Students with mother tongues other than Estonian get a taste of working for the state

April saw the end of a work placement programmed offered by the Integration Foundation whose aim was to showcase employment opportunities in state agencies to students with mother tongues other than Estonian and to encourage them to apply for positions in the public sector in the future. As part of the programme, a total of 13 students discovered what it is like to work in the Government Office, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and a variety of ministries.

“It’s important to us that everyone who lives in Estonia has the chance to make something of themselves,” remarked Piret Hartman, the Deputy Secretary-General for Cultural Diversity at the Ministry of Culture. “The more varied the backgrounds of everyone who works in the public sector, the more broad-ranging our policies will be, and the more they’ll be in line with society’s needs. There are people of lots of different ethnicities in Estonia, but they only account for 2% of the staff in our ministries. We’re planning to continue with the programme to encourage young people who have all the skills they need to come in and see for themselves what working for the state is like, and to apply for positions.”

In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Finance, the Integration Foundation launched a programme in the course of which a variety of state agencies offered work placements to students with mother tongues other than Estonian who were in their final year of Bachelor’s studies or undertaking Master’s studies. Opening their doors to the students were the Government Office, the Office of the Chancellor of Justice and seven ministries: the Ministry of Education and Research, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“I’m sure the programme has given the students a real boost and broadened their outlook in terms of what they can make of themselves,” said Integration Foundation director Irene Käosaar. “In planning their futures they can now add the public sector to the career opportunities that are open to them. The organisations that took them on have no doubt gained an outsider’s view into what they do, which can be very beneficial, as well as new ideas and a broader understanding of what different target groups expect of the work they do.”

Diana Drobat, who completed her work placement at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and who speaks Russian as her first language, says that she never even considered the possibility of working in the public sector. “It just didn’t seem feasible at all, given my lack of qualifications, but as things turned out it was quite the reverse,” she said. “During my placement we tackled issues affecting Ida-Viru County, so my first-hand experience proved really useful to the ministry. It meant my supervisor looked at me as something of an expert, and we worked really well together. My time at the ministry underscored the fact that speaking Russian can really work in your favour in Estonia, since in our unique little cultural and linguistic sphere, if you also speak good Estonian, it opens up all sorts of opportunities to you.”

Turkish-speaking Berk Erdem, who completed his work placement at the Ministry of Finance, says that since so much of what is taught at university is theoretical in nature, he was feeling the lack of practical experience. “The programme gave me the chance to see what things are like and how things are done in real life,” he said. “Working in the public sector makes you feel good, too, since you’re doing something for the country.”

The programme was offered in cooperation with Tallinn University, TalTech, the Estonian Academy of Arts and the University of Tartu. A total of 36 students with seven different mother tongues applied to take part, among whom the 13 available placements were filled by 10 Russian-speaking students, one Estonian-Russian bilingual student, one German-speaking student and one Turkish-speaking student.

The programme began in June 2020 with the mapping of work placement opportunities. Ahead of the placements, the students had the chance to take part in self-development courses preparing them for their future careers, while the state agencies offering the placements had the chance to attend workshops on designing the work placement journey, one aspect of which was team diversity. The supervised placements took place from January to April this year. Due to coronavirus restrictions, the programme was run online and the work placements themselves were largely completed remotely.

Watch the video about the internship program here: