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OECD: Finnish adult education not reaching those who need it most

Many older adults and those without formal educations risk being left behind, according to the economic group.

En kvinna studerar och skriver på datorn.
Employers often regard continuing education as an expense rather than an investment. Image: All Over Press

Finland's adult education sector needs to work harder to target unskilled and lower-skilled people, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The typical participant in continuing education programmes in Finland is an already well-educated woman working in the public sector or a large corporation. At the same time many less-educated and unemployed people struggling to adapt to a changing job market are missing out.

The nation's population is aging and the supply of skilled workers is dwindling. One solution to the problem is seen as providing people who already have jobs with the opportunity to acquire new skills.

According to policy statements by the Centre Party-led government headed by Juha Sipilä (in office 29 May 2015 - 6 June 2019) more than a million Finns need to be retrained. It was not specified at the time, however, where that figure came from.

A continuous learning reform is one of the main projects launched by the current coalition under Social Democratic PM Sanna Marin. Details of this new continuous learning policy are to be published by the end of 2020. Taking part in the process are all of the political parties represented in parliament and labour market groupings.

The reform received further impetus from a report on continuous learning in working life in Finland published Wednesday by the OECD.

In its report, the organisation states that Finland is starting from a good basis, with a well-developed adult learning system that offers a wide range of learning opportunities.

Even so, the OECD sees a need for Finland to strengthen the responsiveness of its continuous learning system to the ongoing changes in the labour market brought about by the megatrends of population ageing, technological change and globalisation.

More sharply targeted

In its new report, the OECD states more than half of adults in the country participate in job-related learning activities every year – a high share in international comparisons.

But, it goes on to point out that participation is unevenly distributed in the population and especially low among adults with low skills, the long-term unemployed, as well as older adults. The current system, it says, could also be calibrated better to help all adults keep abreast with the transformation of the labour market..

A Finnish Education Ministry interim report last spring showed that there is no rush to pay for expanded continuing education, however. Employers still tend to see retraining as an extra expense. The source of financing for the government's reform has yet to be determined.

Some retraining for the unemployed is, though, directly financed by employers. For example, Valmet Automotive has recently provided 4-6 month training periods for new employees at its Uusikaupunki plant.

A belief in degrees

The OECD is also recommending that more emphasis be given to short courses and non-formal learning opportunities in retraining schemes for academically trained experts.

Labour Market Counsellor at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy Teija Felt points to the fact that Finns are inclined to have a strong belief in the need for a degree.

"When people go to change professions, they set off to earn full degrees, even though it's not necessarily required," says Felt.

Felt sees a need for a more individually tailored and practical approach to retraining. Educational institutions should foster closer cooperation with employers. And, employers should see continuing education as an investment, not an expense.

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