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Haubeto Douhevyx is pictured building a roof at Skanska's construction site in Kaarela, Helsinki.The construction sector has reiterated its interest in moulding tens of thousands of asylees into skilled construction workers.

Tarmo Pipatti, the managing director at the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries (RT), reveals that the matter has been on the agenda in discussions with representatives of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

The matter falls within the purview of Tapio Kari, the head of labour market affairs at RT, and Kristina Stenman, a director at the Migration Department of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

Pipatti is hopeful the first training programmes could be launched as soon as next year. “Tens of thousands of asylees could be trained into the industry in the years to come,” he estimates.

Kari points out that there is a mismatch in labour supply and demand in the construction sector. “The unemployed are not where the jobs are. The situation is becoming worse and worse because construction is concentrated in urban areas,” he says.

More on the topic:

- Ministry looking for measures to expedite employment of asylum seekers (8 October 2015)

- Construction industry eager to train asylum seekers (6 October 2015)

Stenman, in turn, calls attention to the importance of first determining the education and work experience of people arriving in Finland. “We must be able to utilise the fastest educational lanes. Labour market training must match the demand for labour. There's demand for labour in the construction sector and already quite a lot of foreign workforce,” she says.

The training programmes could according to Pipatti be organised as part of regular vocational education – initially, for example, by the Training Centre for the Construction Industry (RATEKO).

“The key at first is naturally Finnish language training. The integration of people with Arabic language skills into the training would also be important in the early stages. The vocational training itself could start with a work practice programme,” he envisions.

RT expects the demand for labour to increase in the construction sector as a result of the large age groups retiring and the younger age groups becoming smaller. “The demand covers the whole variety of construction professionals,” highlights Pipatti.

He calls attention to an estimate by the Institute for Economic Research (VATT) indicating that employment in the construction sector could increase by as much as one-quarter by 2030.

The demand is high especially for experts in construction design and management. “Design training was reduced after the major recession of the 90s because it was thought that there would no longer be as much construction,” explains Pipatti.

The demand for people with vocational qualifications in construction will according to RT be urgent in five years' time, but labour demand is already outstripping supply in seven population centres. “The gap is really quite notable,” Pipatti acknowledges.

RT estimates that up to 30,000 people of foreign background are already employed in the construction sector. In Uusimaa, more than 30 per cent of skilled construction workers are of foreign origin. “Our companies and the sector are used to having foreigners on construction sites. The larger companies have clear guidelines in placed and don't differentiate between employees based on their nationality,” Pipatti says.

The construction sector would according to him be able to provide employment to a large group of people. “This is not about measly logging projects but about paid employment after training that complies with all the rules.”

He estimates that the people arriving in Finland include a lot of young men who would certainly be interested in a career in the construction sector.

The Finnish Construction Trade Union has a vastly different opinion.

“It's a bunch of well-meaning theoretical talk without an ounce of realism. It won't work out,” retorts Matti Harjuniemi, the chairman of the Finnish Construction Trade Union. “Training immigrants is a long and thorny road. We've already seen that. Immigrants have often been close to the top of the list if there's a need to rationalise production and cut jobs.”

He laughs off suggestions of providing training to tens of thousands. “Immigrants start from scratch. They have no understanding of the industry, the Finnish culture or the language. There are no short cuts.”

Employment opportunities should according to Harjuniemi be first offered to young people with qualifications in construction. “One in two of the people who complete vocational education can't find employment in the sector. We must first get young people to construction sites.”

The construction sector, he adds, does not oppose immigration.

Martta Nieminen, Eeva Palojärvi – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: Markus Jokela / HS