The Multicultural Workplace: JP Suojapeite

Language is the key — International com­mu­nic­a­tion at JP Suojapeite

Roughly three years ago entre­pren­eur Juha Piiroinen, who runs tarp man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany JP Suojapeite, took on his first inter­na­tional employee Sam Pintens. After years of pro­duct­ive co-work­ing between the Belgian migrant and his oth­er­wise nat­ive work­force, Piiroinen shares his exper­i­ences of run­ning a mul­ti­cul­tural work­place.

JP Suojapeite is a Joensuu-based com­pany that man­u­fac­tures pro­tect­ive tarps and cov­ers for agri­cul­ture, trans­port­a­tion and the defence indus­tries among oth­ers. At its helm is Juha Piiroinen, the company’s founder. Piiroinen is a long-time pro­fes­sional in the field, hav­ing worked with tarps since 1989. Piiroinen him­self is an inter­na­tional and bilin­gual cit­izen. He spent much of his youth in Sweden, which is where he ini­tially found work in tarp man­u­fac­tur­ing. Since return­ing to Finland, he has run JP Suojapeite together with his cousin for more than 20 years.

Juha Piiroinen has more than 30 years of exper­i­ence in the tarp busi­ness.

Around three years ago, the com­pany got its first migrant employee, when Belgian Sam Pintens was referred to JP Suojapeite by a job agency. The other employ­ees are still Finnish speak­ers, so Piiroinen is not sure if he con­siders the com­pany very mul­ti­cul­tural, but the added migrant tal­ent has been wel­comed with open arms as a per­man­ent mem­ber of the team. Finnish is the still the primary work­ing lan­guage in JP Suojapeite, but Piiroinen has Pintens to thank for his employ­ees’ new­found con­fid­ence in using a for­eign lan­guage in every­day inter­ac­tions.

“We com­mu­nic­ate with Sam in English, and in a way it’s a good thing. He was received very well, and I think many [of the employ­ees] have seen an improve­ment in their English skills.”

At JP Suojapeite, lan­guage skills are used out­side the office as well. The company’s inter­na­tional cli­ents include busi­nesses and organ­isa­tions in coun­tries as far away as Uruguay, Rwanda and China, along with cli­ents in mul­tiple European coun­tries. The day-to-day inter­na­tional com­mu­nic­a­tion takes place in the field between the company’s employ­ees and for­eign drivers, tech­ni­cians and the like, who mainly hail from Central and Eastern Europe.

“In fact, just recently we had a Polish main­ten­ance worker here work­ing on our machines. The guys work­ing the machines co-oper­ated with him con­fid­ently, and they’re no longer at all shy about using English.”

Before Pintens was hired, the work­ers were less than con­fid­ent about their lan­guage skills.

 “Many Finns are shy about it, and they may not be eager to switch into English right off the bat, if they haven’t act­ively used the lan­guage,” adds Piiroinen.

Enhanced English skills are by no means the only lin­guistic bene­fit. Pintens also speaks Spanish, French and Flemish, allow­ing JP Suojapeite to com­mu­nic­ate bet­ter with its busi­ness con­tacts abroad. Despite the rel­at­ive nov­elty of hav­ing a migrant worker, things have gone swim­mingly when it comes to recon­cil­ing dif­fer­ences between work cul­tures – there has barely been a need to do it at all.

“He [Pintens] is him­self a very inter­na­tional fel­low. I think that we’ve always been for­ward: “this is how we do things, but if you have a bet­ter idea, please bring it up and we’ll see how it works”. I’ve been doing this long enough to develop tun­nel vis­ion. I’ll gladly enter­tain new ideas. If some­body has a bet­ter way of doing things, we’ll gladly test it. If the thing works, we stick to it. If not, we go back.”

Piiroinen sees the import­ance of enter­ing the inter­na­tional mar­ket, and he sees the value of the know-how inter­na­tional tal­ents bring with them. When recruit­ment needs arise, Piiroinen would be will­ing to sup­port migrant work­ers in set­tling in their new home coun­try in the future, as meet­ing migrant hires halfway like this is a good means of mak­ing a busi­ness more inter­na­tion­ally viable.

“It would help if the com­pany had someone to help out in deal­ing with bur­eau­cracy, so that the migrant can get a hold of a work­ing rhythm as soon as pos­sible and get their affairs in order.”

Text: Lauri Vuori Photos: JP Suojapeite