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How asylum seekers could help ease Finland's tech skills shortage

07 June 2016
How asylum seekers could help ease Finland's tech skills shortage

Problem one: Finland’s otherwise flourishing startup scene has a chronic shortage of developers. Problem two: the 32,000-plus asylum seekers who arrived in the Nordic country last year — many young, highly educated and computer literate — face waiting for years before they land a job.

"Essentially, we just thought: there is a way to at least start addressing these issues," said Niklas Lahti, the chief executive of Helsinki-based web services company Nord Software. "We can teach refugees coding so they can become software engineers."

This month the first three graduates of Integrify, the developer programme for asylum seekers that Lahti and his friend Daniel Rahman, boss of recruitment company TalentConnect, launched in April, started internships with leading Finnish tech companies.

The two are working on a second, expanded programme to train up to 200 refugees as developers, and hope to place them with companies across Europe — starting with Sweden, where "finding developers is almost impossible, harder even than Finland", according to Lahti.

The starting point, he said, was that "integration just takes way too long. You have lots of young, qualified, motivated people sitting doing nothing. The registration process takes for ever; they’re supposed to learn Finnish before they get a job. While in tech at least, all you really need is English."

Even once their paperwork is in order, many asylum seekers can wait up to five years to find employment, Rahman said — and when they do, "very highly educated professionals can easily find themselves in really low-skilled jobs".

Life — and the inhospitable Nordic climate — has proved so frustrating for some newly arrived asylum seekers in Finland that officials said this year they expected up to 5,000 to cancel their applications and return home.

Officials in Helsinki said in February that some 4,000 refugees, nearly 80% of them Iraqi, had already asked for help to leave.

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Photo: The Guardian

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