EnergyWeek: Energy Academy roasted leaders about the untapped potential of international students

Energy Academy roast at EnergyWeek 2023
Yue Zhang (to the left) was one of the students roasting local business and education leaders.
5 min

On the last day of this year’s EnergyWeek, students from the Energy Academy confronted representatives of the universities and energy sector companies to challenge them in the form of a “roast”.

Energy Academy is a cooperation model between universities and leading companies in the Vaasa region. It is designed to increase the area’s appeal to students and graduates and to create better connections between working life, RDI, and young talents.

The discussion started by students asking whether companies collaborate enough. Olav Lundström, Operating Unit Manager at Hitachi Energy, responds,

It’s always good to benchmark what others are doing. Especially in this new situation, with a lot of people working remotely, we look to other companies to see how they are solving things. If you are generally open-minded and curious, you learn new things all the time.

International students are an underused resource

One big topic of the day was international students’ possibility to have a career in the energy sector in Vaasa. Many students come here without knowing a single person and struggle to make the connections necessary to land a job in the energy sector.

“You may not know, but many international students already have several degrees and work experience when they come here,” says Pia Jünger, Talent Boost Coordinator at Novia UAS. Jünger also heads the Vaasa International Talents project, which helps students integrate into the Finnish job market and establish themselves in the region after graduation.

Energy Academy Roastmasters
Roastmasters: Trajce Ivanov, Heidi Perälä, Yeasin Arafat, Yue Zhang, Melina Hermann, Robin Hagqvist

It takes time to adjust

International students may experience cultural differences and feel isolated or excluded from Finnish society. It may take some time for them to adjust and integrate into the local culture, and learn the language. Therefore they struggle to make ends meet, and if they get a job they feel like they are underselling themselves. Many leave Finland after graduating.

“The job market is highly competitive, making it challenging to secure employment even for Finns. On the matter of people leaving the country – it’s their loss,” comments Juha Päivike, Project Director at the Sustainable Technology Hub at Wärtsilä.

“We are already recruiting globally, so being a foreigner is not an issue,” says Jari Marjo, Head of Product Management and Development Finland at Danfoss Drives.

Päivike adds: “I believe that hard work always pays off, even if the work is really shitty in the beginning. Also, companies do not hire degrees. They hire attitude.”

Sales could be a way in

“Apply to sales!” Olav Lundström shouts out passionately.

I can’t believe how few people want to work with marketing and sales. It’s the best job in the world; you get to travel a lot and perhaps to your own home country.

All panel members agree that networking and building relationships are key to improving chances for work. Lisbeth Fagerström, Professor in Health Sciences at Åbo Akademi, suggests trying to show what you can offer.

You have to think outside the box and expand your own borders. Innovate something, show your skills. You cannot just approach people with ‘what I need from you’. Activate yourself in some hobby, for example.

Marja-Riitta Vest, Head of RDI at Vaasa University of Applied Sciences, advises everyone to first find somebody to trust, on a grass-root level. This makes it easier to find the right network.

Be yourself. Be humble, honest and open. Then language will not be a problem after that. But you need that one person to open the door for you.

Your CV should be in order

Salla Rundgren, HR Project Manager at ABB, offers some practical advice for job-seekers.

It’s important to have your application letters and CV in order, as door openers will only get you so far – then it’s up to you. Remember to ask for feedback. In Finland, we generally do not give feedback unless it is asked for.

She adds that it’s important to join groups of common interest, such as Mothers in Business or local business unions.

Salla Rundgren and roasting panel at EnergyWeek event. The folder says "Evil plans and other stuff".
Salla Rundgren jokingly suggests keeping important papers in a special folder, hers titled “evil plans and other stuff”.

Let the roast begin

One of the students raised a thought-provoking question regarding the type of employees that companies truly desire. Specifically, she wondered whether companies prefer their employees to be compliant and obedient as opposed to creative and innovative.

Petri Mäntysaari, Professor in Commercial Law at Hanken School of Economics, notes that the Finnish educational system strives to produce high-achieving students, which may lead to the creation of a certain kind of personality.

However, in my opinion, cultivating innovation stems from one’s cultural background and upbringing, rather than being something that can only be instilled in school. When I consider the Ostrobothnian region, famous for its entrepreneurial spirit among people from all walks of life, I believe that it comes from the very soil.

Mäntysaari disagrees with the belief that people are not being encouraged to be individualistic, as innovation is encouraged all over the EU and the Nordic countries.

Energy Academy roastmasters, Heidi Perälä speaking
Heidi Perälä takes her turn at the microphone.

“Companies are busy doing business”

On the topic of innovation, Kristian Blomqvist, Dean of Faculty of Technology and Seafaring at Novia UAS, makes a remark about today’s society.

The problem with companies is that they need to make money – they are busy making business. So what has happened? Society is no longer like ancient Greece, where philosophers spent a lot of time thinking and then had their eureka moment. Today, we have a mix of sectors and cultures and a lot of untapped potential in international students. Would you agree?

The audience applauds and Juha Päivike agrees.

Generations are different. We need to give more space to the youngsters. Hopefully we are able to find the best mixture and not kill it with corporate mumbo jumbo.

How to avoid getting sued?

The audience laughs when the discussion turns to the next question: “Are there any potential legal risks in Finland, or how to avoid not getting sued by Santa Claus?”

Marcus Norrgård, Professor of Law at the Vaasa Unit of the University of Helsinki, answers, but talks in terms of legal opportunities rather than risks.

Finland is a stable country. We have the rule of law and we follow it. If someone gives you money to do something, you call the authorities. Our stability is our greatest selling point.

The group concludes that we need to raise our ambitions more in Finland. A person in the audience shouts that we need more money in Finland.

Petri Mäntysaari disagrees.

We have a trust culture that is good, now what we need is to have the infrastructure in place. Perhaps the money will follow – and the talent.

EnergyWeek - Energy Academy: Back to the Future group photo
Roastmasters and panel members alike were happy to have had a good discussion.

Energy Academy

Brings together all six universities in Vaasa: University of Vaasa, Vaasa University of Applied Sciences, Novia University of Applied Sciences, Hanken School of Economics, University of Helsinki and Åbo Akademi University.

Companies and hubs involved are ABB Oy, Danfoss, EnergyVaasa, Hitachi Energy, Merinova, City of Vaasa, Vaasan Sähkö, VASEK and Wärtsilä Finland.

The model is tightly connected to the Nordic Battery Belt, making the Vaasa region an essential link in the sustainable value chain in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

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