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