The welcome to non-Finnish workers must come from the top

According to Timo Lappi, Chief Executive of MaRa, the Finnish Hospitality Association, a change of attitude is required at Finnish government level to ensure sufficient numbers of non-Finns in the national workforce.

“The hospitality and tourism businesses are among hospitality industry because traditional industries are moving away from Finland.”

MaRa acts as a trade and labour market organization in the travel and restaurant branches, with about 2,400 members in 5,700 offices across the country. The membership covers everything from rock festivals, ski centres and amusement parks to hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.

Lappi admits that non-Finns are under-represented at management level in the hospitality industry but believes that this will change in time. This is because Finnish politicians have no choice but to take a more positive attitude in their response to the expansion of the hospitality and tourism branches.

“For example, in Helsinki nearly 60 per cent of all people overnighting in hotels are already foreigners,” he says. “In Lapland there are many companies, such as those operating snowmobile and husky safaris, whose clients are more than 90 per cent foreign. Visitors to Finland are coming increasingly from Russia and Great Britain, for instance. English is widely spoken in Helsinki, but Russian guests of Finnish hospitality are also keen to have services offered in their own language. In fact we have a shortage of Russian speakers. Restaurants in Helsinki that have hired Russian speakers have noticed their customer numbers rise rapidly.

“On the other hand, foreign workers should also have a BASIC knowledge of Finnish because 70 per cent of our customers are still Finnish. This is something we need to concentrate on in our education, to make sure that foreigners coming here have a knowledge of Finnish.”

Lappi thinks that the argument in the business community for a larger non-Finnish workforce has already been won but that political attitudes still need to change. Neither is the distinction always clearly established between the intake of a foreign workforce and the intake of refugees.

“Political discussions have sometimes concluded we don’t need foreign workers because of the economic recession, but they are not looking far enough ahead. Other politicians and civil servants understand generally that we should be more eager to go abroad and express an image of Finland as a lucrative place to work and live. We also need to recognise that the average age of the Finnish population is increasing at a faster rate than in other European countries.

“Our educational system is already very open to non-Finns. I am a vice board member of the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, for example, and I know they have done a lot of good work in giving students an opportunity to acquire skills needed in an international environment. We must be much more willing to attend different kinds of events abroad and be more positive to welcoming a foreign workforce.”

There also needs to be a greater retention of foreign students educated in Finland after they have finished their studies – not just to maximize the Finnish taxpayer’s return on investment but also to exploit the familiarity with Finnish language and culture that has been acquired.

“We have to express the benefits of Finland – good salaries and working conditions, the safest working environment in the world. Our climate is not something we have emphasized, but even climate change might make northern Europe a more attractive tourism region. In any case tourism is growing and will continue to grow.”

Written and photo by: Tim Bird