Minister Timo Harakka's opening speech at the Skills and Smart Work Organisation in the Digital Era conference

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment 3.7.2019 10.08

Finlandia Hall on 3 July, 2019

Dear participants, dear colleagues,

It is my great pleasure to open this conference, and in fact open the Finnish Presidency events in Helsinki. This is the very first meeting to be held in the host country before the Informal Competitiveness Council starting tomorrow. I welcome you as the avart-garde of Europe.

I am very happy to see so many representatives from different Member States, the Commission, academia, business, Social Partners and other relevant organizations to be present with us here today.

As befits the avant-garde that we are, the aim of this conference is to raise awareness of the transformation that is ongoing in economy and working life. We shall discuss the need of rapid changes necessary to build an economically, socially and ecologically sustainable Europe.

Digitalization is not the only trend we have to bear in mind when talking about future of work. We have parallel trends and challenges that need to be taken into account. The most urgent is the transfer to climate neutral economy.  It is important to address all the risks and opportunities, both at the enterprise and work place level.

Furthermore, it is important to identify the roles of relevant players, policy makers, authorities, enterprises and employees as well as the social partners.

Dear guests,  

The theme of this conference is of utmost importance. It resonates very strongly with the overall theme of Finland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which is Sustainable Europe – Sustainable Future. Our objective should be a competitive and socially inclusive EU. Both dimensions are crucial and simultaneous.

Our emphasis must be on taking full advantage of research, development, innovation and digitalization. By fostering skills, education and training, social fairness and equality, the EU will create sustainable growth and competitiveness as well as wellbeing for its citizens.

The European Economy is still growing, though the pace of growth has slowed. The labor market has to adjust to rapid technological developments and the global redistribution of labor. There is a need to an innovative rethinking of work in many ways: in terms of knowledge development, work organization, leadership, autonomy, collaboration and networks.

Let me also share with you some ideas from our Government Programme which we published a few weeks ago. The Government of Prime Minister Antti Rinne aims to create 60,000 new jobs by boosting both the demand and supply of work. My job is to make these jobs happen. Besides a higher employment rate, sustainable growth requires higher productivity. In a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society, the economy is for the people, not vice versa.  

The title of our Government Program tells it all. To translate freely, it calls for an inclusive and intelligent Finland. Again, both these adjectives frame the essence of my work – and also, yours. It is essential to increase labour market participation of people with limited work capacity, some impediment or other, of those with poor employment prospects, and of immigrants. We are launching determined activation measures to promote stronger inclusion – the first word of the program title.

As to the second word, the new Government rates education and research very highly. To increase the employment rate, we commit strongly to enhancing education and skills. We want to keep Finnish education at the top spot globally, which not only ensures the best talent available for companies operating in Finland, but also fosters innovation and entrepreneurship for sustainable economic success. These ambitious goals will significantly increase the need for upskilling and continuous life long learning.

The need for upskilling and reskilling does not, however, mean that every adult needs to go back to school and study for a whole new degree. Modular forms of studying, work-based learning and non-formal and informal learning are great possibilities for updating and developing skills, as learning and skills development would become part of everyday work and life. That would also encourage participation of those with the greatest need for reskilling and upskilling, who often are not the most motivated to participate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

According to the Digital Economy and Society Index Report, although EU countries have improved their digital performance, there is still a lot to do in putting digitalisation into practice at the workplace.

At the same time, we have to renew businesses and develop trust-based working practices in order to achieve sustainable solutions in both economic and human terms. Adopting advancements in artificial intelligence and digitalisation improve productivity, public services and everyday life. In a high quality working life, the well-being of professionals and high productivity go hand in hand. It is not a question of technology alone. According to some estimates, up to half of the benefits of artificial intelligence and digitalisation are generated by reforming workplace practices and the working culture.

Digitalisation can be a big step forward in well-being at work, if combined with necessary skills to use the digital tools in the most effective way. In most cases, the core competences of a business or a public service can be found in-house. Likewise, the best drivers of innovation and change are among the personnel. It is important to improve working methods, including early information and consultation of workers to enhance skills development, productivity and innovation.

Dear friends,

Doing nothing is not an option. It is the responsibility of the developed countries to take the leading role in the transition to digital, sustainable and climate neutral economy.

But taking the leading role should not be seen as a burden. We should also see its benefit as regards the competitiveness of the European enterprises. We should rather be afraid of remaining in old technologies and methods than introducing new innovative ways to proceed. And whenever an enterprise is relying on subsidies and barriers of entry, you should be worried. Open and competitive are words that should characterize both businesses and workplace relations. And, of course, inclusive and intelligent.

I am looking forward to a fruitful discussion and exchange of ideas. I would be particularly happy if the conference would give you new ideas on how to rethink and reorganize working life, and how to ensure the necessary skills for the needs of the future.

Finally, I also hope that you have an opportunity to explore our capital city and enjoy our hopefully pleasant summer breeze and that special spectacle of this time of year in Finland, which is light until night. Hope you have a great time in Helsinki.

Thank You.