Goals of the project

  • To enhance cultural sensitivity skills in social and health care sector workplaces
  • To promote workers’ understanding of clients from different cultures
  • To provide better employment opportunities for immigrants
  • To recognise the skills and qualifications immigrants have already obtained

The current situation and challenges

  • Analysing the functions, operational modes, challenges and management in multicultural social and health care workplaces
  • Identifying barriers to successful employment faced by immigrants
  • Solving problems and to identify possibilities
  • Studying how multiculturalism is addressed within the workplace and regarding clients


  • Determining best practices in multicultural social and health care workplaces
  • Addressing issues within the workplace and when working with clients
  • Identifying operational and administrative solutions within workplaces
  • Establishing methods of interacting with clients from different cultures

The Finnish social and health care sector is rapidly becoming more international. Health care professionals are migrating to Finland at an ever increasing pace. Immigrants are needed to address the expected shortages in workforce, but require education and training in the practices applied in the Finnish social and health care sector. The COPE project was initiated to develop and identify means of supporting positive development in this respect.

It is important to promote the integration and social inclusion of social and health care professionals of immigrant-origin. However, culturally diverse workplaces also pose challenges at managerial level.

The European Union (Communication on Immigration, Integration and Employment) holds the view that multiculturalism and the integration of immigrants is a bilateral process – immigrants must respect the values and norms of their host country, while the host country must endeavour to ensure equal opportunities for immigrants. Integration refers to the process whereby immigrants become active within society. Acculturation refers to the process of adapting to a new culture while preserving one’s own cultural identity.

Current labour market situation

In Finland, people of immigrant-origin have difficulties in finding employment, and such employment tends to be temporary. More often than not, they cannot find jobs in their own field.

Success in finding employment depends on education, gender and country of origin. Low level of education, poor language skills and limited social networks are further obstacles to securing a job.

Finding work is difficult, even for social and health care professionals of immigrant-origin. In the social and health care sector, poor professional language skills, inadequate orientation and failure to determine the initial skill level are additional obstacles to successful employment and integration.

The language training offered to physicians and nurses of immigrant-origin is inadequate. Accordingly, it has been proposed that language training be customised to better meet the requirements of the profession. Furthermore, differences exist between the practices implemented. In Finland, physicians and other health care workers are expected to master a more comprehensive set of skills than in many other countries.

Open-mindedness in the workplace, adequate orientation, and support from the management and colleagues are prerequisites for immigrants’ succeeding in their work.

A strong professional identity developed through work experience, good language skills, obtaining professional qualifications valid in Finland, and social networks created during vocational training all contribute to the successful employment and integration of nurses of immigrant-origin.

Customised labour market policies and interventions have proven effective. Personalised integration plans and language training, for example, have resulted in increased income among immigrants.

Skills directly applicable in working life are most effective in increasing employment. In Denmark, it has been proven that active labour market policies and training predict improved employment opportunities and shorter periods on social assistance.

A study on physicians and nurses of immigrant-origin showed that it is vital to pay attention to the needs of multicultural workplaces in both management and in the development of attitudes and the overall working environment. In terms of leadership, effective management of cultural diversity affects the performance of an organisation. Enhancing interaction between workers from different cultures can decrease bullying at the workplace.

Immigrants as clients

Immigration is a major stressor. In many cases, it also poses increased health risks and an elevated risk of social problems. In Sweden, for example, the risk of schizoid and psychotic symptoms is nearly three times higher amongst the immigrant population. Health problems tend to worsen, if the asylum claim consideration period is prolonged. On the other hand, the healthy immigrant effect is a broadly accepted phenomenon, probably due to the fact that the young and healthy are more likely to emigrate.

In treatment situations, immigrants may be highly sensitive to attitudes of distrust or contempt. Working with immigrants requires the willingness – even courage – to commit oneself. It is important to understand not only differences, but also the equal value of all cultures. When working with immigrants, it is beneficial to identify and accept one’s own preconceived ideas and attitudes and work towards an unbiased attitude, in order to prevent negative impacts on the physician/nurse-patient relationship.

Among health care professionals, experiences of working with immigrants have mainly been positive. Language issues, differing treatment practices, cultural and religious concerns, and using an interpreter create challenges in treatment situations. But immigrants also offer exciting variation in daily routines and provide an opportunity to learn about foreign cultures.

There is, nevertheless, room for improvement, and health care workers need further training in interacting with a culturally diverse clientele. Workers often feel that they have been left to their own devices in finding information on multicultural interaction. The importance of training, effective supervision, and multiprofessional teamwork is emphasised. Transnational skills, in particular, need to be improved, while the Finnish tend to be strong in terms of emotional competencies.

The project & its implementation

The project is two-dimensional. Firstly, the employment of immigrant social and health care workers and multicultural workplaces is supported by implementing, say, a novel type of training. Secondly, social and health care workers receive further training on how to interact with clients of immigrant-origin.

  • A national questionnaire is sent to nurses and physicians of immigrant-origin, and a COPE survey to organisations.
  • Analysis of documentation, focus groups and thematic interviews
  • Practical application in cooperation with the multicultural centre, Axxell, to develop an intervention pilot on how a culturally diverse workplace functions.
  • The objective of intervention is to pilot a training package using innovative implementation methods, including online platforms, video material, mobile applications, web-based materials, and materials created in the workplace.

For more information, please read “Article: Multicultural workplaces – Behind of the study”


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Article written by Tarja Heponiemi & Sini Silvàn on 13th January 2017 .

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