Finland, ‘World’s happiest country
Repeatedly dubbed the happiest nation on the planet with world-beating living standards, Finland should be deluged by people wanting to relocate, but in fact it faces an acute workforce shortage. “It’s now widely acknowledged that we need a spectacular number of people to come to the country,” recruiter Saku Tihverainen from agency Talented Solutions told AFP. Workers are needed “to help cover the cost of the greying generation”, the recruiter explained. While many Western countries are battling weak population growth, few are feeling the effects as sharply as Finland.
With 39.2 over-65s per 100 working-age people, it is second only to Japan in the extent of its ageing population, according to the UN, which forecasts that by 2030 the “old age dependency ratio” will rise to 47.5. The government has warned that the nation of 5.5 million people needs to practically double immigration levels to 20,000-30,000 a year to maintain public services and plug a looming pension deficit. Finland might seem like an attractive destination on paper, scoring high in international comparisons for quality of life, freedom and gender equality, with little corruption, crime and pollution. But anti-immigrant sentiment and a reluctance to employ outsiders are also widespread in Western Europe’s most homogenous society, and the opposition far-right Finns Party regularly draws substantial support during elections.
After years of inertia, businesses and government “are now at the tipping point and are recognising the problem” posed by a greying population, said Charles Mathies, a research fellow at the Academy of Finland. Mathies is one of the experts consulted by the government’s “Talent Boost” programme, now in its fourth year, which aims to make the country more attractive internationally, in part through local recruitment schemes. Those targeted include health workers from Spain, metalworkers from Slovakia, and IT and maritime experts from Russia, India and Southeast Asia. But previous such efforts have petered out.
For Helsinki mayor Jan Vaaavuori, four years of Finland being voted the world’s happiest country in a UN ranking have “not yet helped as much as we could have hoped.” “If you stop someone in the street in Paris or London or Rome or New York, I still don’t think most people know about us,” he mused. Mayor Vapaavuori, whose four-year term ends this summer, has turned increasingly to international PR firms to help raise the city’s profile.
He is optimistic about Finland’s ability to attract talent from Asia in future, and believes people’s priorities will have changed once international mobility ramps up again post-coronavirus. Helsinki’s strengths, being “safe, functional, reliable, predictable — those values have gained in importance,” he said, adding: “Actually I think our position after the pandemic is better than it was before.”