Vocational Training is Bright Spot Amid Finland School Education System Malaise
Despite the disappointing performance of the Finland school education system in the OECD’s PISA rankings, there is still one bright spot – its vocational education. Vocational education has been identified by international employment experts as a solution to the problem of widespread youth unemployment. According to the ILO, young people are three times more likely to suffer unemployment compared with adults and it is estimated that there are 73 million youth worldwide who are looking for jobs.
One of the prevailing issues why more young people are not taking vocational education courses has been the social prejudice against it compared with earning a college degree. However, the Finland school education system has successfully addressed this problem through reforms that ensure that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) are not seen as a second-class option.
At present the Finland school education system consists of nine years of compulsive education from ages seven to sixteen, followed by two to four years of upper secondary general school or three years of upper secondary vocational school. After this, if the student chooses, he or she can continue on to non-compulsory higher polytechnic or university education. The TVET curriculum has been restructured to incorporate the core curriculum required to enter university. This means that if a graduate of a TVET course wanted, they could continue their education to earn a higher degree or choose to proceed to a high-tech job. In addition, TVET programs are promoted to parents as an attractive alternative through parent’s evenings as well as regular visits to institutions that offer vocational training.
In addition, as part of Finland school education reforms to make them more relevant to the realities of the Finnish job market, a strong component of TVET is on-the-job training which exposes students to the realities of the workplace as well as lifelong educational components to ensure that their skills remain current. TVET Finland school education programs are offered to both young people as well as adults already employed who want to upgrade their skills.
As a result of these Finland school education reforms over half of Finnish youth now apply for TVET programs, and they have subsequently become more competitive to enter compared with general programs. A look at applications for Finland school education upper secondary programs from the past spring 2013 showed that some 70% of applicants for TVET were successful compared with 94% of applicants for general education.
To ensure a smooth transition between basic compulsory education and upper secondary education, the Finland school education system offers pre-vocational programs. The VET start program is designed for students who have no clear idea of the career path that they want to pursue or who lack sufficient capacity to apply for vocational studies. The program allows students to complete their studies using their own particular individual study plan. There is also a course in home economics that allows students to learn how to manage their daily lives as well as their households, and similar programs tailored for the needs of the disabled and for immigrants.
Vocational education in the Finland school education system, as already mentioned, has a strong on-the-job component, which is organized by the vet provider. Teachers and workplace instructors agree in advance on what learning the student is intended to get from the workplace training and plan the OTJ program accordingly. Students may also have the option to complete their OTJ training overseas if they can find a position.
Finland school education vocational training also provides for apprenticeship training as a way to earn a vocational education. Students who want to enter into an apprenticeship must be at least fifteen years old and enter into a fixed-term apprenticeship contract. However, only 70% to 80% of the apprentice’s training is spent in the workplace, since they will also have to attend supplemental theoretical studies. Under the terms of the employment contract the student is paid apprenticeship wages based on the relevant collective bargaining agreement at the time the contract was signed. When they are attending theoretical classes, students are provided with social benefits such as daily allowances and stipends for transportation and accommodation.
It should be noted, however, that TVET Finland school education programs are not the ultimate answer to the youth unemployment problem since they also have to be supplemented with overall economic reforms. The country continues to suffer from youth unemployment despite high levels of TVET training, but this is mainly because of the country’s reliance on a few large firms, such as Nokia, to provide the bulk of jobs for its people. However, as shown by the recent collapse of Nokia, this model is ultimately unsustainable and greater overall reforms of the job market are necessary. To adjust to this new reality, the Finland school education TVET curriculum is incorporating more entrepreneurship training in order to encourage students to strike out on their own rather than seeking to just become skilled workers.