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Story | 09/17/2019 06:27:34

Business acumen and ethics: Online courses develop young people’s economic skills for working life

Economy, work life and responsibility issues are often unfamiliar concepts for young students. Teaching materials provided by national influencer Economy and youth TAT and UPM are helping to answer questions on the business world and society.

Understanding the economy, skills for working life and entrepreneurial mindset are becoming increasingly important in Finland. Companies need a competent work force, both in Finland and internationally. Despite this increasing need for skilled employees, young people and their teachers feel that schools are not providing enough education on economy and working life. These skills should be learnt at home.

The lack of this kind of education is evident in TAT and T-Media’s annual survey “Report on the Future of Young People” and research entitled “Economic Skills of Young People and Teachers 2019.” “Schools rarely provide a comprehensive viewpoint on the economy. The viewpoints of citizens and society are discussed, but the business perspective is often forgotten,” comments Mikko Hakala, Executive Director of TAT’s Business Courses.

To meet the needs of young people, TAT produces teaching materials called Business Courses—which develop understanding of the economy and provide skills for working life—for upper secondary schools, vocational schools and teacher training institutions. UPM participates in the project by supporting continuous learning opportunities and the wellbeing of the community surrounding the company. This initiative is in line with the objectives of the Biofore Share & Care programme.

Economic skills gained at school

During the Business Courses, upper secondary school and vocational school students learn about economic principles and gain versatile knowledge on entrepreneurship. The Business Courses are carried out in a fully digital format through learning platforms such as Claned or Moodle. The courses and teaching materials focus on topics including sales, marketing, international trade, conducting business responsibly, financing and accounting, and communication and negotiation skills.

“Teaching economic skills to young people early enough is essential,” says Hakala. “For example, it is important to teach students about sales at school. Our Business Courses don’t just provide theory; we equip students for working life.”

“We have plenty of great teaching materials that are easily modified and distributed to various educational institutions, from upper secondary schools to teacher training institutions,” Hakala enthuses. The courses are offered at vocational schools and to upper secondary school students as open university courses. During the 2018–2019 school year, the Business Courses were taken at over 100 educational institutions throughout Finland.

“We are looking forward to 2019–2020, because the Open University of Jyväskylä will begin distributing our courses to upper secondary schools,” explains Partnership Manager Heidi Puolitaival. “Furthermore, digital teaching materials compliant with the vocational curriculum will be ready in December 2019.” The Business Courses have also been incorporated into the University of Helsinki’s Phenomenal Teacher Education project, with the first pilot scheduled to start with 400 participating students in autumn 2019.

TAT’s courses and teaching materials have grown in popularity thanks to their variety and quality. During the 2018–2019 school year, 18,500 users spent 507,000 hours with the materials. The overwhelming majority of these students—around 91%—would recommend the courses to other people.

Learning about responsibility

The teaching materials generated through the collaboration between UPM and TAT focus on responsible business operations. “Students rarely have the opportunity to discuss working life and, for example, its ethical matters in such a versatile manner,” says Mikko Hakala. UPM’s module on conducting business responsibly discusses how a company affects society. Many factors, such as tax revenues, are analysed in the module. According to Hakala, the students have very much enjoyed the topics on responsibility. “UPM employees are highly competent, which makes our teaching materials even more valuable.”

Young people benefit from economic and work life skills especially when looking for a job. Those who complete the courses are awarded separate certificates with evaluations. “Employers are much more likely to hire young people who know the basics of economics, accounting, finance, customer viewpoints and international trade,” explains Hakala. The digital platforms used to complete and evaluate the course help young people understand programs used in the world of work.

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The students arealso awarded for innovativeness and entrepreneurial mindset. Students who have completed Business Courses and their teachers can apply for the annual Takeoff event, which is held alongside the start-up event, Slush. “Those students who have collaborated with Slush through us are sought-after members of the workforce,” states Hakala. UPM has also helped to organise workshops. “Takeoff has become a very popular business event among young people. We even receive a considerable number of requests for the event from abroad,” says Puolitaival.

Better job prospects and improved economic skills are not the only benefits young people receive from the courses. When a young person knows the basics of economics, entrepreneurship and employment before their first job, they don’t require as much orientation. A competent workforce benefits companies. Socially efficient and high-quality education on economics and working life enables the creation of both innovation and new companies. “We want to provide young people with the keys to a successful working life and ensure the success of Finnish society in the 2020s,” summarises Mikko Hakala.

 

Text: Aino Saarelainen
Pictures: Iiro Rautiainen