Sonja Joensuu.

The negative label of unemployment is unnecessary, says bot whisperer Sonja

When the coronavirus epidemic broke out, Sonja Joensuu, who has lived in five countries and studied in three universities in six different languages, awoke to realise how many people got in trouble due to dismissals and lay-offs. The will to help other people made the health sciences professional switch from a customer service and research job to work at YTK.

“I have toured around the world, but originally I come from a small town in northern part of Satakunta. I was curious already as a child; I was interested in almost everything, and choosing my own branch was a bit of a challenge. I started to study German language and culture in the university, but I realised quite soon that the career as a teacher or translator is not the right choice for me. When in exchange in Innsbruck I decided to change my branch of studies.

“Health sciences attracted me, because I was interested to know how you can influence your own well-being and health through different lifestyle choices. As the studies progressed I began to figure out the social aspects of the matter more clearly. E.g. legislation and political decision-making affect a great deal on our opportunities to generate well-being. I completed the practical training for my Master’s degree at a research institute in Copenhagen and got to study the use of robotics and automation in supporting elderly people.”

Encounters with the unemployed drew to work at YTK

”In the final stage of my studies I was working in the TE Office for a private service provider. As a guide I created different future paths together with the customers. You could only see a small portion of the path of unemployment in the TE Office, and I was also interested in the point of view of the payer of earnings-related security. That was a key reason for me to seek for a job in the unemployment fund.

“When the coronavirus crisis hit, I had a strong feeling that I want to relieve the social distress caused by the epidemic through my own work contribution. In my previous job I felt that I couldn’t do enough to help people. Caring and strong professionalism found in the values of General Unemployment Fund YTK helped me make the decision. YTK wants to develop unemployment security actively and in determined fashion, which is important to me.

“I started work at YTK as an unemployment security advisor in April 2020. I switched from the office environment of the TE Office to remote working at home, which changed my working completely. In any case the change went surprisingly smoothly.”

Teaching a robot is creative customer service

”Despite comprehensive and successful induction, I was nervous about starting work in customer service. I still remember the first call. It was a complicated case, and at that point I wondered what I have got myself into. Over time I gained self-assurance in my work. Doing things by yourself is a quick and efficient way to learn! Customer service situations in particular help develop your own expertise continuously.

“The core of my work comprises of advisory services on the telephone, in messages and chat. Encountering people is a matter of heart to me. I want to be genuinely present in customer service situations and try to avoid compartmentalising people. I discuss thing with people in such a way that I let them be as they are and tell about their situation in their own words. Fluent communication is very important, because I think that everyone has to have a clear understanding of the factors that affect their own situation.

“Since the beginning of October I have been one of YTK’s bot whisperers. We teach our robot Iiris that works on the YTK website to answer independently the questions asked by the customers. It is already able to finish around 80% of the discussions without assistance. If a recurring theme appears to which Iiris cannot yet answer, we begin to teach Iiris with the case. Development of a chatbot is one example of how YTK is focusing on helping its customers. For me it means creative service work at its best.”

Swift reactions help with changes

”At YTK I was surprised by how well the organisation has been able to adapt through changes in the ways of working. It was a huge change for the organisation when more than one hundred new employees joined the experts that have worked there for a long time. Everything started rolling quickly and smoothly. Preparations for the coronavirus started at YTK in early 2020, and the same approach still stands; if there is a need to make changes, they are implemented quickly.

“In my job I also awoke to realise how complicated a phenomenon unemployment is and how many different things are linked to earnings-related security. The word unemployed still carries a very negative label, although anybody can become unemployed due to reasons independent of themselves. Removing the stigma is socially important.”

Paths to positive old age

”In my career I am interested in supporting working capacity and the issues related to the employment of partially disabled people which will be an important future object of development regarding earnings-related security. Elderly people is the age group that interests me the most. I’d like to contribute to finding tools for positive old age.

“The coronavirus has in the end had a fairly small effect on my daily life. I’m fortunate, because I can do remote work and I didn’t have to stop my favourite leisure activity, orienteering. In the forest safe distances are kept naturally.

”However, I’m very much looking forward to meeting my only living grandparent. We have been talking on the phone regularly for the past year. Our calls have been the best moments of the exceptional times and have relieved the longing. Time will tell what else I want to do. There will be plenty of time to think about that once the world starts to open again.”