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Digital inequality is a more important theme than ever

"The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of cooperation", writes Elisa Vepsäläinen from Startup Refugees.

Elisa Vepsäläinen / March 17, 2021

The coronavirus changed the way of helping refugees and immigrants to find work. Because all of Startup Refugees’ activities have been based on bringing people together, we had to think hard about how to continue our work in a world being shifted by the pandemic. And what about the nearly 900 people we have already managed to find jobs?

Startup Refugees was established exactly five years ago when more than 30,000 asylum seekers arrived in Finland within a short time. Something had to be done to help the new arrivals find work and start businesses in their new home country.

During our five years in operation, we have seen up close how work is the key in opening doors to a new homeland, building contacts with Finnish people, helping with language learning, and providing meaningful activities even when the future may otherwise be uncertain. For many people employed through Startup Refugees, the key issue is getting the opportunity to support themselves rather than living on social assistance.

Finding new jobs very quickly became more challenging than before due to the coronavirus pandemic. Refugees began contacting Startup Refugees more frequently through various channels, as many of those who we had helped to find work suddenly lost their jobs. Our Arabic and Dari-language coordinators had previously met dozens of jobseekers and training participants face-to-face each day, but we now had to shift to using various online tools at short notice.

However, everything has gone surprisingly well. Because refugees are used to communicate online with their relatives on the other side of the world, they found it much easier to make the transition to virtual interaction than we had expected. Often easier than we did. As finding a job has become more difficult and many organizations are laying off people, we have concentrated our investments in online training, mentoring, and other skills that support vocational competencies and help finding work in Finland when the job markets revive.

The biggest leap is perhaps that we are suddenly going nationwide with our activities as the physical location of the training and the trainer is less important. Various online training sessions and webinars have lured participants throughout the country. We are also reaching people from smaller towns, remote areas, and locations that Startup Refugees hasn’t been able to reach previously. Even participants from Azerbaijan, who found our service through social media, were included in our entrepreneurship program.

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the importance of cooperation: Startup Refugees’ activities would look very different without the support of the companies and organizations in our network. The year of the pandemic also impacted our collaboration with TietoEVRY. Fortunately, our cooperation to fight digital inequality has been underway for three years, and our shared experiences have eased the building of cooperation via remote connections.

The theme of digital inequality seems more relevant than ever. Now if ever, there is a need to support the digital skills of refugees and employment in the digital sectors, where jobs are not as uncertain as those dependent on physical proximity.

We moved our series of face-to-face workshops with TietoEVRY experts from office to online. Workshop themes included using LinkedIn for job-seeking, the future of utilizing data, and the importance of improving the customer experience.

It’s been great to see that everyone is pulling in the same direction: recruiters use masks diligently, jointly arranged webinars are recorded for later use, and new trainings are designed to meet the changing needs of jobseekers.

The worst-case scenario did not materialize and after an uncertain spring and quiet summer on the labor market, the autumn went surprisingly well. There is still a need for our experts and we can continue providing companies around Finland with employees.

Find out more about collaboration between TietoEVRY and Startup Refugees. 

Would you like to be involved in supporting Startup Refugees? See here for further details.

Elisa Vepsäläinen
CEO, Startup Refugees

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