Over the last few years, political decision-making as well as economy and work life have been characterised by global crises. As the crisis caused by COVID-19 gradually eased, Russia’s attack on Ukraine on 24 February permanently changed the European security environment.
These crisis situations have proven that we, as society, are capable of responding to the changes that are causing instability.
Immediately at the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic, we started to build rules which would help companies survive this exceptional situation. A common vision of a work life crisis package, including employment pension contribution reduction and acceleration of layoff negotiations, was formed among the labour market organizations.
At the beginning of the pandemic, layoffs and redundancies were targeted especially at young people, and unusually many young people were excluded from the earnings-related unemployment security. Unemployment security was improved, on a proposal of labour market organizations, with temporary exemption rules related to the accumulation of the earnings-related unemployment security.
These times have proven that our society can not only maintain its functional capacity and make quick decisions when faced with a crisis but also adapt and emerge from the crisis towards the so-called new normal or post-crisis era.
Employment has grown rapidly after the drop in the employment rate caused by COVID-19 and, according to the forecast for the labour market which assesses the situation in the coming years, the employment rate especially of older people will improve in Finland and the number of long-term unemployed will reduce. The positive trend is also demonstrated by youth unemployment rates which were, this year, the lowest since the 2008 financial crisis.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Change often happens through a crisis. The COVID-19 crisis has changed the operating cultures in workplaces while people have learned to take advantage of the digital opportunities. This digital transformation that would have normally taken several years, even decades, happened in just a couple of months in theCOVID-19 period. Transformed work life and working methods have also been visible in my life.
In the deepest point of the crisis, travelling of ministers was reduced near to zero. In one year, I participated in numerous international negotiations, decision-making events and discussions without taking even one trip. Time and kerosene were saved. And, there was no need for the domestic decision-makers taking care of shared matters to meet in Helsinki – Teams works everywhere. In our ministry, we estimated that the office space need of ministries might even be halved. Time will tell if this space savings will be achieved.
Transfer to location-independent remote work was sped up especially by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic was a one-of-a-kind of global remote work pilot which provided us with results, advantages and challenges that we are now assessing as organizations outline their new working methods.
Naturally, not all the industries can transfer to location-independent work. In 2020, approximately half of the wage earners had worked remotely and 90% of the remote workers were satisfied with the progress of their work. According to the majority, remote work increased the efficiency and productivity of work.
Location-independent work also creates opportunities for employers, as recruitments can be targeted at a wider area. At best, this can ease the skills shortage of companies. Many work communities have teams with employees who have never met each other faceto face. They might even be working in different parts of the world. The results of their work may, nevertheless, be excellent.
From the employee’s perspective, location-independent work promotes opportunities to better balance between the work and family life and other areas of life. This has, for example, lightened the burden of those who are taking care of their elderly family members.
However, personal preferences vary, and home-bound work may have created challenges related to well-being at work and its maintenance. Negative aspects of this have been, for example, reduced interaction and encounters, ergonomics problems and the lack of a work station and environment suitable for remote work. It may also be demanding to implement occupational safety and health and promote workability in a virtual environment.
Key success factors in the midst of these changing working methods are leadership and management and its development. The work life change is naturally followed by a change in the management, as remote work and hybrid work require a stronger and new kind of approach to leadership and management. The future management culture will emphasise trust and self-management. Employees will lead their own activities more independently and managers are expected to give room for self-management. This requires mutual trust. Desire to trust and to be worthy of trust.
After this introduction, I will shiftmy focus to future targets.
A strong economy strengthens society’s resilience against crises. There are currently signs of worsening of the economic situation and of economic slowdown in Finland, Europe and the world. Simultaneously, we should solve a long-term problem: relative decrease in the number of people of working age caused by the aging of the population. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to support the operating conditions of companies and invest in employment measures.
As I mentioned earlier, the employment rate in Finland has increased as planned. It is crucial that this development is supported and that the new targets are also ambitious. In this way, we can secure vitality and high-quality services through out Finland.
For the high employment rate, thanks are due to employers. Employment promotion needs everyone’s contribution, and companies are the ones, above all, that create employment in Finland. This means that regional industrial policy plays a significant role in Finland’s economy as a whole.
Even though the employment rate is high, companies are struggling with a skills shortage. Employees are missing from the care sector and from industry as well as from specialist tasks in technology. Flexible work and remote work open the doors of certain types of tasks to a wider labour market, but there is also work that is performed in office and in person. For example, care work.
A future goal is that Finland will have enough workers and professionals. How do we find these professionals? There is no single solution, but the range of measures include, for example, utilising the retired work force, increasing the level of competence, developing educational policies and supporting te work ability and employment of long-term employed as well as promoting country image work andwork-related immigration.
During this parliamentary term, a decision was made to extend the age of compulsory schooling age. This decision is an investment in the future, as a higher level of education improves the possibilities on the labour market and raises the individual’s and society’s standard of living.
Work-related immigration has also been promoted during the parliamentary terms, and the related aliens legislation and permit procedure development project has been launched. The aim of the project is to increase work-related immigration and make it smoother as well as to create incentives so that international degree students would settle in Finland after their studies.
It is important that international students find Finland a meaningful place to settle and spend their lives, and that the permit processes are smooth. Finland’s attractiveness is affected by the functionality and accessibility of the services required in the immigration stage and by peer experiences. Experiences about working in Finland are largely born in the work community. As a result, the work community’s operating culture and consideration of international employees in everyday work and practices strongly affect the meaningfulness of working in Finland. In other words, everyone can contribute to the impression that these people get from our country. Acknowledging foreign degrees should also be improved.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The agenda of the day includes important and interesting views on the changing work life. I have talked about remote and hybrid work and its impact on management culture and self-management orientation.
In addition, the structure of working is changing, which creates new work opportunities. The platform economy is already redistributing work and challenging traditional professions. The platform economy blurs the boundaries between being an employee and being an entrepreneur, and it is good that this is discussed among companies, labour organizations and public administration. The industry is quickly growing, and the legislation should address this new way of working.
An increasing number of people act as an entrepreneur alongside their employment and an increasing number of people earn their living from different sources instead of being employed by a single employer. One future aim is that the social security system would better recognise the different ways of earning the income from work.
A social security reform is under way, which aims to clarify the current system and enable co-ordination of working and social security in changing life situations. The reform is being prepared by a Parliamentary Committee, which started its work in 2020 and will continue the work beyond the parliamentary term. I consider it extremely important that the reform pays attention to the new ways of working, entrepreneurship alongside employment and the platform economy.
Last, I would like to mention the tripartite approach, which has been Finland’s strength and which has also changed work life. Continuity of the tripartite development demands also responsibility for taking Finland forward and support for finding solutions in the changing society. The tripartite should take a proactive rather than are active approach to work life. Labour organizations have competence and understanding in work life and its changes and development needs – all tripartite parties are also expected to have courage to make decisions.
Naturally, I will not comment on labour organization matters due to my current position, but I am telling about my views on the history, which I experienced closely. In Finland, costs increased after a long period of growth just before the financial crisis, during which the opportunities for our exports to compete in the shrinking market were low. No one managed to precisely anticipate the financial crisis. We are now still living in unforeseeable times, but I dare to predict that, in due course, after Russia’s cruel war, a massive rebuilding boom will emerge, combined with hundreds of billions euros in energy investments that will improve self-sufficiency. We, our companies and national economy, should then be preparedto seize our part of that boom. For several years after the financial crisis,we had problems in keeping up with the economic growth in the EU area.
With these thoughts, I wish you a great and enjoyable Work Life Forum Finland.