For Peter Vesterbacka, well-versed in the immense opportunities offered by the Chinese export market, Chinese language proficiency represents an important building block for Finland’s future economic prosperity. As he has it, a workforce proficient in the language would attract Chinese and other international companies to base themselves in Finland, and also smooth the way for Finnish companies keen to access the huge market in China, which continues to see growth despite a recent slow down.
Few would disagree with the idea that foreign language skills play a key role in promoting a strong export sector and attracting inward investment. What Vesterbacka would like to see in support of Finland’s economic growth is the designation of both English and Chinese as official languages and Chinese language tuition for all children attending nursery.
These are bold ideas and run counter to current trends, as reported by the Finnish schools sector. Finnish young people’s enthusiasm for obtaining secondary school qualifications in languages other than English and Swedish has plummeted since the mid-1990s linguistic heyday.
It may well be that language provision at nurseries and schools alone will not be sufficient to meet the needs of international business. Some considerable patience will certainly be called for, as children starting nursery now will not be entering the workforce until the late 2030s. I personally would urge Finnish businesses make use of a resource that, for now, remains woefully under-utilised and is ready to be tapped into right now, not in two decades’ time, namely, the considerable skills and expertise offered by Finland’s immigrant population.
Early this summer, the City of Espoo launched a collaboration with Sino Talent Finland, an organisation set up to represent the Chinese community in Finland. The association offers careers support to highly-skilled Chinese workers and provides advice and guidance to Finnish businesses looking for the right talent for their Chinese ventures. The collaboration forms part of the Helsinki Metropolitan Region’s At work in Finland project. The association is currently working to establish a database of Chinese talent in Finland, which Finnish businesses can use for recruitment purposes. This is an excellent opportunity for Finnish business to work together with the Chinese community!
According to a study carried out by the Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum, when a company recruits an immigrant employee, it leads to a 2% increase in exports to the new employee’s country of origin. Similarly, recruiting an immigrant with a higher education degree, who has resided in Sweden for less than four years, leads, on average, to an 18% increase in service exports to their country of origin.
The question is, can Finnish business afford to leave the expertise offered by Finland’s Chinese community untapped?
Teemu Haapalehto is the City of Espoo’s Manager
of Immigration Affairs.