Jonathon Taylor seisoo lumisella kadulla.
Courage. Jonathon Taylor encourages universities to attract diverse candidates, make the recruitment of international experts easier and take risks.

Finding a permanent job is the hardest thing

News article

Aiming to become even more international, universities are attracting teaching and research staff from abroad. Highly educated immigrants wonder if the career opportunities offered by Finnish universities are truly the same for everyone.

The journey of a highly educated foreigner to the Finnish labour market can be quite long.

“It took me six years to find this job,” says Associate Professor (tenure track) Jonathon Taylor. He teaches sustainable and healthy urban development at the Tampere University.

Originally from Canada, Taylor received his PhD in Building Science from University College London in 2012 and also found a job at UCL at the same time.

He and his Finnish economist wife had their first child in the same year.

“We both had good careers in hectic London, but when we thought about where we wanted to raise our kids, we made a list of the positives of our home countries and ended up here.”

The family moved to Finland in 2014.

“I was extremely fortunate, my employer allowed remote work. I continued as Assistant Professor at UCL for another six years while living in Helsinki and travelled to London three or four times a year.”

Taylor had started looking for a job in Finland already before moving here.

“I applied for positions in universities and construction companies, both in Helsinki and elsewhere. My research is highly valued and deals with international problems, but despite my merits, I was not being invited to interviews.”

No other Finnish university has a similar professorship in Urban Physics.
- Jonathon Taylor

“In the first few years, this was not an issue, since I still had my remote work at UCL. But then Brexit happened, and my salary dropped as the pound fell. That was a very stressful time in life.”

A stroke of luck came in 2020 when Jonathon Taylor was hired as a lecturer in the Programme in Sustainable Urban Development at Tampere University. In January 2022, he was appointed Associate Professor.

“My current position is entirely new. No other Finnish university has a similar professorship in Urban Physics. Our students are ambitious and smart, extremely motivated to make a positive impact on the world. Half of them come from abroad.”

Cultural differences in the recruitment process

The recruitment processes of universities in the UK and in Finland are quite different.

“There are a lot of universities and vacant positions for professors and lecturers in the UK and especially in London. They are very particular and open about the criteria by which the applicants’ interviews, resumés and expertise are assessed. Interviewers are also trained to avoid interviewer bias.”

In London, an applicant will put together a CV and a possible teaching portfolio and have one or two interviews.

“In Finland, you do all this and on top of that you have to prepare a research proposal, record video responses to questions sent by a recruiter, and deliver a sample lecture to an auditorium of university staff and students. And you may still be asked to take an aptitude test.”

According to Jonathon Taylor, there is no sense in this.

“But I guess it’s because the recruiters are cautious. There are very few academic positions in Finland. This may lead to a situation where recruiters choose “safe” or “familiar” people. Dismissing employees is more difficult in Finland.”

Familiarity comes with its own problems.

“This means that they often hire people who come from the same parts of the world as they do, who have completed the same university education and think about current challenges in the same way. This leads to a lack of ideas and perspectives, and is the reason why some research groups in Finland have quite a narrow outlook.”

The recruitment processes of universities in the UK and in Finland are quite different.

Taylor encourages universities to attract diverse candidates, make the recruitment of international experts easier and take risks. International staff should be engaged for example by organizing activities for them.

“My university is awesome in this respect. It wants to be more international. Everyone is willing to put in a bit of extra effort to help their international colleagues feel welcome. English is used in the workplace. We also have a programme to support the integration of spouses.”

“You need loads of luck”

You can improve your chances of finding a job by getting to know projects and people in the field.

“They may not necessarily be in a university, but in the right industry. Someone who looks at things from a different perspective. Try to set up a meeting, even just 15 minutes, to talk about what you could do. Find a way to help them with their problem, for example by doing research or a favour for free in your own time. Teach them something, show them an easier way to do something.”

Some day, they may have a vacancy available, or they may know a suitable project and recommend you for it.

“If you really want to further your academic career, prepare to be persistent and don’t be discouraged. The competition is tough and being left on the sidelines is not necessarily your fault. You need loads of luck,” says Jonathon Taylor.

Moving to Finland was a good choice for Taylor’s family.

“In the UK, we had higher salaries and paid less taxes, but considering the day care, education, public transport and numerous other things, Finland scores the highest points. We found a balance here: we can build ambitious careers and still enjoy the quality of life. Money is not everything for us. We are happy to pay taxes for the benefits we receive.”

Constant gnawing uncertainty

Diana Moya Osorio istuu pöydän ääressä, takanaan vaaleaa puuseinää, edessään vihreät lasiseinät.
Fitting in. Diana Moya Osorio thinks that universities should support their international staff and integrate them into the work community. Photo: Teija Soini

Ecuadorian Diana Moya Osorio had never considered moving to Finland.

“But I fell in love with the country. What appealed to me was the good cooperation in my industry, the gender equality in society and the fact that I believe Finland is a good place for a family.”

Moya Osorio works at the University of Oulu as Adjunct Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Wireless Communications.

Having earned her D.Sc. degree in Telecommunications in 2015 from the University of Campinas in Brazil, Moya Osorio was appointed permanent Assistant Professor at the Federal University of São Carlos. After receiving a Brazilian scholarship, she came to the University of Oulu as a Visiting Researcher in the academic term 2018–2019.

While in Oulu, she heard about the university's 6G Flagship Program and joined it as Senior Research Fellow in 2020.

“My husband and I moved to Finland in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic soon hit and all the activities were moved to a remote setup. It was tough at first, I felt isolated.”

Very few career opportunities in Finland

In February 2021, the couple had a baby and Moya Osorio spent ten months on maternity leave.

After that, she joined another research group, closer to her field of expertise. She also became Adjust Professor at the university, specializing in physical layer techniques for security.

The Academy of Finland has granted fixed-term funding for the position until the year 2024.

“I have applied for several positions in Finnish universities. Despite my good resumé, teaching and research experience and feedback, reviewers struggle to evaluate my Brazilian background on an equal basis. Perhaps they are looking for someone who has graduated and worked in Europe. Due to the lack of academic career opportunities, many go and find jobs in industry.”

I wouldn’t want to leave, but unless we both find suitable jobs here, we’ll have to see where else we might be considered valuable.
- Diana Moya Osorio

In order to retain international talent in Finland, Moya Osorio would significantly increase the amount of information that is available in English.

“Many are unsure about what it takes to progress in their career. There is a constant feeling of uncertainty. Universities should support their international staff and integrate them into the work community. Organize more activities, especially in the beginning. It would be useful to know other foreigners and their families as well.”

Back in Brazil, Moya Osorio's husband worked as a military police lieutenant.

“Here, my husband had to change occupations and he started studying information technology at a university of applied sciences. We’ve been very happy here. I wouldn’t want to leave, but unless we both find suitable jobs here, we’ll have to see where else we might be considered valuable.”

Half have doubts towards employers

Roughly half of highly educated foreigners living in Finland do not believe that Finnish employers value experience, degrees or networks that have been obtained abroad.

This was revealed by a recent survey for highly educated foreign experts living in Finland and those who had moved to Finland because of their partner’s work.

The survey shows that there are a lot of positive things as well. For example, the majority of highly educated foreigners living in Finland have settled in well and work in positions that match their qualifications.

However, many things could be better.

Of the respondents, 39 percent had experienced discrimination in working life. Those who had experienced discrimination said that it was related to their language and national origin.

68 percent of these people had been discriminated against before being invited to a job interview. About half had experienced discrimination during a job interview, in the workplace by other employees or by someone outside the workplace.

32 percent of the women who had experienced discrimination believed that the discrimination was related to gender, while 8 percent of men said the same.

“The results are not flattering. A non-discriminatory workplace can be achieved through systematic efforts, one thing at a time. For example, the prevention and elimination of linguistic discrimination is possible by creating an open dialogue about language in the workplace. Through discussion, every workplace can find the right language policy for them,” says Sirkku Pohja, Work Life Specialist at the Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK.

Many are considering leaving Finland

Of the survey respondents, 39 percent are considering leaving Finland in the near future. Unemployment, insufficient language skills and a lack of Finnish friends have a crucial effect on how well people settle in.

The study also reveals that doctors (29%) have less trouble settling in due to difficulties in finding a job than bachelor’s (57%) and master’s degree holders (50%).

On the other hand, 51% of those who had moved to the country because of a relationship had to change their career plans after moving to Finland and often so that many feel overqualified for their current job.

The survey was conducted last year and was answered by 753 foreigners living in Finland. Most of the respondents had a university degree (94%), three out of four had a job and three out of four had lived in Finland for over 2 years.

The study was conducted by E2 Tutkimus as part of the International Talent Finland Research Project, which is funded by the Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK, among others.

One of the aims of the project is to examine how Finland can become a country that invites, engages and attracts talent, and where it is easy for expatriate Finns to return or foreigners to come and work.

Text: Henrik Muukkonen, Translation: Apropos Lingua

It all comes down to merits

The share of international academic staff at Aalto University has grown constantly. 28 percent of the tenure track professors and 45 percent of the entire teaching and research staff are foreigners.

“International faculty members introduce new perspectives and approaches. We want to ensure that our graduates have the skills they need to work in international positions and tackle global challenges, so it is only natural that our faculty also include foreign experts,” says HR Manager Hanne Puskala from the Aalto University School of Electrical Engineering.

In terms of pull factors, she mentions Aalto’s good reputation and work environment, the opportunity to develop teaching, and the broad networks for furthering careers.

Vacant professorships are advertised in international publications and forums in the field of technology and in the networks for professors.

“We also carry out talent search. Our professoriate has contacts with universities that conduct high-quality research in the field that is inviting applications. This is one way in which we can organize targeted searches.”

The recruitment process is structured and all candidates are evaluated by the same criteria.

“Expertise in the field is the most important thing. Our choices are based entirely on merit: what the candidate has achieved in terms of research, education and impact. We value significant advances and breakthroughs.”

“We may also send out an invitation if we know of an internationally successful professor in the particular field we need. Even then, we use the same criteria.”

The nationality or the country does not matter.

“It is a good idea to read through the selection criteria carefully and reflect them against your situation: where are you now and what should you focus on,” says Puskala.

When a foreign staff member first starts working at the university, HR and the host school try to help them with any questions they may have and support the integration of the whole family. This is done in cooperation with other universities in the capital region and with other cities.

“If your partner needs a job, we will at least interview them and find out if one of the schools at Aalto or the University of Helsinki might need someone like them. The University of Helsinki may ask us to do the same.”

Aalto has a comprehensive orientation programme.

“It is important that all our new professors and lecturers feel welcome and that they are an important part of the organization. At the School of Electrical Engineering, new assistant professors are given a mentor who is a professor from the same or another department of the school. They provide peer support as a colleague, in addition to the supervisor and HR.”

“We support everyone who is working as a supervisor so that they know how to include new members in their work community and understand the importance of the early stages, in particular. Supervisors often delegate orientation tasks to other team members as well: successful orientation is a joint effort and benefits everyone.”

According to Puskala, there are a number of reasons why Aalto University manages to retain its international talent, and one of these is the tenure track system.

“A lecturer or professor progresses along the tenure track according to mid-term reviews based on their merits. This means that our professors and lecturers compete only against themselves, not against each other. Some of the best universities may hire, say, three people, but after four years, only one of them may continue.”

Other retaining factors are the education opportunities and the possibility to improve as a professional and broaden your networks.

“We focus on occupational wellbeing, a sense of community and a supportive atmosphere. Receiving positive feedback and the appreciation of the community.”