“Closer cooperation with working life creates new demands”: Views from Finland on VET and apprenticeships


Vocational Education and Training (VET) is an integral part of the education system across Europe, but VET and the teachers who deliver it often get less attention than they deserve. European Vocational Skills Week, an annual series of events led by the European Commission, puts VET in the spotlight.

This year’s events took place in Helsinki following the invitation of the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the EU. ETUCE’s Finnish member organisation OAJ was there with an exhibition stand about the teaching profession and OAJ’s work. We spoke to Inkeri Toikka about OAJ’s views on VET and recent developments for apprenticeships in Finland. Inkeri is a specialist at OAJ who is involved in their international work on the European Alliance for Apprenticeship and VET policy.

Inkeri at VET Skills Week
Inkeri Toikka (seated right) at European Vocational Skills Week with OAJ colleagues

ETUCE: What is OAJ’s role when it comes to VET and apprenticeships in Finland?

Inkeri Toikka: The teacher’s union, OAJ, is a strong champion of teachers’ rights. OAJ’s task is to exert its influence wherever decisions affecting the wellbeing of its members are made: at the workplace, in the education system and across society as a whole. OAJ is also the only union responsible for representing VET teachers in wage negotiations.

OAJ worked and works closely together with the members of parliament, government, ministries and the Finnish National Agency for Education as well as media and parents’ associations. We believe that when decision makers and the union work together, in transparent cooperation, it is best for our society, our children and everyone in the education sector and system.

ETUCE: How do workers in Finland become VET teachers?

IT: VET teachers in Finland are highly qualified and must meet strict training requirements. They must:

  • Have a Master’s or Bachelor’s degree in their own vocational sector. If such a degree does not exist, it can also be substituted by the highest possible qualification in the sector.
  • Have at least three years relevant work experience in their own field.
  • Undertake a pedagogical teacher training amounting to 60 ECTS credits.

Meeting these requirements entitles them to the license to teach. It also empowers them to have an autonomous status at work with independence and pedagogical freedom. This is so important, because at the same time as teaching specific vocational skills VET teachers are also educators. They support pupils' growth as individuals and ethically responsible members of society, while providing them the knowledge and skills needed in life. Therefore, it is very important that teachers also have the right to access continuous further education.

ETUCE: How is VET changing in Finland?

IT: At the end of June 2017, the Finnish Parliament approved new legislation for vocational education and training. The reform was the most extensive in education legislation in almost twenty years. Vocational training in the workplace can now be arranged in two ways:

  1. As a formal apprenticeship training based on a fixed-term contract
  2. In the form of training agreements without a contractual employment relationship, which replaced the “on-the-job learning”

Various combinations of training agreements and apprenticeship training are also possible.

For VET teachers the biggest change is that nowadays there are more kinds of students: young, adults, special needs students, foreigners. Also, the closer cooperation with working life creates new demands on teaching and teachers.

ETUCE: What would OAJ like to see happen now?

IT: Guidance of students at workplaces would be improved through greater collaboration between teachers and workplace counsellors. Teachers and the experts from the workplace should do the evaluation together. The all means that teachers have more responsibility for students’ completed qualifications, employment and further studies.

ETUCE: In 2015 OAJ signed a pledge to support the European Alliance for Apprenticeships. What has this meant for your union? Has it helped your work in Finland?

Since the signing of the agreement, there has been an increase in our knowledge about the structure of VET provision in different countries. We have been able to compare the situation in our own country with other countries and have tried to adopt best practices for us as well.

ETUCE: What is your message to other ETUCE member organisations who work on VET and apprenticeships?

IT: It is very important to share good practice and work extensively to improve the quality of VET as a whole. Teachers’ competence, maintaining that competence and the opportunities for them to develop teaching are all key factors in quality VET and quality careers for VET professionals. These conditions must be demanded and enforced in every country.