Occupational restructuring challenges competencies

Final summary

Occupational restructuring affects the competencies demanded in working life. The Polkuja työhön project highlights the challenges of creating, developing and renewing competencies, and suggests how to cope with them.

We have produced new knowledge on educational outcomes of young age cohorts, the level and development needs of pupil’s digital skills, and measures to help young dropouts. We have explored young people’s post-primary educational choices and tracks and assessed the impact on their working life prospects.

We have evaluated the effects of adult education and its various modes on participants’ possibilities to stay employed and to return to working life.

We have identified stumbling blocks hampering the move into working life by immigrants with a weak labour market position, and also provided solutions for smoothing them out.

The most central outcomes of the project have been summed up in the publication Towards employment (Työtä kohti, in Finnish only). It also contains proposals for action, which offer valuable basic knowledge for different stakeholders, as well as for the implementation of Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s government platform.

Read a more detailed description of research implementation and results here



About the project

Global trends, notably technological change and offshoring, are rapidly reshaping occupational structures. The ways in which this evolution challenges present and future skill requirements in working life are not well understood. This raises questions about how to best ensure proper acquisition, maintenance, development and renewal of competencies in times of profound occupational restructuring? In the last resort, it boils down to identifying critical stumbling blocks in individuals’ transition through the education system and into the labour market and working life, including the mechanisms for re-entry after unemployment or labour market withdrawal. This is also the focal point of the project: to assess the success and failure of social mechanisms governing, affecting and mediating the various transitions of individuals and, ultimately, to provide key stakeholders with accessible and accurate evidence, including concrete solutions, for their decision-making.

The competence-related consequences of this evolution are not well understood. Occupational restructuring will inevitably have consequences for the school choices, educational qualifications and ICT skill requirements of young people heading towards working life.  Likewise, there are considerable gaps in our knowledge on the role of lifelong learning for skill acquisition and renewal inside and outside work life. This holds true for general adult education as well as for active labour market policies (ALMPs).

Moreover, while there is growing evidence that ill health may cause exit from paid employment through work disability, early retirement and unemployment, little is known about the effectiveness of vocational rehabilitation.

Neither do we know how the already vulnerable labour market situation of immigrants is affected by occupational restructuring.

All these aspects highlight the policy relevance of the research questions guiding our project, which receives funding from the Strategic Research Council (SRC) at the Academy of Finland. The project started in April, 2016, and will last until the end of March, 2019. It is coordinated by Research Director Rita Asplund at the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy ETLA.

However, the factual societal impact of our research relies not merely on producing on how occupational restructuring challenges present and future skill requirements in work life. Instead, a key challenge will be to communicate all the policy-relevant empirical evidence produced by the project with and to our key stakeholders. Among these are the three most relevant ministries for our research (Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health), the National Board of Education (responsible for the implementation of youth and adult education), the Education Fund and a broad set of social partners and other main users. Only in this way can we ensure that the actors in charge of reshaping Finnish work life are provided with accessible and accurate evidence, including concrete solutions, for decision-making.

Our research activities are grouped into the following three sub-projects:

1. How to ensure adequate competencies of young labour market entrants in times of occupational restructuring?

The choices made in education are likely to equip individuals with highly differentiated skills when it comes to their ability to adjust to changing labour market structures, in particular, occupational restructuring. The sub-project will map and analyse critical points of young people’s school-to-work transition mechanisms and early labour market careers in the face of fundamental occupational restructuring, with a view of ensuring that new entrants into the labour market are equipped with relevant skills.

The sub-project is coordinated by Osmo Kivinen, Director of the Research Unit for the Sociology of Education (RUSE). Get to know the project’s researchers here.

2. Which modes and combinations of skill acquisition and renewal are best suited for promoting the job careers of workers hit by occupational restructuring?

The sub-project will investigate the extent to which and how individuals, having made successful transitions in working life in response to occupational restructuring, have acquired, maintained, upgraded or renewed their competencies and, hence, improved their productivity. A distinction is made between the following basic modes of competence building: formal qualifications achieved prior to labour market entrance and skills upgrading and renewal while employed or unemployed. With the focus of the research being on the competence building challenges faced by educational and labour market institutions in times of occupational restructuring, the emphasis will be on a broad set of institutional arrangements within the framework of adult education and active labour market policies, such as apprenticeships, adult education certificates (incl. competence-based qualifications), vocational labour market training and subsidised employment. A special strand of this research will explore to what extent educational certificates and work experience acquired in Finland improve the labour market prospects of immigrants in times of occupational restructuring.

The sub-project is coordinated by Antti Kauhanen, Head of Unit at the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy ETLA. Get to know the project’s researchers here.

3. The effects of competence renewal on work participation in cases of ill health and unemployment

How do competencies, occupational factors, ill health and the use of employment services affect individuals’ transitions between work participation and unemployment and predict working life expectancy and pre-term retirement?

How does vocational rehabilitation, especially competence development, affect future work participation in cases of ill health and unemployment?

The sub-project is coordinated by Eira Viikari-Juntura, Research Professor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Get to know the project’s researchers here.


Involved in the research project are:

The Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Research Unit for the Sociology of Education at the University of Turku, the Finnish Centre for Pensions, the City of Helsinki Urban Facts, the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre, the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, the Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research, the National Institute for Health and Welfare.