Digital courses organised by Helsinki help to improve employment opportunities

The job market has almost entirely gone online and a wide range of digital skills are now required to find a job. However, not everyone in the city has access to digital services due to lack of skills or money. For some, sending an email is a challenge. However,its use is at the heart of digital participation, as email is used to log in to services, create profiles and build a digital self.
Three people are standing outside, side by side, looking at their phones.
The impact of good digital skills on individuals is huge, from getting a job to dealing with public authorities and maintaining social relationships. Photo: N2 Albiino

In Helsinki's employment services, digital skills have been identified as one of the barriers to employment. For example, according to the European Commission's Digital Economy and Society Index, around 15% of Helsinki residents lack digital skills. That is why the city has organised targeted digital courses for jobseekers. The aim has been to raise the digital skills of jobseekers in Helsinki to a level where they can search for jobs and deal with public authorities online independently. This will improve both the employment prospects and quality of life of the customers of the city's employment services.

“It is important for the City of Helsinki to support all the measures that help increase the likelihood of Helsinki residents finding employment. Because when people get jobs, other aspects of well-being tend to increase," says Annukka Sorjonen, Employment Director of the City of Helsinki.

Digital skills are linked to employment in two different ways. First, they affect the actual job application process, as vacancies are mostly advertised online and people apply for jobs electronically. In addition, digitalisation has already permeated working life on a large scale. Many jobs require the ability to use digital devices. For example, work in a daycare centre is not digital per se but, even here, digital tools are often used to create portfolios, which electronically tell parents what has been done during the week.

Helsinki's lessons also available to other operators supporting employment

Helsinki is a city-wide testing ground, and the city's aim is to use experimentation to test, develop and scale up innovation. Helsinki started experimenting with digital courses in 2019 with the Digirasti service. It lessons were later used to develop the Digital Working Life project. Through these, the city has gathered experience in how to increase digital skills in job search. The lessons learned can be used by all operators supporting employment. In the City of Helsinki's experience, not having your own equipment, lack of motivation or poor Finnish language skills undermine the chances of learning digital skills. That is why Helsinki has put particular emphasis on supporting these areas. The aim has been to ensure that digital inclusion continues to be strengthened after the city support and the end of the course. On the course, it has been possible to increase motivation by linking digital skills training to the participants’ own interests.

The City of Helsinki's innovation was to combine digital skills learning with people's everyday lives and take learning beyond the classroom. For example, the Digital Working Life project provided participants with smartphones to practise digital skills. It was also possible for participants to own their devices after completing the course. The availability of a smartphone was a motivating factor for many people to attend the course, which helped to stimulate their interest in and understanding of the importance of digital technologies. The cost of the device was low compared to the benefits and this approach can be recommended for similar projects in the future.

Digital skills development needed for a wide range of customer groups

Improving the employment rate is also a key objective of the city of Helsinki's economic policy. One of its aims is to improve the likelihood of employment for residents and to ensure that companies have access to a sufficient number of skilled workers. However, people with poor Finnish language skills in particular are easily excluded from digital services and the online labour market. Teaching for digital job search is also organised in a targeted manner for those who do not yet speak Finnish or speak it poorly. Support in their own language encouraged the participants and created a sense of security, as there was someone nearby to ask for help in their own language. At the same time, however, the students especially wanted to study in Finnish, and the support in their own language often served mainly to lower the learning threshold. The city also identified a need for women-only services and organised women-only groups.

The Digirasti service also organised a digital course in English and the number of people interested was very high. Most of the participants already had a good basic digital skills and were highly educated. However, support was particularly needed in digital skills related to employment.

Almost everyone of those who took the course felt that they had learned useful job search skills

The digital courses organised by Helsinki have so far had over 700 customers. According to feedback from the courses, almost everyone of the participants felt they had learned new skills that would be useful in their job search. At the beginning of the Digital Working Life courses, only about one in four of the participants could send an email independently, but after four weeks of the course the proportion rose to two thirds. The impact on individuals of acquiring skills is huge, from dealing with public authorities and maintaining social relationships.

"We have once the course to be of real benefit to jobseekers. The course has covered the most important digital skills for applying for a job, as well as digital skills that make everyday life easier and promote personal well-being, such as library e-services, using a travel guide or language learning apps. The social impact of the courses has also been important," says Joonas Rentola Project Manager at Helsinki's employment services.

Digital courses and the Digirasti service have been running on a trial basis since 2019 and will continue until summer 2023. The Digital Working Life project has been funded by the European Social Fund and implemented by the City of Helsinki. The project has been funded as part of the European Union's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even when the pilot projects come to an end, the need to develop digital skills will remain. In addition to its own projects, the City of Helsinki also coordinates other digital support provided by organisations, libraries and colleges. Digital courses are also offered by institutions such as Adult education centres and folk high schools, the Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute and Uusix Workshops.

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Digital Working Life project and digital courses 

City of Helsinki digital support