Nasrin Jahan Jinia, Hanna Kirjavainen & Minna Niemi
As we write this, there is a lot of public discussion about the need for labor-based immigration in an ageing Finland. We have paid attention to the polarization and popularization of the debate and note an argument that paints the stereotypical picture of labor immigration. Sometimes the fact that all immigrants have their own stories to tell about their past and future seems to be forgotten. One of the factors shaping immigrants’ narratives about the future is the professionally relevant networks.
We belong to the DigiMESH project team (ESF/REACT-EU funding), which aims to increase and diversify digital networking among university graduates and students. The target is to increase migrants’ chances of finding a job that matches their education. The development work is carried out with immigrants, and the professionals who guide and employ them. We develop and test networking practices, events, and other tools. After the pilots, we evaluate their usefulness and make decisions on further development.
In this article, we report on the content and piloting of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the topic. We also present how such a course could be applied in a variety of ways.
Digital Networking Supporting Immigrants’ Access to the Labor Market
We have named the MOOC course as Integration into the Labor Market through Digital Networking. The concept of digital networking is described by Minna Niemi and Kirsi Popova (2022) as follows:
“The concept consists of two words: networking and digital. Since the beginning of the 20th century, networking has referred to the relationships between units. These units can be, for example, people, organisations or states. On the other hand, the conceptual home of ‘digital’ is within information system science: communications technology and data processing.”
The above-mentioned conceptualization is based on Manuel Castells (2000 & 2004) theorizations. In today’s digital era, digital networking has permeated every aspect of our existence, as individuals engage in activities such as posting on social media, exchanging emails, buying online, and joining virtual professional networks (Gloria 2019; ILO 2021). This is no exception in the phenomenon of immigration and nowadays digital networking has been seen as the driver of global migration (IOM 2019).
Digital networking is also considered to be one of the key skills for successful job search and career building. It is one of the most effective tools to get access to hidden jobs, which makes developing networks crucial for immigrants. (Hillgren et.al. 2021.) The reasons, why digital networking is important for immigrants in their job search, are discussed below (see Tilly & Polacheck 2015; Stier & Yaish 2014; Katz & McFadyen 2014):
- Growing professional connections: Digital networking platforms offer immigrants the chance to connect with professionals in their desired fields. There they can broaden professional networks, establish connections, and engage with employers and colleagues. The connections provide job leads, and referrals, which are often instrumental in accessing job markets.
- Accessing the global job market: Digital networking eliminates geographical barriers, allowing immigrants to tap into a global job market. By connecting with professionals worldwide, immigrants can explore job opportunities in their home country and host country.
- Showcasing skills and experience: Networking platforms can be used as the showcase of immigrants’ experience, and qualifications. Through profiles and resumes, they can highlight their strengths and accomplishments, making it easier for employers to discover their talent and consider them for job offers.
- Cultural exchange and understanding: Digital networking empower immigrants to participate in cultural exchange, leading to a deeper comprehension of the job market. They can acquire valuable insights into workplace norms and cultural expectations.
- Accessing support and resources: During the job search, immigrants encounter obstacles such as language barriers, unfamiliarity with local job markets, and limited networks. Digital networking platforms provide a solution by offering online communities and support groups. In the platforms, immigrants can seek advice and share experiences. In addition, they foster a sense of belonging, providing support and guidance throughout the job search journey.
Constructing and Piloting MOOC Course in Tampere and Turku
The MOOC course under review was the subject of intensive work among the project team and its partners. It was considered important to structure the diverse course so that people from different perspectives and professions were involved. It was hoped that the course would benefit international talents and professionals guiding them, as well as recruiting business representatives. The main partners of the DigiMESH team were International Working Women of Finland, TAMK’s SIMHE services and International House Tampere.
The MOOC course consists of five units, which were worked on in their own expert groups. Numerous subtitled teaching videos and recordings were prepared for the course, as well as dozens of different types of assignments. The first unit deals with the use of the networking step model (MESH 2021) to support career development. The second was designed for guidance professionals or those who want to become one. The third focuses on language skills in networking. The fourth unit deals with digital recruitment from the perspective of employers and the fifth with the online presence of jobseekers.
The project team agreed to pilot the MOOC in two settings to TAMK and Turku UAS during spring 2023. In Tampere, the pilot course followed the principles of MOOCs and was open for all. The participants represented mainly the University of Tampere and TAMK, but some others were involved too. Initially, 38 students registered for the TAMK pilot and 18 successfully finished the course. This master’s level, five-credit course consisted of five units in total, with the first unit being mandatory for all participants. Each student could then choose three additional units out of four. The pass/fail scale was used in the evaluation. The feedback received from the pilot was highly satisfactory.
In Turku UAS, the MOOC formed a part of an obligatory course for a class studying for the bachelor’s degree in social Services. The group consists of 31, mainly international students from Asian countries. Because most were planning to stay in Finland after graduation, the pilot course provided vital information. The students completed 3 credits from the MOOC; the first unit was mandatory, and two others could be chosen out of four. Some wanted to study the whole MOOC.
According to the feedback, the student found the content beneficial for networking and finding employment opportunities in Finland. Most of them stated that, particularly “the Networking Steps” had helped them.
The students also gave the project team valuable suggestions for improving the course to make it more suitable for international students. The project team went through all the gathered quantitative and qualitative feedback of the two pilots and adjusted the course accordingly.
How to Utilize MOOC Materials in Education and Counselling
Bypassing digital networking and tools in working life is no longer an option. The MOOC developed by TAMK and Turku UAS offers international job seekers and students the opportunity to develop their skills in this field to better integrate into the labor market.
The MOOC will remain a stand-alone online course, open globally to anyone interested in the subject and self-motivated to accomplish it independently, as is the point of a Massive Open Online Course (see e.g., Abeer & Miri 2014; Israel 2015; Milligan & Littlejohn 2017). This is in line with the principle of life-long learning and the progress towards a more specialized and autonomous role of the knowledge worker, in which work-related development becomes personalized and continual (Milligan & Littlejohn 2017).
In 2024, the course will be offered as an optional course for bachelor’s program students in Turku UAS. It will also be included in TAMK’s alternative studies for master’s degree program students. For those who are e.g., studying in another university or otherwise interested in gaining study credits, TAMK offers the possibility to study the course in the open university.
The MOOC offers a low-threshold way to familiarize oneself with the somewhat ubiquitous term of “networking”. The MOOC caters not only to international talents but also to guiding professionals, as networking is not very familiar to them all either. Most course units are applicable to native-born students and job seekers. One may utilize only some parts of it in teaching or learning.
This is important as despite large enrollment numbers, on average only less than 10 % complete MOOCs (Israel 2015). However, this may be even adequate as different people have different objectives (Buck 2013), and completing a MOOC is only one of the learners’ outcomes, alongside e.g., fulfilling current needs, connecting with people, or preparing for the future (Milligan & Littlejohn 2017).
Moreover, one may take advantage of the MOOC’s videos and other materials separately from the course. Video lectures and quizzes in MOOCs have also proven to be very successful among students (Israel 2015). The materials will be available on the project website. The project team will disseminate the MOOC in various channels to maximize its benefits for the larger audience.
Bypassing digital networking and tools in working life is no longer an option. This MOOC offers international job seekers and students the opportunity to develop their skills in this field to better integrate into the labor market. Have a look at the MOOC and the other materials if we have woken up your interest. https://digimesh.turkuamk.fi/digitaalisen-verkostoitumisen-taidot-ja-ohjaus/
Nasrin Jahan Jinia, PhD of Social Sciences, Lecturer, Project Specialist, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, nasrin.jinia(at)tuni.fi.
Hanna Kirjavainen, Master of Social Work, Master of Political Sciences, Senior Lecturer, Project Manager, Research Group Leader, Turku University of Applied Sciences, hanna.kirjavainen(at)turkuamk.fi.
Minna Niemi, PhD of Social Sciences, Principal Lecturer, Project Manager, Social Worker, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, minna.niemi(at)tuni.fi.
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At present, Digital Networking is an important approach for immigrants who are seeking a job in their respective fields. Due to the rapid growth of information technology and the impacts of globalization, it has also become a part of an effective integration process of immigrants through getting access to the hidden labor market.
The article intends to focus on the piloting results of the MOOC developed by the DigiMESH project partners at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and Turku University of Applied Sciences (Turku UAS). It has been found that the pilot course helped educated immigrants by developing their professional networks, building peer support, staying updated, enhancing their online presence, digital recruitment knowledge, and overcoming language barriers.
The finding shows that opportunities for finding a job have been amplified by participating. It also promotes the integration process of immigrants in a new society. In addition, the results show that Digital Networking is vital tool to empower educated immigrants.