What do migrants have to say about the role of English proficiency in their integration and employment in Finland?

Doctoral Researcher Katariina Pyykkö sees her research topic discussed in the media weekly. “Migration, employment, the demographics of Finland and labor shortage. These are all issues that can be solved” Pyykkö says.

You are studying the role of English in the employment and integration of academically trained migrants with an English proficiency in Finland. What led you to this topic?

My work experience as a Finnish teacher in the integration program of adult migrants gave me an understanding of the day-to-day realities of customers in the system. I noticed that some academically trained migrants were frustrated with the system. It became evident that they would have benefited from more quickly advancing Finnish lessons with a focus on professional language skills for their successful employment. I think more tailor-made services are needed for academically trained migrants so that they can pursue a career in their chosen field more quickly.


Why study the role of English specifically?

English is a global lingua franca, meaning that it is used as a common language of communication all around the world. For example, some employers in Finland have an English-only policy, which is worth investigating. I find it intriguing that in some industries, like IT, knowing English may even be one of the job requirements while in other industries proficiency in the domestic languages is crucial.


How are you going about investigating this topic?

I gathered data by asking academically trained migrants to fill a questionnaire about the role that English language has played in their integration and employment in Finland. I wanted to ask migrants about their personal experiences because I feel like their side of the story is often lacking in decision making. When the questionnaire closed at the end of last year I was overwhelmed with responses. It was submitted about 460 times.  


Wow! Getting 460 responses to a questionnaire isn’t easily done. 

I was happily surprised by how many people were willing to help with the distribution of the survey. I wouldn't have been able to reach so many people using my networks only. For example, some trade unions are interested in the data because it deals with employment. Perhaps they’re also concerned with the long-term integration of people. There's a lot of talk about the push and pull factors of Finland, and whether Finland appears as an attractive option for migrants.


What kind of questions did you ask in this survey? 

In the first section, I asked respondents about their language repertoire; what languages they know and to what level. I did this because I wanted to highlight the diverse language repertoires of migrants. In the second section, I asked about language-related experiences in the workplace. The third section was on social life and adjusting to living here; so ultimately, integration. 


What are your initial observations of the responses? 

For some respondents knowing English has served as a massive asset but then for others not so much. It seems like for them, English proficiency is useful, but it does not guarantee employment or a sense of belonging in Finland.

My first impression is that it depends on the field of work if English is considered useful. For example, for nurses and doctors you must know Finnish to find a job but then there are some fields such as IT where you can get by with English only. 

Some people also mentioned deciding to integrate to Finland by learning Swedish. It would be interesting to explore the reasons further. Perhaps I could do this with follow up interviews. Some people mentioned this is because they find Swedish easier to learn because it's an Indo-European language and many of these people speak other Indo-European languages, at least English.


It sounds like you have gathered some very interesting data! Going through the responses also sounds like hard work. What motivates you to work on this topic?

Social change. Improving the services for migrants and language policies in the workplace. Just the experience of having worked with migrants and knowing that these things affect people’s lives motivates me to work on the topic. 


Thank you for your time, Kata!