportunities, as well as providing additional network contacts that might come in handy.
Verena also described the matchmaking service offered by Dörren as a “perfect fit” for professionals who are already established here and wish to expand their network, noting that she has so far been matched with nine highly skilled professional from six different countries.
Verena, has leveraged her extensive professional network in Finland to help other, more recent arrivals find opportunities that match their skillsets, arguing that “the main barriers can be overcome here simply by meeting the right people”.
Elisa Häggström, the project coordinator at Dörren, agrees that the benefits of the service are two-fold and highlights that “every meeting is as unique as its participants”.
"Dörren provides a type of networking that does not necessarily happen naturally even though there is a need for local and international professionals to find each other. Every Dörren meeting becomes what the two people make of it and it is inspiring to hear how positive the encounters have been in most cases."
Häggström also stressed that the purpose of the matchmaking service is not to directly provide foreign-born professionals with employment, but rather to make it easy for local and foreign professionals to meet, which can have positive impacts for both parties. Local organisations have also played an active role, encouraging their members or employees to take part in Dörren’s meetings and networking events.
When asked about what kind of advice Verena typically provides to contacts matched to her through Dörren, she responded that, although new arrivals “need all the help they can get”, it is also important to acknowledge that people from outside of Finland have something unique to bring to the table.
“We need to embrace our differences and leverage them. Rather than trying to be Finnish, it often pays to demonstrate what your own unique value as a professional with an international perspective”.
Dörren is matching Door Openers and foreign-born professionals for meetings on a daily basis until mid-May and is currently encouraging anyone who feels like they could act as a mentor and who wishes to broaden their own professional network to sign up.
The team at Dörren emphasizes that there is no selection process in becoming a Door Opener and that “most of us have more information and contacts to give than we might realize”. Demand for the service is currently high among foreign-born professionals and many are awaiting a meeting especially in the fields of ICT, marketing and communications, and finance. Find out more about how you can take part, here.
Adam Oliver Smith – HT