After many years of recession, the Finnish economy is now finally looking better. The combination of the euro crisis and changes in the export industry, including the decline of Nokia, led to almost ten years of very modest growth numbers. The fiscal austerity policies of former Prime minister Jyrki Katainen did not make matters better, and it is highly likely that the reason for the Finnish economy’s slow recovery also is to be found in bad domestic financial policy.
Although numbers now are looking better and employment has risen, unemployment is still very high, especially when you compare Finland to other Nordic countries. At the same time more and more companies in various parts of the country are having difficulties recruiting enough workforce. The Finnish predicament at the moment is in other words: high unemployment and lack of skilled workforce - at the same time.
For a country famous worldwide for its excellent educational system, this is of course a very sad situation. It shows that Finnish decision makers have not understood the importance of a well functioning employment policy, too many unemployed have become long-term unemployed. Compared to other Nordic countries, Finland also uses less resources on services for the unemployed. For unemployment to really drop, a lot has to change in how employment policy is done.
At the same time, many companies are now looking for workforce abroad. Politicians from right to left (except the radical-right party True Finns) agree: Finland needs to be a place people want to move to and that people also are able to move to. So what does this mean? Firstly, it means that work-permits need to be processed much faster than now. At the moment, it can take up to 9 months or more for a work-permit to be granted. That’s way too slow for a country in need of skilled workers.
There is also a big need for more affordable flats to rent in all bigger cities, Finland is far from cheap to live in. In bigger cities with a bigger number of people coming to work for a while but not necessarily settling for good, there also needs to be good services in English for example in day-care for children and health care. It is also time to get used to using English in restaurants, shops and at the workplace, in a well educated country where people have good language skills,we could and should all get used to using more English in our every-day life.
But the most important thing for Finland to be country that people wants to come to is of course the general atmosphere of the country! Sure, it is pitch black almost all the time half of the year, and sure, Finns are not exactly the best small-talkers, but Finland is a country with a lot of good qualities. But Finland has similar issues to deal with as many other countries in Europe at the moment, as radical right-wing parties are gaining ground, aggressively building prejudices against people with foreign origin. Fighting racism, discrimination and prejudices in all forms are therefore also important work for a more inclusive and welcoming Finnish society. In other words, fighting racism is even good for the economy!
*Li Andersson is the Chairperson of the Left Alliance in Finland