Welcoming the world - article

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Lapp Connecto, based in Vieremä, Finland, is leading the way when it comes to helping international staff integrate into the workplace. The company produces cable and wiring harnesses for complex machinery and equipment manufacturing processes. It is part of the international LAPP Group with more than 4,5750 employees working in more than 50 countries.

International, recognised, open minded from 2012 and going strong!

Lapp Connecto operates in the international market, employing more than 400 people in Finland, Poland and Estonia. The company has worked hard for many years to create a thriving multicultural workplace. Two years ago, their efforts were recognized with a prize presented by the Finnish Red Cross.

“Right now, we’re involved in a regional project funded by Business Finland,” says Janne Rautula, who manages the Vieremä plant and is a member of the company’s management team. “One of the objectives of this project is to take a really good look at our orientation program for international staff. The plan is to draw up a generic orientation model that supports employee integration and helps new staff to settle in and become productive members of the team, regardless of their cultural or ethnic background.”

Honesty and helping hand at work, and even in private life

“We hired our first international staff member in 2012,” explains Quality Engineer Rauno Martikainen. He has been involved from the beginning in recruiting staff from immigrant backgrounds. 

“A representative from the EduSavo Finnish-as-a-foreign-language team gave us a call, when a few of their students were job hunting. We offered trainee placements for a few people, and it became clear quite quickly that they were all excellent workers and highly motivated. All were eventually kept on as permanent staff members. Gradually, word got around that we had this multicultural workplace here, and we’ve had no problems recruiting ever since,” Martikainen says.

“We tend to approach new things with an open mind, and if there are any issues, we sort them out. We’ve offered support to our staff when it comes to integration in their private lives too, for instance. I’ve been to the local employment and tax office with them to fill out forms and find out information,” Martikainen adds.

25% from ethnic backgrounds

At the moment, around 20 of Lapp Connecto’s 80 employees at Vieremä, are from immigrant backgrounds. Beside Finland, the employees come from seven different countries: Estonia, Russia, Latvia, Ukraine, Thailand, Bulgaria and Kosovo.

“This is a great workplace community, and there aren’t any tensions. The cultural differences we have here are a positive thing and add a bit of color into the everyday work life,” Martikainen says.

Orientation is the key

It’s also important that the orientation process reflects people’s cultural backgrounds.

 “We have a system in place for orientation and staff management, and we keep it under constant review. All new employees receive the same orientation, training, and information,” Rautula says.

“We’ve made sure that the program reflects people’s cultural heritage and languages, and staff from many different backgrounds have been involved in putting it together. We always start with an introduction to the Finnish and our workplace culture, and we make sure all practical issues are covered in detail. We’ve noticed that people are not so familiar with the Finnish sick leave practices. They’re concerned about telling us that they’re unwell, because they are afraid we’d let them go as a result,” Martikainen explains.

A “buddy” is assigned to all new employees, who provides the newbies with on-the-job orientation for as long as it’s needed. “We always make sure people understand their job well before they start working unsupervised,” Martikainen says.

We are different, and that is what we thrive on

Open communication and high-quality day-to-day leadership are crucial in building an atmosphere of trust within the workplace. Cultural differences are often revealed in the small everyday matters and encounters.

“The way people communicate and the way they see things can vary significantly between cultures. We know that in some parts of the world, superiors are perceived as great authority within the workplace and treated very courteously, so we make a point of encouraging everyone to share their ideas and innovations openly,” Rautula says.

“We’ve worked really hard to create an atmosphere of openness, where people feel that they can speak freely and ask questions. If there are any issues or someone is unsure about something, we address it straight away. Lapp Connecto’s line managers are also continuously trained for their roles.

“Once, when we threw a picnic party for the whole staff, a few asked how much they would need to pay for the food,” Rautula says.

“They were amazed when we said that it would be on the house which made them very happy.”

From sunny Thailand to chilly Finland with a smile

Eight years ago, Nampueng Kanninen left sunny Thailand behind and moved to Ylä-Savo, Finland. This bright and cheerful person has now worked at the Lapp Connecto Vieremä warehouse for four years. Kanninen heard about Lapp Connecto through a friend who already worked there.

“When I finished my Finnish language course, I got in touch with Lapp Connecto. Initially they offered me a trainee position which later became permanent,” she recalls with a smile. She can’t really comment on how challenging it is to find a job in this area, since she got the very first vacancy she applied for.

Already nine years in Finland

Nanny Parichut Namueang, who has worked at Lapp Connecto for five years, moved from Thailand to Iisalmi already nine years ago. Namueang also found her job through the language course and is happy to talk about her career in Finland.

“After I finished my Finnish language qualification, I was hired as a trainee, then as a summer intern, after which I got a permanent position,” Namueang says happily.

A very supportive work place

Both women enjoy working at Lapp Connecto and say they have insight into what other new employees with immigrant background will experience upon their arrival. "The atmosphere in the workplace is very supportive and staff can turn to each other and to their supervisors for help whenever needed", both add.

“All who work here are so nice and friendly,” Kanninen and Namueang both agree.

“If there’s a problem, I can talk to my boss about it. It makes a big difference.”

Language skills are number one

Kanninen says she was a bit nervous on her first day, because she wasn’t sure whether she would understand what people were saying in Finnish. Namueang nods in recognition. “The thing is, if you just boldly speak Finnish, you’ll get better at it every day,” Kanninen adds.

Both women admit that language skills are the single most important thing for immigrants. They both live in Iisalmi and praise how much they like the city.

“I like Iisalmi because it’s not too big. It has everything I need. It’s so peaceful, and people are so friendly. Everyone is very kind and chatty,” Kanninen says.

Multiculturism is an asset and richness

Managing a multicultural workforce is a challenge and requires consistent effort. At Lapp Connecto it is recognized that, as the competition for skilled staff intensifies, companies which already have an open and welcoming workplace culture and understand diversity and multiculturalism, will do well.

“We absolutely see multiculturalism as an asset and richness. It’s a real win-win situation for everyone, and we all learn so much from each other. We also see it as an important competitive advantage,” Martikainen explains.

For Rautula, multiculturalism is also an opportunity. “When the domestic population does not meet the recruitment challenges, the growth potential is then in immigrants.”

It is clear that long-term commitment and much effort is needed to build a truly multicultural workplace culture. 

“We’ve worked really hard at this. Actually, multiculturalism is in our DNA, as we’re a global business after all,” Rautula says. “Ultimately, you’ve got to keep an open mind and just take the first step of giving people a chance, and all will turn out great.”

This text is based on a Finnish Article by Ylä-Savon ammattiopisto, original article here.