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Mies nojailee asiakaspalvelutiskiin. Image Tuuli Kärjä
Timo Kiiveri, a counsellor at the Osaamiskeskus of International House Jyväskylä, enjoys working with clients. He has solid experience of what is important to immigrants and how they can best integrate. But one thing surprises him.

Timo Kiiveri came to Jyväskylä from Heinola in the 90s to study. At the time, jobs were hard to find.

– I already had a job offer from Päijät-Häme and I thought I probably wouldn't get a job as a mentor for mentally handicapped people in the City of Jyväskylä, because there were so many applicants. On the last day of the application, I changed my mind. I was the last to be interviewed, even though I had no experience at the time. I have been very grateful to be able to work in the City of Jyväskylä. I have to admit that the fact that I was a man influenced my decision to choose me for the job.

After working as a disability counsellor in the early 2000s, Timo worked as a full-time occupational safety and health representative in the social and health services area for about 10 years. 

– In 2013, I decided my career in occupational health and safety was over. One of the strengths in the city is many jobs. I applied as a supervisor in the local service at Huhtasuo. The people of Huhtasuo were hoping for a local employment service in the area. The unemployed themselves became involved in developing the employment services. In this first municipal pilot project, the then employment services were eventually extended from Huhtasuo to Kuokkala and also elsewhere. 

– Once I got into client work, I've had the joy of work every morning since then. This job puts me in my own place and allows me to use my own strengths and do important work.  
In January 2021, a project to develop services for immigrants started. Timo likes working on city projects, because they genuinely develop things and then become permanent services and changes, rather than projects that are started and finished.  

Timo Kiiveri works as a supervisor at the Osaamiskeskus, International House in Jyväskylä. 

– In these city projects, there is always a joy of doing, shared motivation, a clear goal and enthusiasm. That's why I applied for this project for immigrants, because the Huhtasuo project was so nice. I thought that this other project would have the same spirit of doing things.

When developing services for immigrants, it was realized that the city needed to take on a broader responsibility for services, so at the same time we started to build International House Jyväskylä. 

"Success comes from getting the right people to meet each other"

Timo emphasizes that the core of his work is personal guidance. Timo's clients are foreign language immigrants who are at risk of unemployment. 

– My job is to guide my clients into work, study or entrepreneurship. For example, we have done various service experiments, we have designed the "Want to be an entrepreneur" group, we have organized training, groups and meetings.  

One of Timo's strengths is his ability to meet people. He also has a wide network of people who are relevant to his work.

– I know how things work in the city of Jyväskylä and I know a lot of companies with a lot of contacts. That helps tremendously in this job. 

It's not only Timo who contacts employers, employers also contact him. He cites Huhtasuo as an example.

– Huhtasuo's success was due to the fact that employers got to know us and came to offer jobs and traineeships themselves. In this way, we created new networks again. Today, it's easy to call to see what your situation is. You have to know the employees, the skills and what kind of employee the company needs. Success comes from getting the right people to meet each other. 

Henkilö istuu tietokonepöydän ääressä. Image Tuuli Kärjä
– When people have a goal and a will to engage with services, it's easier to guide them. People always come here voluntarily, says Timo Kiiveri.

Companies can get help from the city to hire foreign-language workers 

Timo sees the strength of integration in Finland as the opportunity for newcomers to get training, work in different jobs and be heard. 

– We don't force anyone into a particular field, even if sometimes people say we do. If you have the motivation and ability to do things, there are plenty of opportunities. We have a very wide range of services for foreign languages, for example, targeted services for young people. Of course, sometimes there are backlogs and queues for integration training. 
In Finland, attitudes and the atmosphere have clearly changed recently, as have the language requirements in the workplace. 

– We are constantly wondering what the language requirement really is for each job. For example, you often hear people say that you can do cleaning without language skills, but that's not the case. In the cleaning sector, encounters are often customer service situations. You also need to be able to work safely in the cleaning sector. Attitudes are constantly changing and language requirements are evolving. 

– And employers are learning to use our services. For example, we have Finnish language training directly at the workplace. We are able to provide personalized coaching for the employee and train the work community on how to communicate with a foreign language speaker. This makes it easier to hire a foreign language speaker. 

Info centre is available in more than 10 languages 

Timo says that in Jyväskylä, seven employment contracts have been signed recently, with the entrepreneur looking for an employee, contacting the city, Timo's team looking for employees and offering job seekers help with job interviews, job presentation and orientation. 

International House Jyväskylä's own staff includes people with language skills. For example, the Info center offers help in more than 10 languages.

– The city has taken real responsibility and ownership for developing services for migrants. We are creating a one-stop shop model here. We are constantly centralising and developing our services, says Timo, praising the city's role in employing migrants. 

Getting people into work faster

Many things have improved in recent years when it comes to employing foreign-language speakers, but there is still room for improvement. The first area for improvement is the slow processing of immigrant jobseekers. 

– Yes, people need to be able to get into work more quickly. And also, to receive more extensive and effective language training more quickly. 

– I think it is a good direction that language training has been given more of a social orientation, so that the newcomer would be able to understand Finnish working culture and life. To address these shortcomings, we have, for example, organized “Startti työelämään” courses. 

Timo calls for greater cooperation between different services so that clients do not have to go around the country. Wider cooperation with other actors and better knowledge of other services would speed up integration and be more cost-effective. It would also allow clients to deal with one person in one place to get things done.  

– Even though we already centralize services, too often the customer has to go around to different services. But it is being developed all the time. 

Timo is interested in people and their stories

– I'm a curious person, I'm interested in how people can move forward in their own lives according to their own goals. 

– It always makes me feel good when I hear or receive a message about how one of my clients has got a place at university or a job. Or when a company thanks me that the recruitment went well and they got good employees. 

When you listen, there is a better match between the person's goals and the opportunities offered 

Jyväskylä is a multicultural university city. Timo points out that immigrants have good opportunities to study in Jyväskylä, even while working. The City of Jyväskylä knows that it needs immigrants here and has therefore invested a lot in services. 

Timo stresses that people need to be heard and met from the very beginning, preferably in their own language. That's why Timo takes stock of his clients' starting situation during the initial interview. 

– We must invest in getting to know each other from the very beginning. You have to listen to the client's own dreams and constraints. When a single parent comes to me who lives in a certain area and can only work a certain shift, all these factors must be taken into account when considering his or her employment. Or if someone does not have a home, it is my duty to refer them to our housing experts, because we cannot resolve housing issues here on the employment side. But we do work a lot with other actors, so things do get done.
Timo thinks it's good that Finland doesn't have a rigid sense of authority, but that people dare to come to services safely. 

Timo sees a problem in the fact that immigrants do not necessarily know which service they are in and who they are dealing with, the authorities or someone else. People need to understand their rights and responsibilities and who they are dealing with.  

– Almost all migrants are highly motivated and willing to contribute to their situation. They all want to get ahead. Of course, there are a few drop-outs, that's for sure. Immigrants are not afraid of our authorities, but rather they are afraid that they have not understood something and there will be sanctions. 

The City of Jyväskylä encourages the expansion of skills

Timo has enjoyed his time in the City of Jyväskylä. In particular, he praises his supervisors, who he finds reliable, give him the freedom to work and set clear goals. Work is done in an atmosphere of cooperation. 

– However, we employees should be more active and work together to develop the meetings and bring forward our own ideas for development. Collaboration is interactive and not just an employer-driven activity. 

– By my own experience job rotation within the city has been easy and flexible. The city has always encouraged me to change jobs and expand my own skills, says Timo, thanking the city as an employer.

Text: Satu Kivistö
Photoes: Tuuli Kärjä