Peer support method helps immigrants to feel empowered and get employed

This blog post describes the peer group support method developed by the Catch up with Work project. In the Finnish employment services, there is a lack of individual guidance for job seekers. This affects especially low-skilled people with a migrant background. Our peer groups help immigrants to assess their skills and to find employment. 

The Finnish integration training is not available for everyone 

In Finland the national employment office offers a so-called integration training course for newcomers who have lived in Finland for up to three years. The integration training is a Finnish language course, but it also introduces Finnish culture, political system, working life and society to the participants. The course duration is usually approximately a year. It’s one of the main integration services offered to immigrants by the Finnish state. The goal is to enhance the employability of the course participants.

The integration training course is offered only to unemployed immigrants who have been registered at the employment office. If an immigrant is in a situation where they cannot attend working life – be it for instance due to illness, mental problems, pregnancy, or family care – they might not have the possibility to participate in the courses. This means that for instance many mothers staying home – some for several years - raising their children, remain outside the integration activities and training. 

Some immigrants need extra support to get employed

Because the integration training is only available for job seekers, the structures of the Finnish society effectively shut out mothers with a migrant background. According to statistics, the employment rate of women with a migratory descent is only 40%, whereas more than 70% of women of Finnish descent participate in the working life. 

Networking with immigrant associations at employment office's recruiting event
Additionally, the Finnish employment office currently works under heavy pressure where one employment officer might have over 400 customers in their portfolio.  This means that the officer doesn’t have much time for each job seeker to interview them in order to find out about their skills and aspirations. 

The Catch up with Work project lends a hand to the employment officers and other organisations working with long-term unemployed immigrants who need extra support on their path towards employment. 

The officers can direct these, often low-skilled, customers to participate in our peer groups, where they are given individual attention and support by our trained working life tutors. 

Peer groups help immigrants on their path toward employment

We started by training active immigrants already participating in working life and speaking Finnish to lead peer groups. The tutors we trained had very inspiring integration stories to tell. It was gratifying to follow how their confidence as tutors got a boost during our 25-hour training. Also, they felt empowered by the feeling of being able to help others with their own knowledge and experience.
Group discussion in working life tutor training

As a second step, we recruited long-term unemployed immigrants with low job seeking skills or employability to participate in peer groups once a week for two hours. Each group is led by two peer group tutors. The groups are small and information-based. The participants get both general information and peer support from tutors and their peers. 

The participants are also given a lot of personal support and help with their employment-related issues. There is also an opportunity for individual mentoring, when additional support is needed. These are actions and services the officers at the unemployment offices hardly ever have time to offer to their clients – even if they wanted to.

During the group meetings the peer tutors tell the participants about Finnish working life and work culture. Together they practice how to look for a job, how to apply and how to act in a job interview. Participants also learn about their rights and duties as employees and about the significance of a trade union membership. 

Working life tutor Marina leading her peer group
Essential for the group meetings is that they are held in Finnish. This gives the participants an opportunity to practice their Finnish language skills. Also, advice is given on how to self-study more language and where to find relevant professional vocabulary. 

Some of the participants may still have very poor Finnish language skills despite having lived here for decades. Lack of language skills and/or education are among the many obstacles on their path toward employment. It is also extremely important to provide them knowledge and awareness of workers’ rights and possibilities.

Finally, after two months of group meetings our participants are offered a chance to attend a job interview with one of our employer partners, in order to possibly get an internship. This is the next step towards catching up with work, towards empowerment and a stronger sense of belonging to the Finnish society.

Project Manager Hanna with some of our trained working life tutors ready to help others on their path toward employment.

Hanna Takolander, 
Project Manager in Catch up with Work
Työväen Sivistysliitto TSL / Worker's Educational Association WEA of Finland