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Digital Frontrunners spotlight: Finland

Our Digital Frontrunners Spotlight features continue with Finland where the latest Digital Frontrunners workshop on future skills took place on 19-20th September.

Finland has received lots of attention for its ambitious goals to harness AI and its many applications, including its implications for the future of work. The government’s AI strategy - launched in 2017 - has been setting up a fertile landscape for new innovations and initiatives committed to making the country a frontrunner in artificial intelligence.

For example, the public sector is developing the virtual assistant Aurora that aims to create a platform for people to seamlessly connect with public and private service providers such as employment agencies and healthcare professionals. They’ll be able to monitor the relevance of their skills, when these need updating, and receive support to apply for jobs. Another initiative, the ‘Elements of AI’ free online course, has attracted tens of thousands of learners all over the world and is set to become the most popular course in the history of the University of Helsinki since its launch in 2017.

Although Finland’s overall DESI score dropped one level this year (from number 2 to number 3), the country remains first in the category of human capital. This index captures the number of internet users, citizens with basic digital skills, the supply of ICT professionals and STEM graduates. Overall, adult participation in learning is one of the highest in the EU and has increased consecutively during the last ten years. According to The Education and Training Monitor 2017, Finnish adults are one the most dedicated learners in the EU with the score 27,4% in 2017 (EU average 10,9%).

One of the reasons for the success is that digital skills and education have played a great part in the government’s strategy. On the other hand, Finland has a holistic approach towards citizenship education with a continuously developing and comprehensive adult learning system. Last spring, the government proposed allocating an additional 60 million Euros in its budget for skilling the labour force, with a special focus on digital skills. According to a recent report from the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, almost 20 billion Euros public and private funds were directed to the development of skills and education in Finland in 2017.

Despite all this, the supply of talent with the right technical skills still drags behind demand as in many other Digital Frontrunner countries. Luckily, recent policies and government action plans have started to adopt a mindset shift from a supply-oriented approach of skills towards a more demand-driven one where skills forecasting plays a great part.

Recently, the Panel of the Future Competencies, set up by The Ministry of Education and Culture published a report on how new technologies determine what kind of competencies will be in demand in the future and how the financing of ongoing education and lifelong learning should be allocated based on this.

Below we present some of the most promising policy and training initiatives tackling the ongoing skills challenge in Finland.

“We need more low-threshold digital skills training, critical literacy and other complementary skills“

The Minister of Education and Culture Sanni Grahn-Laasonen

Artificial Intelligence Programme

A high-level strategy with a special focus on growing talent

What is it?

A governmental action plan by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment launched in 2017. Minister Mika Lintilä appointed a steering group to draft a proposal for a national programme that would support Finland in its efforts to become one of the world’s leading countries in the application of AI. Today, the programme is promoting the effective use of data in all sectors, ensuring top-level expertise, improving public services and establishing new models for collaboration and funding. The programme seeks to ensure that AI is used as widely and inclusively as possible at all levels: businesses, public sector, and wider society. In collaboration with its partners, the programme takes action on skilling employers and employees with digital skills, ensuring Finnish companies are on track to become leaders in the field of AI.

Why does it exist?

AI is broadly changing the working life and the skills needed in most occupations - businesses want to be more competitive and ensure there is enough skilled talent in the country. Additionally, there is a growing need to guarantee basic AI literacy for every citizen with a focus on vulnerable groups such as the ageing workforce. The programme is aiming to open up possibilities for people in the labour market to gain these new and crucial skills for the future through its multiple partners. Whilst Finland is already one of the leading countries in AI-based innovation in Europe, the programme aims to make sure the skills development and training possibilities are aligned with this progress.

How does it do it?

The programme has proposed eight key actions [1] to meet its goals. For example, one of them focuses on how to attract and employ talent in Finland, another on how to make bold decisions and investments in AI. The programme continuously seeks collaboration possibilities, funds new projects in the public and private sectors, and supports various campaigns that are working towards the adaptation and development of AI in different industries. The report has introduced a project called Aurora [2] with a network of AI applications aiming to launch pilots focused on improving the interaction between people and services. In the long-term, the goal is to foster a people-centered approach in order to tailor public and private services for each citizen. The project seeks to leverage its operations to skills forecasting: by developing a service that will analyse job opportunities in the market, warn its users if their current skills are under threat of becoming outdated and advise on what to do about this.

The outcomes

The programme has so far published two reports on how to take Finland into the age of AI. The latest one, Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence [3] gave policy recommendations for the future of work in terms of growth and employment; labour market; learning and skills; and ethics. The final report of the project will be published in April 2019 with the aim of offering a comprehensive picture on how Finns can be better prepared for the future of work with one section specifically dedicated to the Aurora programme. After the final report is published, the implementation of the strategy will be passed from the steering committee to the network that is set to continue the work to support an AI-powered society.

“There is a need for a new skills account designed for those in work responding to the growing re- and upskilling demands”

The report published by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment 23.10.2017

Visit the Artificial Intelligence Programme website

Integrify

Fighting against the skills mismatch by training immigrants

What is it?

Integrify is a programming school integrating newly arrived immigrants into the workforce by training them as software developers. The company was founded in Helsinki in 2016 with a launch of a pilot training programme to respond to the growing need of empowering newcomers to kickstart their life in their new home country. The primary goal of the company is to increase the chances of immigrants finding employment, by teaching programming and connecting them to employers working in tech. Integrify wants to give equal opportunities to all immigrants motivated to work in their new home country regardless of their Finnish skills or previous competencies in ICT. The training takes 12 months including an internship period in a partner company.

Why does it exist?

The integration and employment of immigrants is a time-consuming and an expensive process for society. There is also a shortage of coders and software developers in many sectors in Finland. Integrify was launched after the realisation that there was untapped potential in matching jobless immigrants and companies in demand of talent. The company works in collaboration with the City of Helsinki and multiple other partners to secure employment opportunities for trainees. At the moment, the company is operating in Finland but the goal is to scale up in other European countries that are struggling with the growing shortage of technical talent and slow integration of immigrants.

How does it do it?

The 12-month curriculum consists of intensive, daily software development teaching by professional developers. This is followed by a 6-month internship period at a partner company. After the programme is finished, Integrify gives participants access to their pool of carefully selected partner companies, such as Digia. By working closely with each participant, the company is able to match their particular skill-set with the demand of the labour market. Integrify receives a lot of applications for its training programmes but the amount of students is kept low for better individual experience and results. The entry criteria include a good level in English along with high motivation to study and some mathematical skills.

The outcomes

Integrify has major public and private partnerships in Finland, including the City of Helsinki; negotiations with other municipalities are in process. The pool of customers encompasses IT-software consultancies, tech companies and start-ups. Currently, the company seeks to expand its service across Europe with the aim to train 10,000 people in digital skills by 2030. Since the launch of the pilot programme in 2016, all graduates have obtained full-time jobs as junior developers. Today, the company has over 40 students in daily training and is constantly accepting new applications. The new cohort of software developers is graduating this autumn with bright future prospects of finding meaningful work.

“It takes on average more than 5 years for a refugee or an immigrant to get a low-skill job in Finland. Integrify will empower them to take part in society by becoming a software developer in only 6–12 months”

Daniel Rahman, CEO and Co-founder of Integrify

Visit the Integrify website

Headai

Summarizing the complex environment of expertise

What is it?

Headai is a job tech company that uses artificial intelligence to map skills needs and provision in Finland. It wants to ensure that companies and the labour market are supplied with relevant competencies. The company structures complex data into a visually comprehensible form with its unique AI system. The outcome of this process is an interactive “skills map of micro-competencies” which consists of detailed skills overviews of personal and professional competencies. The map recognizes these and reveals new correlations, industry insights and up-to-date skills demand in Finland. At the core of the operation sits The Micro-competencies service [4] launched in April 2018, which is also part of the government’s Aurora programme described earlier.

Why does it exist?

According to the report [5] produced by the Panel of the Future Competencies, there is a growing demand in the labour market to validate a wide range of competencies that are not necessarily linked to formal education. Estimates vary, but it is roughly believed that Finland needs to reskill 1 million people within the next ten years. Crucially, skilling people is not particularly fast and cost-effective in the current system, employees often struggle to figure out what the most in-demand skills and therefore which training they should take. Headai wants to encourage people and businesses to look further into competencies instead of just job descriptions. The company believes that their skills maps combined with an evidence-based workforce matching service will serve as an accelerator for skills forecasting. The long-term goal is that the government can use the data to identify skills gaps and opportunities for job creation and workforce planning. Meanwhile companies can recognize when their talent pool is out of date and spot where the potential employees with the right expertise can be found.

How does it do it?

Every day, the micro-competencies service analyses around 1,000 job advertisements and 200,000 other work-related content pieces. In doing so, it identifies the skills that employers are looking for. It also compares the offerings of educators and curriculums with the job market demands and maps the skills that are available in the existing workforce by drawing from various sources of open data. The challenge here is to keep the system up to date with all the available data including the growing number of educational providers, such as online courses and private training companies. Currently, the service enables individuals to upload their CVs to the system and see how it transforms into a skills and competencies map. In the future, Headai aims to leverage its skills supply pool with individual skills profiles with the help of the data received straight from the users, various social media channels and online CVs.

The outcomes

Headai won the main prize in the Ratkaisu 100 Challenge Prize [6] last year and was awarded 500,000 euros by The Finnish Innovation Foundation Sitra. The company has set an example for how public and private partnership can work effectively around skills forecasting. Such an interactive, live system is enabling people to find new career paths while the companies and government can gain better access to skills information. Currently, Headai is working in collaboration with the Finnish Social Insurance Institution and Tax Administration and has recently started a pilot with the Government Workforce Development Agency. In addition to this, the company is preparing a National Implementation Plan for the Aurora programme and is thus involved in setting the landscape for the AI goals of the next government programme.

“The impact of optimising labour and education is in the billions of euros. We cannot maximise our productivity if we do not begin managing expertise”

Harri Ketamo, founder of Headai

Visit the Headai website

Experimental Finland

Bringing the culture of experimentation to skills policy

What is it?

Experimentation plays a great part in the current government’s actions plans and strategy. Experimental Finland (Kokeileva Suomi) project was launched in 2016 as an initiative of the Prime Ministers Office together with the think-tank Demos Helsinki and Aalto University. The project seeks to foster a culture of experimentation across the ministries and all levels of society with its bottom-up approach of supporting experimentation and sharing best practices. The main goal of the programme is to enable policies to be implemented and evaluated before scaling them up. Usually, this means setting up experiments in the regions and encouraging both companies and civil society to suggest and create their own experiments under specific themes.

Why does it exist?

Given Finland’s challenges in skills mismatch, many of the experiments are focusing on the growing need to re-educate people. They also focus on how to tap into the opportunities of new technologies such as AI at both an individual and societal level. When it comes to skills policy, Experimental Finland is fostering an experimental culture; influencing and supporting a cultural change towards digitalisation and the future of work by shifting mindsets.

How does it do it?

The programme promotes experimentation at different levels. The first level are strategic experiments which are aligned with the government’s key projects. One of these experiments is currently focusing on supporting employment in regions that are aiming to make business and employment services more user-focused. More interestingly perhaps, in terms of digital skills are the so-called grassroots level experiments which originate from civil society and are sourced through open calls announced at the ‘Kokeilun Paikka’ / ‘Place to Experiment’ online platform [7]. A recent open call for experiments ‘New Digital Skills in Social and Healthcare’ launched in September was focused on building digital skills and lifelong learning capacities in the health and social services sector. Another call for experiments focused on AI and challenged organisations and individuals to imagine and suggest pathways of learning and wellbeing with the help of new technologies.

The outcomes

During autumn 2018, the programme has, among other things, launched an experimentation accelerator and e-learning modules on innovation skills for civil servants and hosted a semiannual National Experiment Week together with its partners. The programme will also publish results and learnings from the recent call for AI experiments, produce a guide on how to support experiments, and scale the Hack4Society hackathon [8] to other regions.

Visit the Experimental Finland website

Digiaikakauden Taidot (The Digital Age Skills programme)

Supporting the launch of new training models for adults

What is it?

A national programme supporting lifelong learning by funding new educational programmes, courses and training models that are focused on digital skills. The programme was established in autumn 2018 [9] and recently launched a call for proposals open for all adult education providers including summer universities, learning centers and folk high schools in Finland. The programme is an initiative by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The Finnish National Agency for Education is responsible of the coordination and the distribution of funding directed for digital skills education.

Why does it exist?

Despite the positive surveys, there are still people with weak basic digital skills in Finland. According to the PIAAC survey [10], as much as one third of the working age population has deficiencies in digital skills. The Panel of the Future Competencies [11] has announced that there is a demand for a systemic model that ensures that all educational funds are collected together and targeted separately for students and education providers. Last spring, the Finnish Government proposed an additional 60 million Euros in its budget to be allocated in skilling the labour force with a special focus on digital skills. Digiaikakauden Taidot (The Digital Age Skills) programme was established this autumn by the Ministry of Education and Culture to coordinate these goals with the main task of strengthening the future competencies of adults. The programme aims to prevent inequalities in education and remove barriers to lifelong learning.

How does it do it?

The programme operates by supporting the supply of free and low-threshold digital skills training via multiple educational institutions targeted for adults. The open call for funding of 7 million Euros was opened at the National Board of Education on 3rd September and ended on 8th October. After the funds are allocated, training activities will be implemented through educational institutions in cooperation with NGOs and third sector training providers. The training programmes and courses will cover both basic as well as more advanced digital skills with a focus on areas where there is a shortage of experts such as AI and cybersecurity.

The outcomes

The open call for proposals ended on the 8th of October and the decisions on funding the proposals will be made in December.

“It is important to make sure low-threshold training is available for all ages to prevent inequality and to strengthen the basic skills of citizens”

Olli-Pekka Heinonen, President of the National Board of Education

Notes:

[1] https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/article/-/asset_publisher/1410877/tyoryhmalta-kahdeksan-avainta-nain-teemme-suomesta-tekoalyn-huippumaan

[2] https://vm.fi/en/article/-/asset_publisher/viranomaispalvelut-tekoalyaikaan-esiselvitys-kansallisesta-tekoalyohjelma-aurorasta

[3] https://tem.fi/julkaisu?pubid=URN:ISBN:978-952-327-311-5

[4] https://www.microcompetencies.com/

[5] https://minedu.fi/documents/1410845/4240776/Kannanotto_11102018.pdf/d1b5a746-0149-4145-b309-46da0064d481/Kannanotto_11102018.pdf.pdf

[6] https://www.sitra.fi/en/topics/ratkaisu100/

[7] https://www.kokeilunpaikka.fi/en/

[8] http://hackforsociety.fi/

[9] https://minedu.fi/artikkeli/-/asset_publisher/digiaikakauden-taidot-ohjelma-kaynnistyy-koulutuksiin-haettavissa-7-miljoonaa

[10] http://www.oecd.org/finland/Building-Skills-For-All-A-Review-of-Finland.pdf

[11] https://minedu.fi/hanke?tunnus=OKM047:00/2017

Author

Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Karoliina Helkkula

Programme and Research Support, Digital Frontrunners

Karoliina supported Digital Frontrunners, Nesta's programme for future skills.

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