Since the 1970s, Finland’s upper secondary vocational schools have been modernized and expanded; they are now such a popular option in Finland that 47% of graduates from comprehensive school enroll in them. The schools have added new programs that align with Finland’s economic and labor market needs. Upper secondary vocational programs typically last for three years and are full-time programs of study. Each of the programs requires six months of on-the-job learning in addition to coursework. About 75% of the coursework is vocational, in a student’s field of choice, and the remaining 25% of coursework is in the core curriculum subjects, which are common to all upper secondary pathways. Students must also complete student counseling and a final project, which can take many forms, including a paper, a set of work assignments, a product or a project. Students are often assessed by performing skills and tasks for an evaluator, and are expected to leave the program with extensive basic skills in their field as well as specialized competence in one area of the field.
Upon completion of an upper secondary vocational program, students have the option of going on to one of Finland’s polytechnic colleges, allowing them to enter the workforce as highly-skilled employees. Polytechnic colleges require three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half-years of student training and education, and students may also go on to study for a polytechnic master’s degree after completing college-level training and working in the field for a minimum of three years. The government is currently working on a plan to revamp the funding structure for polytechnics, bringing them under government jurisdiction, raising the educational standards and linking them more closely to the needs of the economy.
As in comprehensive schools and academic upper secondary schools, vocational education programs are guided by the Finnish National Board of Education, but there is a great deal of autonomy at the school or institute level. Institutes may be established by local authorities or municipalities, or alternately by a state company or registered association. Institutions are responsible for matching their graduate output with local labor market needs and for planning their curricula based on the national curriculum. In Finland, the most popular vocational qualifications are Technology and Transport, Business and Administration and Health and Social Services. Roughly 72% of all vocational students choose to study in one of these fields. The other offered fields are Tourism; Catering and Home Economics; Culture; Natural Resources; and Physical Education.
For adults who want to further their education or increase their skill levels, programs and classes are available, whether the ultimate goal is learning to read or earning a master’s degree. Adults who did not complete upper secondary school may take courses in order to earn a general education certificate or vocational qualification; they can strengthen their education in certain subject areas, or they may take non-degree or diploma courses. Education for adults is divided into three categories: self-motivated, self-training and labor market training. Self-motivated learning falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, while the other two categories come under the purview of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. The Finnish National Board of Education is in the process of developing a national qualifications framework for Finland, so that vocational and adult education can be measured against a common standard.
The Ministry of Education hopes that by 2012, 60% of the working age population in Finland will be participating in adult education each year. Currently, the government is focused on expanding opportunities for people without prior vocational training, people whose vocational training or skill set is outdated, entrepreneurs, people who work for small- or medium-sized businesses, people over 55 and immigrants.