The Finnish labor force is highly unionized. More than 70% of the work force belongs to a union, and the figure has even come down in the recent years. Employer and employee unions on the umbrella organization level negotiate with the government on the tripartite TULOPOLIITTIINEN KOKONAISRATKAISU, but unions themselves are not political. There are no repercussions for joining a union or being active in one in Finland. In some cases, it may even make it easier for you to enter a certain job, showing you have connections and expertise. Finnish Unions and some unemployment funds are most of the time affiliated with one of the 3 main confederations: STTK, SAK and AKAVA.
The main reasons people join unions are the unemployment funds and the collective agreements. When you have been part of a union and unemployment fund long enough, you will be assured to receive unemployment benefits that are higher than the ones you would receive with KELA. You can join the unions even if you are unemployed or if you are a student.
Unions are industry-related, but you can join any union you want. Their role is also to protect your rights, give you valuable information and trainings related to your industry but also your skills and the Finnish job market in general. Unions are particularly useful for people looking for a job. They can help you prepare for an interview (for example by giving you salary ranges), or during your job-hunting process.
Some unions have specific services for foreign workers or job seekers and can be contacted online or directly by phone.
Investing some of your time as a volunteer is one of the main entry doors to Finnish job market, to be part of a group and community, to make friends, to feel good and to develop your skills and professional networks. It is also a very good way to improve your Finnish language skills.
Volunteering is something that we have advised to do to our participants, especially those who have a lot of transferrable skills, or who are trying to start a career. On top of everything that we have listed above, volunteering is a way for you to perform tasks and build up genuine relationships, based on trust. As we mentioned several times, trust and references are extremely important when looking for a job, and getting them by volunteering is, in our opinion, one of the best ways to do so.
There are two main ways of volunteering. In many organizations, you will be proposed pre-existing tasks to perform. Many associations have a list of tasks that are usually given to volunteers, from very simple ones to the most complex, depending on your skills and availabilities. Many organizations also value the volunteer’s own initiatives, ideas and creativity. A lot of them are more than open to new ideas. You can very often become a volunteer and develop your own idea. This is a very efficient way to develop and showcase your skills, and at the same time build up your networks!
Volunteering in a Finnish speaking environment is also a valuable experience, to both improve your language skills, but also justify that you can be part of a Finnish speaking team, even if you’re not yet fluent.
Volunteering is also a simple way to make friends and meet like-minded people. Finland had clubs and associations for almost everything! You’ll most certainly find your people by being involved in an association or an organization!
Lastly, by volunteering and being involved and active, you will support your own well-being. Being a volunteer gives you a sense of meaning and purpose, that many foreigners might feel that they lack during their job-hunting period.
Go for it!
During the three years that lasted our project, the theme of well-being has been at the center of several events and groups that we have organized. We realized with our participants that often, the job-hunting process becomes solely focused on looking for jobs and slowly excludes social life, healthcare, relationships and family or hobbies. During our event called Kickstart, we worked with our participants on how to improve their skills and networks in order to find a job but also on their well-being. When asked questions such as “how are you? How well do you sleep? How do you take care of yourself”? at a job-hunting event, many people were quite destabilized.
But sleeping well, taking time to rest and have fun, is a crucial part of the job-hunting process, that we have encouraged our participants to pay attention to. It may seem like a waste of time, but the keyword here is balance. The more balance in each areas of your life, the best you will get out of the time you invest in your actual job hunt.
Another important point is that once at work in Finland, your well-being and the work-life balance are both very important topics. In most workplaces, and in general in Finnish work culture, it is normal to be flexible on one’s working hours based on the need of their family. It is perfectly ok to be on sick leave, to leave a bit earlier one day to go to a hobby or to work from home from time to time. Many companies also offer different kind of benefits to support your well-being and encourage you to balance your life.
Alongside with balance, the other important word is “efficiency”. By taking care of your own well-being, you will be more productive and ready to be active.
A very efficient way to introduce yourself to others, make friends, network or give an interesting twist to a cover letter or an interview, is to talk about your X-factor. What is it that you have and that no one could suspect? Of course, you do not have to reveal your deepest secrets! But thinking about your x-factor is an interesting a powerful exercise, for at least 3 reasons.
As a foreigner with a Finnish spouse, living in Finland, looking for a job and integrating, we would like to remind you to focus on your unique richness: you!
We have very often supported and worked with participants who were focused on the threats and challenges that they were facing or about to face on the Finnish job market. When analyzing your environment is a smart strategy, solely focusing on the threats isn’t. At Partner’s Path, we have found out that the one factor that makes a difference in a CV, a cover letter, an interview or a networking event, is personal story. Who are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your unique story? Based on who you uniquely are, what are the opportunities on the Finnish job market? Remember that your mother tongues, your backgrounds of origin, your story in Finland, all of that is a formidable open door on who you are and how you could benefit a company and society. Don’t hesitate to explore your own story and dig out for storylines. We have often seen in our groups how difficult it can be for our participants to find interesting events, skills or abilities from their own lives. Peer-support group and mentorship are very efficient ways to realize how individual stories matter in employment and integration. Hearing other people’s stories is a powerful way to be reminded how the individual unique choices and path can weight in. We often feel powerless, following a chain of events that are decided for us, or trying to catch opportunities passing by instead of creating some. Remember how you have been shaping your path, the challenges you’ve overcame, the choices you’ve made. Do not forget that you have the resources in you to keep building up your path.
When building-up this Partner’s Path A-to-Z, most of the words for each letter were obvious. Some of them took us a little while to find, but overall, each letter had a logical and useful word attached to it. When it came to Z, we really scratched our head for a long time. A few common but empty words came up such as “zeal” or “zen”. And it then appeared that maybe we should let the “Z” go. As we saw with many of our clients, there are, when integrating, some “impossible factors”. You and your partner will try to make sense out of certain situations, you maybe will try to fill the gaps up with random or shallow actions. But we really hope that you also understand that not every situation can be faced equally. That it is okay to let go, to admit that one option is just not right.
Not finding a word for the letter “Z” doesn’t erase the 25 other letters before that.
Not finding the perfect answer doesn’t erase the rest of your Path.