Job prospects poor without further or higher education in Finland – one year in four spent out of work

A statistical survey commissioned by the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) indicates that Finnish employees lacking further or higher education are gainfully employed for only half of their working lives.

The average time spent in work after completing only basic secondary education is 21 years for women and 24 years for men, whereas an entire working career lasts for 47 years from age 18 to age 65.

The disparities with other educational groups are alarming. A high school diploma or equivalent qualification prolongs active career expectations to more than 32 years for men and 33 years for women, whereas university and college graduates work for an average of 36 years or longer.

These findings are set out in the study Disappearing Jobs – Quantitative and Structural Employment Trends in Finland, 1987–20153, which was compiled for SAK by the statistician Pekka Myrskylä. The study relies on the register-based employment figures of Statistics Finland covering everyone residing in the country.

One year in four out of work

Employees without further or higher education spend an average of nearly eight years out of work before reaching retiring age. A university or polytechnic degree reduces this by half.

The survey indicates that an employee with only basic secondary education will experience roughly a year of unemployment for every three years spent in work.

Disappearance of unskilled jobs

More than 600,000 jobs requiring only basic secondary education have disappeared over the last three decades in Finland, cutting more 20 percentage points from the employment rate for workers without further or higher education, which now stands at just under 43 per cent.

Even though the population of Finland increased by more than half a million between 1987 and 2015, the number of jobs in the national economy has remained stable at about 2.3 million over the same period. The share of unskilled jobs has fallen from 38 per cent to 12 per cent as the proportion of jobs requiring higher education has grown from 5 to 15 per cent.

SAK: A higher school leaving age will boost employment

Some 613,000 people of working age lack further or higher education in Finland, and about 10,000 young people enter the labour market every year with no more than basic secondary school level qualifications.

SAK notes that the present employment rate of just over 69 per cent in Finland will not increase to the government’s target rate of 72 per cent if school leavers are not encouraged to pursue further studies. SAK has proposed increasing the school leaving age to include further education studies. The organisation also recommends improving adult education by such means as facilitating studying while working or unemployed, and by arranging open vocational institutes on the model of the Open University.

Adults are keen to study new occupations, but finance is hard to arrange

SAK has also teamed up with the Finnish Innovation Fund (Sitra) to investigate how adults manage when changing occupation. The findings indicate that more than half of employees have studied for a new qualification or occupation while working.

Some 5,000 people of working age in Finland responded to the initial Sitra survey. SAK and Sitra then supplemented the survey by commissioning a qualitative study based on personal interviews with 20 adults who had retrained for a new occupation.

These interviewees improved their vocational skills with a view to finding new employment. This occurred usually either for health reasons or because of an anticipated decline in the previous type of work. The aim in all cases was to secure individual livelihoods.

The interviews suggested that maintaining income during a period of studies was a key requirement for vocational retraining. The interviewees applied a wide variety of strategies for securing their income while studying, but encountered difficulties in arranging finance. Decisions on financial arrangements could also take too long.

Training is a key theme for SAK this year

These studies of the number of employees in work, employment structure and changes of occupation are all part of the SAK project Time of Opportunities, a four-year investigation of the impacts of digitalisation, globalisation, climate change and depletion of natural resources on the world of work and the everyday lives of employees.

The first project theme in 2017 focused on adult education. In addition to these investigations, SAK began working this spring with the Sovelto training and consulting firm to improve digital skills in Finland.

A further theme of the Time of Opportunities project this year is employee empowerment in a platform economy. Studies of the platform economy will be completed in November and December.