Building networks from scratch

Published on 3.12.2020

CHIARA COSTA-VIRTANEN is a service coach for the Helsinki Skills Center, helping international jobseekers to learn a profession and find a job.

She came to Finland seven years ago from Italy with a degree in cultural mediation, and now consults the centre’s customers in easy-tounderstand Finnish and five other languages.
“We try to respect and support the personal and cultural identity of everyone. It is especially important for the international community’s jobseekers to feel accepted and respected for who they are,” she says.

The City of Helsinki-sponsored Helsinki Skills Center simultaneously teaches people a profession and the Finnish language.
Newcomers without work are referred to the service via the TE employment office or social services. At present, the centre serves 452 customers representing 121 different nationalities.

THE CENTER also helps new arrivals to the country create networks, as according to a 2017 study from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, only a quarter of available jobs in Finland are openly advertised.
“Many people that arrive here from abroad have impressive skills and work backgrounds, but they don’t have a network. The Helsinki Skills Center offers them tips and tricks to help build one,” Costa-Virtanen says.

She says that she herself has experienced life as an unemployed jobseeker in Helsinki, so she is aware of the challenges many of her customers face.
“Unemployment can be mentally draining and lead to depression. It can also slow integration as you mentally refuse to engage with a society that won’t give you an opportunity to contribute. Finding a workplace with the help of professionals can really change the way you see the world and the way you see Finland,” she says.

IN ADDITION to her work for the city, Costa-Virtanen is chair of the 5,000-member-strong International Working Women of Finland, an independent networking association focusing on working life. The group arranges meetups, mentoring and webinars together with many state and local employment authorities.
“IWWOF is a volunteer-based group that seeks to empower female foreigners in the Finnish job market, as many Finnish employers are hesitant to employ people that don’t speak perfect Finnish,” she says.

Costa-Virtanen says Helsinki should expand its anonymous recruiting and hire even more foreigners, as it would provide a great example to the private sector and foster a global perspective.
“If municipal decision-makers have no interface with the international community and aren’t culturally sensitive, all of the new services designed for this audience will miss the mark.”

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