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Peter Acapulco works as a chef in Mikkeli. "I want to learn more about European cuisine and develop in my profession," he says.

The first winter was a shock, but good pay and a suitable work load keep Filipino Peter working as a chef in Finland

Maarit Rasi, Kaisa Viljanen
Aleksi Poutanen
Julkaistu: 7.5.2024
Muokattu: 7.5.2024
S Group has recruited around 300 chefs from the Philippines. Foreign recruitments have been a success.

In spring, Peter Acapulco also gets a spring in his step. The streets are free of snow, and he can get back to the basketball court and the cycle paths. The cold and darkness of Finland are not easy to cope with for a Filipino.

"I’m so happy to have survived my first winter in Finland," says Acapulco, 32.

Acapulco works as a chef at Babista, Rosso and Amarillo restaurants in Mikkeli. He came to Finland through international recruitment as a temporary agency worker for S Group. Since October 2023, Acapulco has been an employee of Suur-Savo Cooperative Society – and he is proud of it.

A chef's job is pretty much the same everywhere," says Acapulco. It's interesting but physically demanding, and you have to learn new things all the time. Before moving to Finland, Acapulco spent six years cooking in hotel restaurants in Dubai. In Finland, the pace is slower and the pay much better.

Finnish, English and non-verbal expressions are used in the kitchen, as the team include not only other Filipinos but also Ukrainians, for example.

Skills are valued

In the future, the number of S Group employees with foreign backgrounds will increase. Like Acapulco, some of them will come to Finland through international recruitment. Satu Vennala, Human Resources Manager in HOK-Elanto's restaurant business, was involved in the group’s first foreign recruitment drive. The decision to recruit chefs was made in 2008.

S group has recruited more than 400 foreign emoloyees.

"The Philippines was chosen because of its high level of education, English as the language of instruction and its rather western culture The Filipino people are highly skilled."

Millions of Filipinos work abroad and the income they send home is important for the national economy.

Vennala describes the recruitment trip to the Philippines as a success, as all the chefs recruited at the time worked for HOK-Elanto in Finland for a long time. Some of them are still working for HOK-Elanto after 15 years.

Over the years, S Group has recruited more than 400 employees from abroad, many of them Filipino chefs. Some 300 Filipino chefs alone have been employed by S Group. The workers are first employed by a temporary agency and subsequently become S Group employees.

Vennala recalls how he used to call the restaurants where the first Filipino chefs were hired. All the supervisors had the same message.

"They wondered how they had been so lucky as to get a diamond-quality chef."

Only three of the employees hired by HOK-Elanto have gone back to their home country.

"There have been family reasons behind their decision. It should be made easier to reunite families so that committing to and staying in Finland would be easier for workers. Now it’s difficult because the income limits are absurd," says Vennala.

Income limits vary depending on the situation. According to the Finnish Immigration Service, the basic income requirement is €2,600 per month if there are two adults and two underage children in the family. The income limits also always include social benefits.

Information makes integration easier

According to Vennala, recruiting from abroad is successful if the recruits have a realistic idea of their new home country and the employer invests in induction. Cooperation with the international recruiter is important and the partner plays a big role in the integration of the new workers.

Nowadays, Filipinos coming to Finland already have strong networks and most of them apply on the recommendation of friends and colleagues," says Vennala.

Peter Acapulco's arrival in Mikkeli has been made easier by the other Filipinos working with him. He also shares an apartment with three other Filipino restaurant workers.

"We go shopping and cook Filipino food together, and give the cooking process the time it takes," says Acapulco.

"I’ve also become friends with my boss, Topi. He helps us with everything."

Sometimes Acapulco visits his sister who lives in Espoo and also works as a chef. His Finnish girlfriend can explain any quirks of the Finnish culture. Acapulco keeps in touch with his family in California via video calls.

Finnish working conditions are attractive

Satu Vennala calls for the supervisors and co-workers to take responsibility for the integration of workers from abroad. No one can be forced to spend time with their colleagues outside working hours, but it is advisable, as it makes it easier for newcomers to adapt to Finland. It is important that everyone at work is welcomed as a full member of the team from day one.

"We've taken Filipinos to pick mushrooms in the forest and to summer cottages. The most important thing is that the employees meet each other as human beings."

Finnish working life has a good reputation. For an Asian employee, receiving the annual leave pay for the first time is a good example. It can be hard for people from other countries to understand that you also get paid for taking a holiday.

Often employment goes as S Group hopes. When a foreign recruit finishes their first fixed-term contract with a recruitment agency, they want to continue working for S Group.

Acapulco would also like to stay. Although he was born and educated in Manila and has lived in Davao, he prefers the peaceful and green Mikkeli to big cities. If only he could get his son to Finland.

"I want to learn more about European cuisine and develop in my profession. As a chef, you're never ready," says Acapulco.

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