Tackling the labor shortage with international hands

Awarded with the Luotsi award on Joensuu Day 2022: Joen Leipurit Oy

Where to find workers? Labor shortages are expected to become an obstacle for the success of many businesses in the coming years. One of the fields facing potential struggles is the bakery business, which employs 7000 people in Finland. For the Average Joe, the mental image of a baker might be all warm and fluffy. In reality, the work is quite physical, and not everyone is keen on working two shifts or early mornings.

The Joen Leipurit bakery in Rantakylä also needs many sets of hands to bake breads, pastries and bagels. The impending labor shortage was already noticed here about ten years ago.

”We noticed that it was getting more and more difficult to hire Finnish workers. There simply weren’t enough interested and motivated applicants available,” reminisces entrepeneur Ville Kokkonen.

The first immigrant workers at Joen Leipurit came from Southeast Asia, from Thailand and the Philippines. There were some challenges at first, some of them very surprising.

”The Thai workers really didn’t want to take breaks. We had to impress on them several times that breaks are mandatory – and we had to actually escort them to breaks. Even then, they wanted to run back to work in the middle of a break,” Ville marvels.

Ville Kokkonen praises the immigrants workers’ ability to learn, adaptability to changing situations and, of course, their diligence.

Leading with goodwill and by example

The lack of a common language is often considered the biggest obstacle to employing foreign workers. Joen Leipurit has taken a practical approach to this challenge.

”A common language is not needed every step of the way. For instance, you can teach the work by showing, and learn it by imitating,” reminds Ville Kokkonen.

Coworkers who speak the same language have been helping when necessary. The more experienced workers advise newbies in other ways as well, which happens at most workplaces anyway. So far, there has been no need for an outside interpreter.

”The key factor has been the willingness on both sides to understand one another and to solve any issues that might come up,” says Ville to illustrate the functionality of their international work community.

From the world to Rantakylä

Joen Leipurit employs around thirty people, as well as a varying amount of part-time workers and trainees. Their market area is Eastern Finland,with the farthest points of the distribution network being the Mikkeli area, Iisalmi and Valtimo.

The current roster of immigrant workers come from Thailand, the Philippines, Russia and Ukraine. The newest hires are the Ukrainians, who have fled from the war and have settled in Rantakylä.

Irina Perepada and Halyna Kihthenko are still at the beginning of their Finnish language studies, having enroled at the community college. Irina is familiar with factory work, but the change from her last job is enormous. She previously worked at the Azovstal steel plant in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine, for a quarter of a century. Now, she is finding her new bread and butter among a happy and international work community.

The Joensuu Day Luotsi awards were awarded to employers who have boldly employed international talents. Awards were also given to:

Text: Juha Forsblom

Photos: Ari Tauslahti

Translation: Teemu Reilin