Robots, visualisation and a human-centered approach to migration


Members of the EUROCITIES working group on migration and integration were impressed by the Helsinki Skills Center and its service models, run by the Helsinki education department.

Virtual reality, robots, visualisation and a human-centered approach – these were some of the aspects that intrigued members of the EUROCITIES working group migration during their visit to the Helsinki Skills Center for immigrants last week in Helsinki.

“I was impressed that this type of place even exists. In addition, it is very solution oriented and encouraging towards migrants”, commented the Athens deputy mayor for migration issues, Lefteris Papagiannakis. 

During the learning café sessions, the Finnish language teachers showcased humanoid robot Naoki, who brings joy to learning, as well as diversity in terms of learning method. The robot is particularly suitable for learning vocabulary and is easy to ask questions to. WG migration members were curious. ”We need to think long term in future – then we could have this type of service that Helsinki already has”, the vice – chair of the working group Papagiannakis noted.

The skills center is run with a holistic approach: a multi-professional team includes workers from the local labour office, Finnish language teachers, working life coaches, business coordinators, social and health care experts, and economic development administration experts. This multi-professional team allows unemployed migrants over 18 to construct education and work paths, which are tailor-made according to the needs and preferences of each client. The coordinator responsible for cooperation with companies together with the work coaches (who coach in migrants own language), both act as intermediaries so that companies can hire professionals with weaker language skills.

In fact, the skills center offers its clients Finnish as second language degrees, apprenticeship contracts and teaching clinics for reading and writing, combining learning support, Finnish language education and practical work training (vocational workshops). During the orientation periods the client receives rehabilitating integration support, while, at the same time, his or her Finnish language skills and preparedness to learn are strengthened.

Since summer 2016, the skills center has served over 1,400 migrants and the results are promising: over half of the clients have been able to proceed with their education and ¼ were able to enter into job market. The migrants represent over 42 different nationalities. They are highly motivated, thanks to the sufficient support that leads to successful learning and lowers the threshold to enter the work place. The experts working at the skills center serve in 12 different languages.


Visualisation and a human centered approach

Migrant coordinator of the city of Munich, Regina Ober, said: “I will take with me the idea that issues related to learning or planning can be visualised.” Ober noted that visualisation was explicit in the use of space, its decoration and design, techniques and tools at the skills center. One of the visual tools was the skills mapping board, which the client completes together with a worker. It resembles a gameboard, and it has been translated into many languages. The boards will be filled with different cards, which include keywords to build clients’ education and career path in a manner that is compatible with their life situation. One hour is used to fill the board, but it can be refilled when necessary.

“In Helsinki, the skills mapping is understood broadly, understanding both the life situation and skills and past experience. This is important, as particularly refugees tend to ignore some parts of their past and skills when they integrate to become good members of the society and workers”, immigrant specialist Niene Oepkes from City of Utrecht noted.

This is the second time the working group migration has visited Helsinki. The chair of the working group Anu Riila, senior planning officer at the Helsinki executive office noted that since 2010, the migrant population has grown in Helsinki.  The skills center was foreseen as a local level response to the 2015 and 2016 influx of asylum-seekers into Finland (32,000) and 3,500 refugees that remained in the city. ”Most migrants are staying in cities in Europe.  The skills center serves all migrants who are registered in the municipality, and who are directed by the local employment office to the center. Hence, long term unemployed migrants can also find new solutions to their situation at the center as services are tailored to meet their needs. I hope the visit to the skills center provided a good ‘takeaway’ for the 30 working group members to their respective cities in Europe.”

“Some clients who are educated and have language skills may only participate in job coaching. Others may have a longer path”, said Mrs. Arja Koli, the project manager of the skills center. “Our aim is to serve 1,000-1,200 immigrants per year in the future”.


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Text: Tiina Torppa, with some additional info on Skills Center

Photos: Susa Junnola