Olli Rehn: Competence is the most important raw material for the new type of work

"In the digital world, inequality can increase if the winners get a huge income and the losers are left with nothing but crumbs."

Olli Rehn

The challenges of digitalisation can be turned to opportunities with competence, says Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn.

Finnish working life will change in unexpected ways during the next 10–20 years. Automation, robots and digitalisation create many new opportunities and challenges.

“We must turn that threat into an opportunity. It creates a lot of pressure for renewing life-long learning as well, to allow people to update their skills continuously,” says Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn.

According to Rehn, competence is the most important raw material for the new type of work. 

The pressure to carry out reforms includes the entire education system, from the first year of school to adult education. The task of primary school is to provide tools for learning, to allow people to renew themselves throughout their career. One of the government's spearhead projects aims to make this possible.

“We are promoting building a digital learning environment in schools in a way that gives our future employees and entrepreneurs the tools to survive in a digital environment.”

It is true there are differences in the speed at which municipalities – which are responsible for organising basic education – are building digital learning environments. The reason for this is that the resources available to each municipality are different. Kauniainen, for example, has been a pioneer, but also Vantaa, which operates on a larger scale, has been building new services at a good pace.

“I wish that, in addition to the government’s spearhead projects, municipalities would also invest in creating digital learning environments.”

Adopting the use of digital methods in schools is also being accelerated by the HundrED project, supported by DNA, which is providing support for one hundred schools in utilising new ways of learning.

The national data exchange layer connects public services

Learning is, therefore, a central tool for the new work, but structures are also important. According to international comparisons, Finland’s public sector has been proceeding on the path to digitalisation at a good pace. However, many things have also progressed slowly.

Olli Rehn remembers how he travelled around Europe 15 years ago as a member of commissioner Erkki Liikanen's team and talked about the eEurope programme. At that time, the central theme was electronic public administration services.

“It was an unpleasant surprise that the level of discussion was pretty much the same 15 years later when I returned to Finland more permanently.”

The fragmentation of structures has been one hindrance to utilising digitalisation in public administration. However Rehn is an optimist who sees this challenge as an opportunity that can be utilised better in the future.

One step in the right direction was establishing the National Data Exchange Layer, through which citizens can use the public and private services they require. This requires, however, that both public and private organisations connect their services to the data exchange layer.

“In regards to that, municipalities and also the state have still a lot to improve and areas where they can do things faster. The social welfare and health care reform is creating many new opportunities for this.”

Rehn reminds us that digitalisation is also creating new kinds of social discussions about equality. In a digital world, inequality can increase if the winners get a huge income and the losers are left with nothing but crumbs.

“This is why the government has started a pilot project to test how systems such as basic income could ensure that work is motivating and, at the same time, income is distributed more equally.”

Photo: Sakari Piippo