Klemelä Kirsi

Ammattikunnista ammatillisiin oppilaitoksiin. Ammatillisen koulutuksen muotoutuminen Suomessa 1800-luvulta 1990-luvulle

From guilds to vocational institutions. Structuring of Vocational Education in Finland from the Beginning of the 19th Century to the 1990s


English summary


The first institutions of vocational education were created in Finland at the beginning of the 19th century. By the turn of the 20th century, over 200 vocational institutions had been established in different sectors, but acquiring occupational skills in an educational institution was still uncommon. Skills were principally learned on the job. Studying in vocational institutions became more common since the beginning of the 1950s. The goal of the reform of secondary education, implemented in the 1980s, was that every occupation would have its own educational path and that all young people would pass on to the labour market through occupationally differentiated education.

During the 1990s, however, institutionalised vocational education has not any more been seen only as positive. The lacking connections between education and working life have become a problem. It has been stated that vocational education has been fallen behind the development of working life.

This study throws light on the problematic situation by examining, from the basis of committee reports, legislation, statistics and histories the creation and expansion of vocational education and its development into a state-controlled system. The study covers the time period from the beginning of the 19th century, when the first vocational institutions were established, to the implementation of the reform of secondary education in the 1980s. The viewpoint of the study is both historical and social.

The shaping of vocational education is examined by looking answers to the following questions:

  • How, why and when institutional vocational education originated? The beginnings of vocational education is examined by asking from whose initiative vocational institutions were established and why institutionalised vocational education became to be seen necessary, and finally, how the need for institutional vocational education was justified.
  • How, why and when vocational education expanded? Regarding this question, this study focuses on the development of the number of vocational institutions, the number of their students and on the justifications for the expanding of vocational education.
  • How, why and when vocational education was systematised? Answers to this question are looked for by studying the centralisation of vocational education. At the same time, also the changes in the public control over vocational education and its turning into a state-run system are examined.

Initial stage of vocational education: many kinds of institutions in different sectors, demand for institutional vocational education remains low.

During the first half of the 19th century, vocational education was offered in a few institutions of seafaring, commerce and agriculture. At the time, Finland was a static, agrarian society, whose social structure was based on estates. It was the other half of the century that formed a transition period ideologically, economically and socially. At that time, liberalism started to gain adherents in Finland. The rise of the ideas of nationality since the 1840s meant also an impulse for the development of education, because education was considered to have a central role in uniting the nation.

Following the liberalist doctrine, from the 1860s onwards the intention was to advance economic growth by removing impediments hindering the free functioning of economic life. With legislative changes the guilds were abolished, restrictions on the trade of land were removed and the freedom of trade and the mobility of labour force (by the freedom to change ones domicile) were realised. The legislative reforms were a prerequisite to changes in the economic structure of Finland and to its industrialisation. From both ideological and economic basis, different kinds of associations were founded, whose contribution to the establishment of vocational institutions in different sectors was important. Also the favourable economic trend of the 1890s gave an additional impetus to the creation of vocational institutions.

By the turn of the 20th century, all occupational sectors had their own educational institutions. At that time, there were over 200 vocational institutions. Except for the slowdowns caused first by the Finlands becoming independent and then getting into a state of civil war during the 1910s and later by the economic depression of the 1930s, the number of vocational institutions continued to increase during the whole initial stage of vocational education up to the beginning of the 1940s. In 1940 the total number of vocational institutions was 369.

In different sectors the education was initiated principally by organising the training of foremen. When the training of workers started, the educational institutions differentiated so that in general the training of management level was given in vocational institutes and the training of workers in vocational schools. The institutions of these different levels were at first established separately. When viewed by sectors, it was the sector of agriculture where there were the largest number of institutions offering training to different occupations. The large number of institutions of agriculture, cottage industry and home economics during the first half of the 20th century reflects the economic structure of the country, which was dominated by the agricultural sector, because the educational provision aimed at supporting the aspirations of the rural Finland.

The educational demand did not correspond the provision after the beginning of the 20th century. Towards the beginning of the 1940s, especially the share of students in institutions of cottage industry decreased and, on the other hand, the institutions in the sectors of handicrafts and industry, technics and commerce increased their share of all students in vocational education. On the whole, studying in vocational institutions was not yet very common at that time. In 1940 there were around 20 000 students in vocational institutions.

Apprenticeship training, originating from the craftsmens traditional system of apprentice-journeyman-master, was developed alongside of the institutional vocational education. In the 1920s it was given a legal framework, by which the often arbitrarily arranged employment and wage contracts were regulated. Apprenticeship training could not, however, compete for popularity with the vocational institutions in the sectors of handicrafts and industry, either after the passing of the legislation or later.

The highest level administration of vocational education was right from the beginning differentiated under the jurisdiction of different ministries. Different sectors developed their own systems of administration and supervision. The functioning of the vocational institutions was directed by dozens of laws and decrees.

The committees planning vocational education were of the opinion that vocational education was needed besides to solve many practical problems (e.g. high level of infant mortality and difficulties of the landless population to earn their living), especially to increase production in different sectors of the economy and to improve its international competitiveness, and finally through these, to increase the welfare of the whole society. In the urban areas, one important role of the institutions preparing their students to the occupations in handicrafts and industry was also to function as ‘warehouses’ for the young boys who had already finished their school but were still too young to enter the labour market. Also the institutions of home economics, directed to young girls, functioned as ‘warehouses’ for them. Vocational institutions’ functions included also socialising their students to the conditions at workplaces and more generally to the new industrialising society.

Expansion of vocational education: new institutions and lines of studies, generalisation of institutional vocational education

The economic and class structure in Finland underwent significant changes during the first half of the 20th century. The share of employment in industry, commerce and service sector increased, but the industrialisation was slowed down by the intentions to maintain the agricultural basis of the Finnish economy. After the Second World War, evacuees from the areas ceded to the Soviet Union, veterans, disabled soldiers, and families of those killed in the war were given small holdings through the settlement policy. This settlement was a kind of social policy of an agrarian society.

After the war, the changing of the economic structure could not any more be prevented. Because of the war indemnities that Finland had to pay to the Soviet Union, labour force had to be supplied to the sectors of industry which produced goods needed for that, especially to metal industry. The focus in the Finnish economy was shifted from agriculture to industry. Even though the importance of the production directed to the payment of the war indemnities should not be neglected, it is also true that the production was started so quickly that it had to begin in already existing plants and with existing equipment and labour force.

The industrialisation, expansion of the market economy, inventions and new ways of life created also new occupations, for which vocational education was seen necessary. Vocational education was also seen as an important factor increasing economic success. Thus, besides the State and the private sector, especially municipalities and federations of municipalities started since the 1950s to establish vocational institutions preparing their students for occupations in handicrafts and industry in order to have skilled labour within their own areas. Educational planning did not, however, entirely support the modernisation of the society. Agricultural institutions suffered from lack of students and financial difficulties, but the aim was at maintaining their number as high as possible with the intention to prevent young people from moving away from rural areas by offering them education in this sector.

The total number of vocational institutions increased by around 200 during the period from the 1940s to the beginning of the 1970s. In 1970 there were 578 vocational institutions. This number decreased during the 1970s, as institutes and schools within the different sectors were merged into institutions offering training both on management and worker level, as ambulatory units offering training in the sector of cottage industry were incorporated to stationary ones, and as small institutions were closed in the agricultural sector. Still the total number of institutions remained over 500 up to the 1990s.

Examined by sectors, the number of institutions of handicrafts and industry, technics and commerce increased between 1950 and 1970. On the other hand, the number of institutions of agriculture and cottage industry decreased, in spite of the resistance of the educational committees, as the number of people employed in the primary production fell. The forming of the welfare-state was shown in the increase of task in the social security and health care sectors, which created pressures for developing education in those sectors. To this demand for personnel was answered by increasing education, but the demand for educated labour force remained higher than the provision.

The period from the 1950s to the 1970s may be considered as a phase of expansion of vocational education, besides for the increase of the number of educational institutions, especially because the studying in those institutions became more general. The growth of the number of students continued also after the 1970s, but the increase was strongest during the 1950s and the 1960s. In 1950 a little less than 30 000 persons studied in vocational institutions, from which their number more than tripled by the year 1970, when there were almost 100 000 students.

The increase in the number of students in vocational institutions was affected by the increase of the number of institutions and study places, but the most important reasons were elsewhere. The use of child labour was forbidden and the working of young people was restricted by shortening their working hours in the beginning of the 1930s, but these regulations became significant only after the industrialisation had produced increase in economic welfare so that children or youngsters did not have to go to work straight after elementary school to make a living. The rise in the standard of living increased the willingness to acquire education, which, however, was primarily directed towards secondary school and further to upper secondary school. Also the number of students in vocational institutions increased rapidly during the 1950s, but it remained modest if compared to the number of students in secondary school. Generalisation of acquiring long general education was seen as problematic from the point of view of the committees planning vocational education. The popularity of secondary school was explained by the insufficient number of vocational institutions and, thus, the intention was to develop their network as covering as the network of secondary schools.

One factor contributing to the expansion of vocational education was also the baby boom of the 1940s and the subsequent stabilisation of birth rate to a higher level than before the war. The entering to the labour market of the baby boom generation was feared to cause unemployment and this threat was prevented by increasing the number of study places. On the other hand, the baby boom generation was also seen as a possibility to have labour force to sectors of lower rank (e.g. forest work) which suffered from labour shortage, and then the organising of education was aimed at raising the prestige and wage level of the occupational sectors in question.

The confidence in education as a means of social mobility was firm and by no means unjustified. The changing of the Finnish economic and class structure after the war was characterised by the fact that population moved from agricultural sector, besides to industry, also directly to the so called middle stratum i.e. to white-collar jobs. Especially the sectors of commerce and services expanded significantly since the beginning of the 1950s, which was reflected in the increase in education in the sectors of commerce and health care.

The justifications of the committees about the importance of vocational education were closely related to technological development. The committees assumed that technological development had changed the nature of tasks at work places, but also made working so busy that it was no longer possible to teach to new workers the necessary skills on the job. At the initial stage of vocational education, the functions given to education were meeting the needs of production, socialisation to working life and society, selection of persons to different positions on the labour market and ‘warehousing’ young people before they could pass on to working life. The first one of these, however, was emphasised most. Also at the stages of expansion and systematisation of vocational education, the basic justifications about the functions and importance of education remained the same. The crucial importance and usefulness of vocational education was never questioned, the problems were more practical, related especially to financing of education.

The significance of apprenticeship training as a means of teaching occupational skills decreased as the institutional vocational education expanded. To apprenticeship training was given the function of complementing institutional vocational education and it concentrated on the sectors in which there were no other educational provision.

Vocational training continued to be developed differentiated, within each sector, from the 1940s up to the end of the 1960s, because the administration in different sectors was organised under the jurisdiction of different ministries. Each sector aimed at strengthening their own positions through education. The majority of vocational institutions was supervised by the Ministry of Trade and Industry or the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Education in each sector developed more and more towards separate systems, there were no one or unified system of vocational education nor unified public policy for vocational education.

Systematisation of vocational education: from one sector systems to a state-run centralised institution

From the beginning, vocational education was divided, besides under the jurisdiction of different ministries, also to sectors in which the State was entirely or partly responsible of the organisation of education and, on the other hand, to sectors where education was organised by the private sector, although subsidised by public authorities. The State organised and financed entirely the training of foremen in forestry work, since the 1920s, the education of the nurses, and, since the 1940s, the vocational education in the sector of seafaring. Public authorities organised also technical vocational education. On the other hand, vocational education in the sectors of agriculture, home economics and cottage industry and also handicrafts and industry was principally organised by the private sector. The new constitution adopted in 1919 obliged the State to maintain or subsidise vocational institutions in the sectors of technics and commerce and also of agriculture and seafaring.

The most important public instrument in educational regulation are public subsidies. Private educational institutions were at first given public subsidies within the framework of appropriation included in the States budged. The granting of the subsidies was at the public authorities’ discretion. The committees of different sectors followed closely the development of the public subsidies and an improvement to the position of their own sector was requested quickly, if they felt that other sectors were treated better. During the first decades of the 20th century requests were made that the public share of the costs of vocational education in different sectors should be raised and that it should be defined by law. The public share of financing in the sectors of agriculture, home economics and cottage industry was, thus, fixed by law at the end of the 1920s, which indicated the special interest of the State to support these sectors. However, the amount of public subsidies was defined in fixed sum so that when the value of Finnish mark decreased because of the inflation, the public share of the real costs of education decreased as well. The educational committees of different sectors requested, thus, that the public subsidies should be turned into legally defined specified share of the costs the educational institutions and of the teachers’ wages, because the long-term development and expansion of education was considered impossible as long as the shares and amounts of public subsidies varied. The first legally fixed public shares of acceptable costs were granted to vocational institutions in the sectors of handicrafts and industry, commerce and technics at the turn to the 1940s.

The development of the public subsidies shows which sectors of vocational education were given primary importance by the State and which, on the other hand, were left to the private sector. With legally regulated subsidies, the position of vocational institutions became more stable because the Sate could not cease to pay the subsidies, once granted to an educational institution, if it fulfilled certain conditions, prescribed by law. When the public subsidies became fixed by law, it also meant that the public control over vocational education increased. The facilities and equipment of educational institutions were supervised, as well as the length of teaching hours, contents of teaching, number of students per class and the qualifications and wages of the teachers.

Private vocational institutions considered, until the first decades of the 20th century, the private ownership to be better than functioning under the States control. From their point of view, teaching in state-run institutions was stiff and formalistic and unable to react to the changing conditions. This attitude, however, changed during the 1920s and the 1930s. Especially the vocational institutions in the sectors of agriculture and cottage industry facing financial difficulties aspired to become owned by the State, because it was for many vocational institutions the only way of guaranteeing their future existence.

The systematisation and centralisation of vocational education continued at the highest level of administration of the educational institutions. The administrative centralisation was planned for the first time at the end of the 1920s, when the initiative came from the National Board of Education, i.e. from the administration of general education. During the 1950s, the aspirations to more unified administration of vocational institutions, or at least to increase in the cooperation between the different sectors, strengthened. The administrative organisation, which was divided to different administrative sectors even at the highest level, made it impossible to set to vocational education any common goals and the educational administration was also seen as inefficient and insufficient. According to the educational committees, administrative centralisation was necessary in order to make vocational education more uniform and more compatible with the needs of working life. It was seen necessary also because of the intentions to direct young students more effectively to the sectors that most needed expanding of education at each time. In short, the administrative centralisation was seen as a prerequisite for integrated development of vocational education.

The administrative centralisation and unifying of vocational education started in 1965, when the National Board of Vocational Education was established within the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In 1968, it was transferred to the Ministry of Education, which strengthened, at the administrative level, the consideration of vocational education as equal to general education and higher education. By the year 1973, the highest administration of all vocational institutions was transferred to the National Board of Vocational Education.

The systematisation and centralisation of vocational education continued with the reform of secondary education. There were many factors that contributed to the fact that the reform was seen necessary. Firstly, the transformation of general education from a binary system into a uniform comprehensive school required also reorganisation of vocational institutions. Vocational education was principally divided so that persons who had finished only elementary school were offered school level education leading to occupations at the worker (i.e. blue-collar) level and the persons who had finished middle school were admissible to institute level leading to foreman or management (i.e. white-collar) level. The reform of the comprehensive school, implemented between 1972 and 1977, abolished this differentiation, even though the different course levels in some subjects maintained the differentiation in practice until the middle of the 1980s.

Secondly, the reform of secondary education was seen necessary because the whole educational system did not seem to function effectively. The rapid increase since the 1950s of the number persons who had passed the matriculation examination seemed to mean that the position of the others worsened. This was because it was feared that those who had passed the matriculation examination but had not found a study place in the institutions of higher education would fill, besides the vocational institute level, also the best places in school level education. The increase in the popularity of upper secondary school was also feared to produce labour shortages in some occupational sectors. There were not enough students in vocational education and, thus, its attractiveness needed improving.

The large number of different lines of studies in vocational education caused also problems. Vocational education within different sectors had been expanding, uncoordinated between the sectors, following the differentiation of the occupations in working life. When the estimated number of different lines of studies was from 600 to 700, it was very difficult for the applicants to find information about the different possibilities offered by the vocational institutions. Vocational education was
also quite limited regarding to its contents, which was problematic from the point of view of working life, because transferring from one work task to another was difficult. The time of differentiated administration also left a legacy of study places which remained unfilled and a malfunctioning system of application and selection of students. Study places had been increased regardless of the matching between educational demand and provision and, thus, at the turn of the 1970s, there were thousands of unfilled places in vocational institutions at same time as the number of applicants had been over three times the number of the places.

Possible solutions for the problems of vocational education were at first discussed in educational committees. Using vocational education to solve problems of the society was common already earlier, but at the beginning of the 1970s, the social development policy was openly set as the basis of educational planning. It was emphasised that education was one of the primary means to achieve the goals of social development and economic and social policies. The Sate paid for the largest part of the costs of vocational education and wanted, thus, also to increase its own influence over both the quantitative and qualitative educational planning.

The justifications of the committees about the importance of vocational education were based on the increasing significance of the technology as a factor affecting the development of the whole society. The rapid scientific-technological development was considered to change requirements of occupational skills so that acquiring vocational education was necessary for all occupations. As a prerequisite for working in different occupations were seen more extensive both occupational and general skills and it was assumed that acquiring these skills was possible only in vocational institutions.

From the number of dissenting opinions attached to the reports of the educational committees, it can be stated that the committees were not unanimous about the direction of the reform of secondary education. The development of the model for the reform was transferred to the civil servants in the Ministry of Education. Then the power in the planning of vocational education shifted to the State, which was contrary to the earlier tradition. In spring 1974, the government made from the basis of the proposal of the Ministry of Education a decision, according to which, vocational education should be developed into an educational path leading to studies at the level of higher education and being able to compete with upper secondary school. Vocational education should, however, primarily prepare the students to direct entrance to working life; the goal was, thus, clearly set at attracting students from general education to vocational institutions.

The structure of vocational education was reformed so that instead of hundreds of different lines the studies were now organised in around twenty basic lines, after which the studies continued on specialisation lines on school or institute level. The intention was to indicate an educational path to every existing occupation and to guarantee a study place for every person finishing his/her general education. In practice, this meant that teaching of all occupational skills and knowledge was transferred completely to educational institutions. The reform of secondary education was implemented between 1982 and 1988. Apprenticeship training became a form of adult and further education but also an alternative for the youngsters who did not apply for or were not accepted in institutionalised vocational education.

The unifying of the legislation concerning vocational institutions begin with the laws adopted in 1983 which regulated the students’ financial aid and the financing of the vocational institutions. The public subsidies of all vocational institutions were now fixed in a uniform manner, graded according to the financial capacity of the municipality in which the institution in question was situated. Now the State was able to regulate the quantity of education according to the educational need: the government accorded a permission to establish an educational institution only, if it was considered to meet the existing educational need, and when the educational need changed, the government was able to close an institution which was not longer needed. According to the former legislation, public authorities were not able to make educational reduces because, if an educational institution had once been accorded its permission, it was entitled to public subsidies as long as it fulfilled certain conditions. In 1987 all vocational education was transferred under the regulation of a single law.

Vocational education systematised and unified with the reform of secondary education both internally and in relation to the basic and further education. Inside it, the length of studies were made uniform and the levels of qualifications were made comparable between the different sectors. Admission requirements of the institutions were made more uniform and educational paths were formed to every sector, so that it is always possible within a sector to advance up to the level of higher education. In this way, vocational education was made an integral part of the educational system.