The benefits outweigh the challenges

The potential for cooperation between industry and commerce, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and international degree students remains largely underutilised.  The cooperation with large enterprises works well, but is lacking within the SME sector. This is surprising, as 23 per cent of SMEs do business internationally. This means that there are approximately 65,000 small or medium-sized enterprises in Finland who export or import goods or services or do some other kind of business abroad.

Knowing that there are over 20,000 international degree students studying in Finnish universities, the ratio would suggest some fairly good opportunities for cooperation between SMEs and international students. This is not the case, however.

I participated in a project with the aim to find out the motives that drove SMEs to make use of the competence of international experts. In conclusion, businesses were divided into four categories:

  1. The internationalisers are SMEs that have wanted to utilise the skills of an international student in internationalising the business. These businesses already operate in international markets or are about to launch export activities. International experts have e.g. been hired for project-based positions to carry out market research or bring some local knowledge to the team.
  2. Talent hunters are often SMEs that are already international, so the expert’s background makes no difference. In these cases, the business expects the international expert to have special expertise, an ability to develop, and new ideas on how to develop the business.
  3. Domestic internationalisers are SMEs who have hired an international expert to offer extra support, or who have needed to increase their skills within the services which they provide to their foreign clients. As well as an additional resource, the company also gains experience of a more international operating environment and an opportunity for language immersion.
  4. Businesses with a social responsibility will take on international students offered by schools and universities for short internships or periods of workplace learning. The business gains an additional resource to carry out the work, but their motive can also be to improve the language skills and cultural awareness of the work community. Social responsibility can also be seen as a factor that strengthens the company’s image and is appreciated by their clients. These businesses have particularly taken on foreign students at vocational schools for periods of workplace learning, and the majority of them work locally on the domestic market.

What’s my point? It is that all SMEs are different, and the motives for cooperation vary. In addition to their elevator pitch, international degree students must also be able to sell their skills to the business. It is important that businesses are aware of the benefits that an international student can bring when it comes to improving their business activities.

So where is there room for improvement? Industry and commerce, particularly SMEs, would like to have more information and marketing on the opportunities for making use of international experts. In addition, businesses who have not yet hired international experts need support with language problems and finding suitable tasks. We also need to ease their fears regarding administration. Recruitment must be easy.

All in all, the message from the SMEs is encouraging: the benefits of taking on an international expert outweigh the challenges that the SMEs have encountered in the shape of an increased need for guidance or the student’s lack of language skills.

Mika Tuuliainen
Confederation of Finnish Industries


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