Photo: Ari-Pekka Leminen, Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment

Ari-Pekka Leminen summarises: "Work inspires constant learning"

Mr. Ari-Pekka Leminen from the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment has had a long career in Finnish employment administration. His years in the field of Employment and Career Counselling include meetings with private customers, corporate services, development and training tasks as well as planning and implementing strategic policies in regional administration and on ministry level. In this interview, Ari-Pekka discusses the shift in working life and its impacts on guidance services.

Personal choice of education and career

"When I graduated from upper secondary school in the early 1970s, I had nine different options for my next step. As my interests were so diverse, making a choice wasn't easy at all. In the end, I felt that psychology studies at the University of Jyväskylä would be the best option for me. During my studies, I was an active member of the students' union and my student association as I was interested in being an active member of society,", Ari-Pekka recalls.

According to Ari-Pekka, his university studies provided him with basic skills to enter working life, but it was not until he started his career by working as a psychologist for customers in need of vocational guidance that he was truly inspired to master various skills and learn new things. "The most fruitful aspect throughout my career has been the opportunity to work in various tasks that have enabled me to make a difference in a number of ways and to develop those issues further."

After working with career guidance customers, Ari-Pekka's journey in employment administration continued in the tasks of a district inspector, service developer, specialised psychologist, trainer, corporate service provider and, finally, in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment in early 2014. As a result of the public employment and business service reform of 2013, the operations of specialised psychologists were discontinued in employment administration. Ari-Pekka saw this as inspiration to find new opportunities under the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

"Working in employment administration has enabled me to develop my professional skills with the encouragement and support of my employer. Alongside my work duties, I have been able to obtain qualifications as a work advisor and take part in developer training, in addition to which I am an NLP Master Practitioner. I have also completed two long-term trainer courses, organised by my employer. I am grateful for all this and have been able to utilise all my skills in my various tasks," lists Ari-Pekka.

Increasing need for career planning skills

"Work is changing more rapidly than before, although the intensity of the change varies from industry to industry. We can also talk about new work and new labour market, requiring new skills. Career planning skills are particularly important. The competences needed in working life are being regrouped and can be defined as competences that cut through various tasks, operations and even industries," says Ari-Pekka.

Employment is the sum of many factors. It is an entity influenced not only by the individual's personal strengths and skills but also by the surrounding society and the current economical situation. In the 1970s, a person's choice of career was considered a one-time decision, whereas in the 2000s, all that has turned upside down.

Modern working life requires an international way of thinking and doing. For young people, the working life of today offers many opportunities but also enormous challenges. Your relationship with working life is something you need to define on your own, but what is even more important is your relationship with learning and discovering that constant self-improvement is vital in today's world.

In the words of Ari-Pekka, the individual, enterprise and society win when all the citizens or employees make good, functional choices. "Human capital can thus be utilised alongside material and social capital. Functional choices also increase involvement and reduce segregation and social exclusion."

Life is not a straight line

As we all know, life has its ups and downs. Not everything follows a single, straight path, no matter how much we want to believe it will and even use guidance to support this view. It would be good for both society and citizens to accept the fact that life can sometimes be tough. There are moments when you feel like you are going backwards, and moments when you take a huge leap forward.

"Life can throw various circumstances your way. We should consider this more thoroughly in guidance operations. A person should be seen as a whole, complex individual. The person's entire life is present at the guidance, which is usually understood by both the individuals and those carrying out guidance work. The question on the table is not simply a choice of education or profession but their impact on the overall life of the person," emphasises Ari-Pekka.

People want jobs that are sufficiently challenging. Without a challenge, the work may feel forced and routine-like. In addition, people often thrive under change. Change inspires renewal, self-improvement and development. Through change, people also find new motivation and commitment. In addition to information and advice, expert guidance is often needed to support changes.

Thoughts about the service system

Ari-Pekka sees a great deal of tension in the current guidance service system. "The service product of today means trying to accomplish things quickly and efficiently, but this is not systematic or influential in the long run. When results are not achieved immediately, a new service model is concocted in the hopes of finally having some results. This does not lead to sustainable solutions for the individual or society."

What the development, implementation and assessment of services requires is perseverance. In guidance, only an approach that is humble in the face of life, patient and long-term can create permanent results. Over the past few years, an increasing number of positive trends have been present in the supply of guidance services. Cooperation between different fields of administration and working together in various networks is on the rise. The multidisciplinary Ohjaamo operations enforce contractualisation, authentic partnership and mutual trust. These are the basic prerequisites for a better service system.

The upcoming reform of regional government is going to influence the future of career counselling services in our country. A great goal would be to carry out development work by finding a suitable, development-oriented place for guidance services and multidisciplinary services in the regional government reform. Individuals need these services and businesses benefit from the skilled, motivated and committed workforce they produce. This supports a sustainable, profitable foundation for business operations and promotes financial growth. Consistent operations throughout Finnish regions are vital for the equality of the citizens. That is why national policies are needed in issues and services related to education and the labour market in addition to provincial policies.

Renaissance of personal guidance

Ari-Pekka has found working with customers the most rewarding part of his career. "Some of the customer relationships have been quite long. It has been wonderful to see how customers who have received guidance have found new, inspiring paths and directions. These encounters have felt truly genuine and I treasure many of them. In that line of work, personal guidance has played a vital role."

The world is becoming increasingly fragmentary, complex and obscure. We live in a time that is more and more diverse, international and unexpected. We need information, advice and guidance. We need skills to help us navigate all these changes. We need career planning skills. Let us hope that a guided approach to work prevails in teaching, social welfare and healthcare, leadership and working life.

"Modern service supply is all about multi-channel, digital services, and some things can be solved very well with these tools. The knowledge on education and working life must be constantly renewed in terms of content. Internationality, virtuality and gamification should be utilised in the production and transfer of information. At the same time, it is advisable to remember that face-to-face guidance may experience a second coming in the near future. People need people," Ari-Pekka predicts.

Text: Mika Launikari, Finnish National Agency for Education/Euroguidance (interview with Ari-Pekka Leminen 10 February 2017)