Kick-off seminar: International Graduates to Work Life!

The seminar ‘Kick-off for study year 2017–2018’ was held in 5th of September 2017 at Diak Helsinki as a part of the project ‘International Graduates to Work Life!’. Students and graduates were invited from all the partner universities of applied sciences and door was kept open for anyone interested.

The seminar aimed to present diverse perspectives by inviting speakers from different fields of expertise touching contemporary topics like innovation, personal branding, immigration employment, and entrepreneurship.

Meg Sakilayan-Latvala: Get Involved!

The seminar day started with Meg Sakilayan-Latvala from Nicehearts ry. Meg shared encouraging words about the work of Nicehearts and about the project Community Organize.

She also encouraged participants to be more proactive in getting involved with different events and training programs that would equip one with necessary skills in the field of social work.

She shared information about an elective course on ‘How to be a community organizer’ that students can participate in. If you are interested to hear more about this course, you can contact Nicehearts directly for more information (

Karim Ali: Make a brand

After Nicehearts’ opening, we heard the presentation of the first key speaker, Karim Ali, who is currently running his startup Consilta and is also a student of Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences.

During his presentation he shared his entrepreneurial journey and focused in personal branding. He disseminated his skills and tricks about, in his words, ‘how to sell yourself’.

Furthermore, he also shared and opened some discussion on the topic of social entrepreneurship which is a broader term that may refer to any entrepreneurial activities that have a strong ‘social’ mission as their core purpose.

The participants and speakers were engaged with a question of how and when to draw the line with profit so that the social purpose would not fall apart.

Aape Pohjavirta: You can do it!

The second key speaker Aape Pohjavirta brought energy of startup world to the seminar hall. He shared interesting and provoking insights on how our complex world of today needs innovative minds to create a desirable change. Similarly, he also underlined the impact of IT and mobile technology development.

During his presentation he spotlighted the history of Helsinki Deaconess Institute and ‘Neuvola’ health care system, their importance and how they have contributed in development of Finnish health care scenario.

Aape argued that every individual has a potential to make a good change in our world if he/she is just passionate enough.

The statistics behind it all

The last speaker of the seminar was Anu Yijälä, a social psychologist who has been working for City of Helsinki as a researcher and a project manager in the project Occupational Restructuring Challenges Competencies (Polkuja työhön), funded by the Academy of Finland.

Any Yijälä took over the podium with her presentation slides “Skilled immigrant employees – untapped potential in the Finnish labor market?” based on her research work over the last 10 years.

She argued that getting a decent job is a way of integrating to a new society, as one gets a chance to be part of Finnish work life environment and thus familiarize oneself with the country’s work culture, have more chances of making local friends and learn local lingo.

Moreover, employment is also important for immigrants psychological well-being, since besides the economic gains, employment has also other kind of benefits e.g. for one’s self-esteem and status in the new community. However, she brought to a limelight that it’s been challenging for international talents to get into Finnish labor market.

In addition to the employment difficulties, there are also other kind of issues that have prolonged the integration process to Finland among the high skilled employees.

For example, the highly skilled international professionals of the European Chemical Agency that Yijälä with her colleagues were studying in the years 2008–2010, stated that their integration to the society has also been challenging due to climate as well as difficulties in making friends with the Finns.

However, in Yijälä’s recent studies conducted among skilled asylum seekers some of the participants have also noted that “once you then get to know them (the Finns) better, you really start to love them”.

More about Anu Yijälä’s research

Upon request, Anu agreed to talk more about the situation from international student’s perspective in a separate interview.

In the interview Anu shared that downturn of Finnish economy may have affected international students to get into job market as it was also the case for many natives.

She stated, “as these days economy seems to be getting better, along with uprising startup scenario most certainly does create more possibilities also for the international graduates in coming days”.

Similarly, we also spoke about the attitudes of the main players in the Finnish job markets. How the employers view international students and graduates also makes a big difference.

She made an emphasis that Finnish employers should understand that international students and graduates who are already in Finland – i.e. who are thus familiar with the kind of difficulties the newcomers face in Finland and are still willing to stay in the country – are a valuable resource for Finland, since international experience is needed to secure the country’s success in the global markets.

She stated that, “employers should take them as a resources and not as a risk or challenge”. We also spoke about the lack of enough scientific data and research on international students and graduates.

Concrete tools for employability

The seminar “Kick-off for study Year 2017–2018” was organized by a project (Kansainväliset korkeakoulutetut työelämään! – International Graduates to work life!) which aims to enhance with concrete tools the employability of international graduates especially in the Metropolitan area in Finland.

Jointly executed activities to enhance the employability (i.e. networking and recruitment events and workshops) help international students to understand Finnish work culture and life. Furthermore, career planning practices, including digital, will be developed in the project.

The project receives funding from the European Social Fund, and runs until December 2017.

I see there is an immense need of open-mindedness, understanding and cooperation among the Universities, UAS, different projects and stakeholders working for international students including international students and graduates participation in the process.

Prabesh Khatiwada

The writer is an international graduate from Diak UAS and has worked in student affairs in Finland since 2011. Currently, he is finalizing his Master’s degree from Roskilde University, Denmark and meanwhile works an intern for Diak’s various projects.