Finland is suffering from a growing shortage of skilled workforce. It is widely agreed that the expertise of international students and immigrants should be better utilized in the development of the region where they are living. In North Savo Region we have nearly 1000 international higher education degree students (in Savonia University of Applied Sciences and University of Eastern Finland).
Too many of those international talents leave our region after their studies because they do not find a job that matches their education and future career plans. In our region are also immigrants who came here for other reasons than education, but who already have higher education from their origin country. For them it is also often challenging to find a job that matches their education.
One possible career path for immigrants is establishing one’s own business. I interviewed four foreign-born entrepreneurs to understand more about their experiences. One of the interviewees said: ‘I established the business because I saw it as the only possibility to get a decent job’. But also more positive motives for starting a business came up, like seeing a business opportunity based on one’s previous work experience.
The Stories of Immigrant Entrepreneurs
Even thought the stories of immigrant entrepreneurs are all unique and show how their backgrounds, experiences, competences, and networks effect to their choices, the stories also revealed that immigrant entrepreneurs typically have an additional set of challenges in their entrepreneurial path. The entrepreneurs mentioned the lack of financial resources as one key challenge. They told that it was very difficult to get a loan in start up phase of their business, and they had also encountered prejudices related to their non-Finnish background.
They emphasised that for an immigrant proving one’s skills and motivation for setting up a business is significantly more difficult than for a Finnish person. The sentence: ‘I have had to convince over and over again that I have enough competences’ came up repeatedly in the stories of these entrepreneurs.
The entrepreneurs had received advisory help from local business support actors, and they found this help very valuable. However, they also mentioned that it is not easy for a person without good Finnish language skills to find information about all possible support entrepreneurs could use. As an example, one entrepreneur told that she missed a good start-up funding possibility because she heard only afterwards that this type of funding should have been applied before establishing the company.
In the near future we will face a big shortage of skilled workforce in eastern part of Finland. The strong signs of this can already be seen especially in the health care and tourism and hospitality sectors. It seems that international workforce is vital for the future development of our region. For this reason, the companies and organisation should develop their skills to accept foreign employees. One good way to practice this without big risks is to take international student as an intern. Often a good experience with foreign trainee leads to courage to also employ the first international talent.
Also, in our area we need more start up businesses. Immigrants are one big potential group to establish new companies. However, it is very important that information about start-up and business development support possibilities are widely informed also for immigrants and in English. Based on the interviews of immigrant entrepreneurs it also seems that financial and other business support actors should develop their skills to encounter immigrant business customers.
Savonia has started several development activities for getting more international talents and immigrant entrepreneurs to enhance our region’s development. For example, North Savo Talent Hub, SIMHE (Supporting Immigrants in Higher Education) and Business Center are helping international students and immigrants in finding their career paths. In this work also the role of companies and other work life organisations is vital.
Virpi Laukkanen, Director of Internationality