Career and vocational training in Finland begins at the secondary (high school) level. Finnish teenagers have the option of pursuing either academic schooling, which typically leads to a college degree, or vocational schooling, which generally does not. It used to be the case that people who completed vocational secondary school were actually ineligible for college study, but this is changing in Finland as educational authorities come to recognize the importance of letting high-achieving secondary school students go on to college, regardless of the track they are on.
For adults who want to increase their level of training but do not wish to pursue a degree, there are a number of options available. Special adult education centers (aikuiskoulutuskeskus) have been set up all over Finland to assist citizens who feel this need. One of the main services offered by the adult education centers is post-secondary education, the rough equivalent of an American-style associate’s degree, which helps to prepare vocational graduates for college-level studies. Many Finnish adults have taken advantage of this service, which is provided free of charge by the government, to advance their educations and learn new skills. The adult educations centers are especially useful for people later in life who find that, due to economic shifts, the skills and trades they have learned are no longer in demand. People in this situation have the option of getting re-trained in a new field so that they can get new jobs; this system has proven to be very effective both for individual Finnish citizens and for the economy as a whole.
Through Finland’s innovative “Open University” system, there are many other educational opportunities available for people who want to continue learning but do not have the time or the inclination to pursue a full degree. Open University enables any person to attend one or two classes at a time at any university or college, for a modest fee. The classes range from arts and humanities to handicrafts and applied sciences – some focus on career skills and productivity, whereas others cater simply to the interests of students. Open University enables Finnish colleges and universities to extend the benefits of their faculty to the whole populace, at minimal cost to the institutions themselves.
Vocational training, being less prestigious than an academic college degree, was once seen as purely a fallback option for Finnish high school students. Now, as the economic and educational needs of the country change, attitudes toward career colleges, vocational schools, and polytechnics are changing as well. In modern-day Finland, huge numbers of young people have graduated from college with degrees in theoretical and academic subjects, and many of them are finding that there are not enough jobs to go around. Meanwhile, skills and trades like plumbing and electronics are becoming less common to study, even as jobs in these fields expand. Thus, it makes sound economic sense for many students studying in Finland to choose the vocational path over the academic alternative.