- Mark Johanson
- BBC Worklife
Finland offers foreign talents the opportunity to taste life in its capital for 90 days. Could this help the Nordic nation attract more professionals?
At the end of February, Alli Ottarsson will disembark from a plane in the dense snow of the Finnish winter to experience a 90-day experience in an alternate reality and get a taste of what it’s like to work in Helsinki.
He will be accompanied by his fiancée and four-year-old daughter, as well as 14 other professionals selected to participate in a novel program aimed at attracting tech workers to the Finnish capital.
About 5,330 people from around the world applied at the end of last year for this opportunity to 90-day free relocation offering the Helsinki Business Hub, an international trade and investment promotion agency.
The agency will provide the 15 selected with a vehicle to pick them up from the airport, cultural orientation, typical Finnish experiences, remote work facilities, introductions to local business networks and all the documentation necessary for a three-month stay.
Professionals will also receive assistance in matters related to accommodation and kindergartens and schools.
The program does not pay for airfare and accommodation, but if the test goes well, all workers can apply for permanent residence.
Ottarsson, an investor in the video game industry, applied because he was frustrated with the increase in coronavirus cases in Los Angeles, where he lives.
Investor hopes to explore investment opportunities in Helsinki’s burgeoning gaming industry, as well as “opening the horizons of the family” as they endure the pandemic in one of the least affected cities in Europe.
“My fiancee also works in business, so we see this as an opportunity to really expand our network of contacts in the region,” he said.
Ottarsson said the Helsinki program “is almost like an adult version of a summer camp or course abroad.”
“It’s something to get out of your normal social circles and meet new people.”
The initiative, called “90 Day Finn“has generated a lot of attention in recent weeks and has helped put Helsinki firmly on the destination map for global workers.
While only 15 winners will eventually make the trip, the show’s creators hope that the publicity generated by the campaign will attract more foreigners trained to help narrow the talent gap in your growing tech sector.
If the initiative works, relocation packages like this one could become a new tool in the competitive race to attract foreign professionals.
“We felt it was the right time to do something different.”
Finland may have given the world the open source operating system Linux, telecommunications giant Nokia, and even the SMS technology behind text messaging, but it has struggled to generate a workforce to respond to growing demand in the sector. of technology.
“We have a good educational system and we train a lot of engineers and coders, but the demand is so great that the number of graduates is simply not enough“, explicitly Johanna Huurre, del Helsinki Business Hub.
“Also, we do not believe that all wisdom lives in Finland; having diverse international talent will help our best ideas to spread globally.”
Huurre noted that Finland is not a popular destination for global talent. “So we felt it was the right time to do something different” and offer a practical way to experience Helsinki.
“When people come to Finland they tend to stay, so we needed to find an ingenious way to attract them here.”
The fact that Helsinki is a city of less than one million inhabitants in a country of less than six million can put it at a disadvantage, despite having a start-up ecosystem valued at US $ 5.8 billion.
In the latest Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), the city is ranked 31st in the world, far behind even close neighbors like Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Felipe Monteiro, professor at the INSEAD business graduate school and academic director of GTCI, pointed out that Helsinki is lower on the list because it is a smaller city with less global influence., less tourist traffic and fewer multinational headquarters.
Those seeking employment, for example in data mining and analysis or software engineering can expect to earn up to US $ 4,960 per month in sectors with little competition for jobs.
“A society where things work”
Huurre said she was overwhelmed by both the number and the quality of the candidates for the 90-day program, of which 30% were Americans and the rest were scattered across all continents.
The majority (70%) were remote workers, while 16% were entrepreneurs.
There were also 60 investors, including Ottarsson.
The Helsinki Business Hub has now created a database where unsuccessful applicants can leave their profiles for local businesses to review. After all, the goal is not just to attract 15 people; Helsinki wants as many qualified candidates to be relocated as possible.
Although the program is open to citizens of any country, the organizers did not hide their main target: tech workers on the west coast of the United States, who may be weary from the management of the pandemic and the polarized political landscape.
Joonas Halla pointed out that the Nordic social security system, with its generous parental leave and universal health care, has also proven to be an important factor in convincing workers from sunnier climates like California.
“Obviously, if you just want warmth and sun, Finland may not be the place for you, but if you like all four seasons and want to have a society where things really work out, Finland is a great option,” Halla said.
“We want to maintain our model of the Nordic welfare state and we need talent and we need investment to make that happen.”
Harinder Jaswal, a biochemist and regulatory affairs specialist, moved from Silicon Valley to Helsinki in 2019.
What attracted Jaswal was the opportunity for remote work and the possibility of a better balance between her career and caring for her three young children in her partner’s homeland.
“Here they understand that family is important, that free time is important“, he assured.
“In America, I was always stressed going to meetings and running home to take the kids to soccer practice; I didn’t have much flexibility.”
As a woman of color, Jaswal noted that she felt unwelcome in “Trump’s America.” That factor, plus increased wildfires, traffic, and a poorly resourced school system, made him feel like it was time to leave Silicon Valley and look elsewhere for opportunities.
His move to the Espoo company, outside Helsinki, has been “wonderful,” he said, but has also had challenges.
Jaswal said cold temperatures are not easy to get used to, and although Finland is often considered the “happiest country in the world”, understanding Finnish culture can take time.
“People are not as outgoing or social as in the United States.”
“Sometimes you can feel as an American that you are loud and speak very loudly. Finns are calmer and value their personal space.”
Felipe Monteiro of Insead believes that the 90 Day Finn program is an intriguing example of how Smaller centers can think of creative ways to compete with cities like San Francisco, London and Singapore.
“The mere fact of doing an experiment like this is, for me, a good sign because it shows his agility,” he said.
But is it just good marketing or is it a project with a good chance of success? “That will depend on whether they are just doing this to get some visibility or whether they will use this experience to learn from the data in terms of what kinds of people apply, what kinds of careers they attract, and who decides to stay.”
Of course, coming and staying are two very different things. Ottarsson, the video game investor, is about to board a plane to Helsinki, but he didn’t just buy a one-way ticket.
“Moving out of the United States is certainly a possibility that our family has discussed, but it is not on the agenda for now,” he said.
“I think this is more of a test to see how it feels to be in a place where you don’t have a network.”
Ottarsson may be running a test, but Monteiro says Helsinki is doing the same.
“If they get it right, it could be a proof of concept that helps them design more effective relocation plans and attract talent willing to stay longer,” said the INSEAD expert.
“Other cities should take note.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.