Tuomo Alasoini: Let's turn Finnish working life into a brand

Before the success story of Nokia, nobody sought out my company just because I was from Finland. Sweden was the ‘big thing’ for working life researchers. Everyone knew about the experiences of Volvo Kalmar and Uddevalla plants and other leading-edge Swedish companies in renewing their work organisation. We, on the other hand, were a northern backwater. There was nothing interesting to tell people about Finnish working life.

And then the world noticed Finland

The rise of Nokia changed everything is this area too. Finland could, after all, do more than produce pulp and build machines bigger than horses. The young generation of Linus Torvalds, Pekka Himanen and their peers sold Finland to the world as an advanced and socially responsible information society. A taciturn nation of pulp makers had suddenly become the source of cool information technology experts and tough team players. The credit for this goes to the country's educational system and culture of working together.

Invitations to international working life seminars and requests to visit and learn more about the 'Finnish miracle' began to flood my inbox. Of course we must have something to say about working life. The Lipponen and Vanhanen governments in the 1990s and 2000s spent plenty of money developing working life while budgets for similar activities in other countries were being cut back. In Sweden, the working life research infrastructure that we envied was split into pieces. Ireland and South Korea used Finland as a model for building their own national working life strategies.

The Finnish working life story still has a good reputation, and it no longer needs Nokia or any other company to serve as a vehicle. In 20 years, a network of storytellers has emerged. This includes researchers, consultants, trainers, company developers, and government and labour market officials. For example, working life researchers now have their own association, magazine and annual research conference.

I have a dream

The Finnish working life story doesn't have to end here. We could use the story as the foundation for building a brand. Outside our borders, the Finnish working life brand would be a promise that it's worth investing in this country and coming here to work. For Finns, it would be a promise to help each individual build their own working life story – one that has a happy ending. Or, at the very least, has a better ending than those now being told in many homes, streets and shabby bars.

Compiled under the leadership of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the vision of the National Working Life Development Strategy is for Finland to have the best working life in Europe by 2020. This vision is a dream. We need these good stories in order to realise this dream. We also need expertise, determination and our traditional strength: the culture of working together.

Tuomo Alasoini
The author is the director of Workplace Innovation and Development at Tekes

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