Finland is a frontrunner in education and social welfare, one of the least corrupt countries in the world and also one of the safest. So why are more and more well-educated and talented young Finns pursuing a life and career abroad?
We’re not talking about mass-emigration, but in recent years the number of people moving abroad from Finland has increased. It has become popular to seek work and a life outside of the Finnish borders, especially within the the newly graduated portion of the population, aged 20 to 34.
According to statistics about 9,600 people moved from the country in 2015, which is about a thousand people more than five years earlier, and in 2011 statistics tell that a record of 11,000 people moved abroad.
Last time Finland saw a significant emigration like this was in the 1960s to 1970s when about 198,000 Finnish citizens moved to Sweden in hopes of getting a job and a better life for themselves.
Ever since Finland became a part of the EU in 1995 it has become easier for especially younger people to move to other member countries for studies or work, and this is also visible in the statistics. The numbers might not seem high, but take in consideration that Finland is by population a very small country in comparison to other countries in the world.
Finns of working age used to move to Australia, Canada and the US to get a job, whereas today the main reasons seem to be education, better salaries, better opportunities, more open attitudes and sometimes even because of a relationship.
Nina Gustafsson, 27, originally from Sjundeå in southern Finland, has lived abroad ever since she was eight years old because her parents moved to Belgium for work. While she has considered moving back to Finland many times, there have always been reasons not to. She feels that everything and everyone she knows is in Western Europe, and in the end she decided to attend college in the Netherlands. After university she stayed in the country because of her relationship and because she found a job. “Every time I’ve looked for jobs in Finland it seems like there aren’t many jobs that fit my education and experience, and I feel that my background is too diverse to fit the Finnish working culture,” she said.
About 75 percent of Finns who move abroad move to another European country. The most popular countries are Sweden, UK, Germany, Norway and Denmark.Overseas, the US is one of the top countries to which Finns immigrate.
Newly graduated Finns often decide to move abroad because they struggle to find a job and don’t want to end up unemployed for a long period of time. In many cases, they are unemployed are because there aren’t enough employment opportunities within certain fields of work. Engineering is one of them.
In Finland there are seven universities educating engineers and according to Svenska Yle there are 2,300 civil engineers and 1,500 engineers graduating every year, which means a lot can’t find a job in Finland -- about 16 percent are unemployed a year after graduating. On the other hand, the IT sector needs 60,000 workers from Finland within the next few years, and companies in Sweden want to recruit talented Finns to join their forces, promising a better salary.
In Sweden there is a high demand for engineers within different sectors, especially within the construction industry. Svenska Dagbladet writes that by year 2030 there will be a need of 50,000 engineers in Sweden, and since there were approximately 7,100 unemployed Finnish engineers at the end of March 2016 alone, they are trying to recruit from Finland. A bit further west, Norway also has a shortage of engineers and professional workers in fields like nursing. There is high potential for Finns who know Swedish or any of the other Scandinavian languages to move to Norway, pursue a career and earn more money than in Finland.
The capital of Sweden, Stockholm, is a highly attractive destination for Finns and Swedish-speaking Finns* since the culture is quite similar, the attitude is generally more open than in Finland and for Swedish-speaking Finns the knowledge of Swedish makes it even easier to integrate into the culture. It also helps that it is close to home and easily accessible both by plane and ferry. Several industries also appreciate knowledge of the Finnish language and the Finnish market.
Maria Österlund, 29, from Hanko in southern Finland, is another young person who moved abroad a few years ago. She is now living in Jönköping in southern Sweden and working in a retirement home. A move to Sweden wasn’t a given, but after moving to Thailand for a while and working as a snorkeling guide, she met her boyfriend and they decided to move to Sweden. He didn’t know Finnish, which is needed to be able to work in Finland, and she wanted to try living in Sweden, which was easier since she knows Swedish. She said she doesn’t think she will move back to Finland, because she thinks there is so much more to see and to learn out in the world outside of the safe borders of the Nordics.
“Finland will always be home and it’s always wonderful to come “home”. But just for a short while. There’s so much more to see,” Maria Österlund said. “I think youth should take the chance of moving around and experience new things. You can always go home in the end if things don’t work out.”
It is not a given that recent graduates or unemployed youth want to move abroad, finding a well-paying job is often more important than where it is located. Companies brand themselves and headhunt for talented Finns, which makes it easier for them to consider moving abroad as an option. Nowadays many know someone who already lives abroad, so the decision is easier to make, and supportive communities are formed. There are many stepping stones into moving abroad, such as work in international organizations, student exchange programs and internship opportunities, which make it easier to move permanently.
In fact, short-term stays abroad, for less than a year, have become increasingly popular. Since Finland joined the Erasmus exchange program in 1992, over 70,000 Finnish students have participated in the program, and over 5,000 have done an internship in Europe since the possibility became available in 2007, according to CIMO’s statistics. The most popular countries for the exchange program were by far Germany, France, Spain, UK and the Netherlands. For internships, Spain, Germany and the U.K. topped the lists.
Only time will tell if this is a general trend and if emigration numbers will change in the next decade. Looking at the economic situation of Finland in general, it doesn’t seem to be supporting a portion of the young highly educated Finns to stay in the country. Fewer companies are hiring right now and the competition for existing openings in certain fields is very strong. Some people move back after some years, sometimes over a decade or longer, but usually only when the economy is stronger and there are job opportunities. When Finland is back on track again economically and international investors see the potential in investing in Finnish companies and the Finnish people we might see a turning point, and less people will move abroad.
*Swedish-speaking Finns are Finnish nationals who speak Swedish, Finland’s second official language, as their mother tongue. There are about 300,000 in Finland, which is 5.4 percent of the total population.
Cover credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV