Employees encouraged to aid business regeneration

Employees are being encouraged by Finland’s government to get involved in the regeneration of businesses through an innovative workplace development programme. The wide-ranging Leader programme (Liideri) is being financed through the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, Tekes, and forms part of Finland’s National Working Life Development Strategy 2020. The initiative emphasises the need for wide-ranging social participation to encourage growth.

Funding agency Tekes

Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, was founded in 1983 to promote the development of new technology in Finland, but the organisation’s authorising legislation has been revised several times since. The most recent relevant act was in 2008, amended in 2011. The scope of the agency has expanded, and the word ‘innovation’ was included in its name in 2006.

In 2008, the activities of a working life development programme (TYKES), previously run by the Ministry of Labour, were transferred to Tekes.

Tekes operates under the authority of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy and in 2011 it granted funds of €610 million to close to 2,000 projects. It has a staff of around 300, with some of them based outside Finland.

The Liideri programme

The regeneration of Finnish businesses through employee participation is the aim of the country’s wide-ranging Leader programme (Liideri). It is funded through Tekes, which is now calling on businesses and organisations wanting to take part in the initiative to apply for the funding it has made available. The aim of the programme is to stimulate business growth through employee participation, as well as creating new forms of work organisation and working.

Funding is being offered to companies for specific schemes as well as for research projects. The first application round for research projects took place in January, February and March 2013, but funding for company projects is available as well.

In addition to funding, other services are available through Liideri. These include networking events and peer support meetings as well as a designated InnoTyö forum (in Finnish) for networking, discussion and distribution of materials.

Employee participation

Liideri’s first focus area is ‘employee-involving innovation’. This concept refers to the active and systematic participation of employees in the creation of ideas, and the innovation and renewal of products and services. It also involves developing new ways of producing the products and services of companies with a view to creating new solutions that add value for customers.

Employee-involving innovation is the programme’s umbrella term for a range of initiatives, from fully employee-driven innovation to schemes commissioned by management, customers or different stakeholder groups. The programme supports research, development and dissemination of information on management processes, and also forms of work organisation that promote employee-involving innovation in Finnish workplaces.

New forms of work organisation

Liideri’s second focus area is the research and development (R&D) of new forms of work organisation as part of the renewal of business activities.

The programme starts out with the premise that in the future work organisation will be increasingly decentralised, self-managed, process-orientated, customer-oriented and flexible.

The programme’s support for R&D places special emphasis on organisational forms that follow these principles, and on those based on shared leadership, networking, distributed work, employee-customised solutions and the innovative application of new technologies.

The management team of Liideri reflects the programme’s participatory approach, since it includes representatives from businesses, trade unions, research organisations and government.

Eligible organisations

Organisations eligible for Liideri funding include businesses, public sector organisations and research organisations. As is normal in Tekes’s programmes, there is a particular focus on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), although larger organisations are also eligible. There will be specified application times for research projects, but applications for business development projects can be submitted at any time.

The aim is to persuade at least 300 companies or other organisations to launch programme-funded projects. It is hoped at least 1,000 companies will make use of the services of the programme or get concrete benefits from it.

Working life development strategy

Liideri, scheduled to run from 2012 to 2018, is part of the new National Working Life Development Strategy to 2020 (365 Kb PDF) drawn up by the current Finnish six-party government, which entered office in June 2011. The strategy identifies the two main challenges for Finland’s economy in the next decade as continuous structural change and the country’s aging workforce. Its response is based on three broad principles:

  • a quick transition for workers from one job to another;
  • support for continuous renewal of economic and working life;
  • the full use of labour resources.

The strategy also identifies four focus areas:

  • innovation and productivity;
  • trust and cooperation;
  • health and well-being at work;
  • a competent workforce.

It sets goals for progress in each area; a good basic level, developer level, and forerunner level. For all three levels, the strategy sets out criteria and actions that can be followed to advance progress in the focus areas.

Innovation and productivity

High productivity is seen as a necessary condition for the maintenance of the Finnish welfare state. The future success of the Finnish economy will not be based around a small group of highly successful hi-tech companies, but rather on across-the-board improvement in productivity and working conditions. The broad-based approach also extends to all levels of organisations. In other words, employees at all levels should have the possibility of developing themselves as well as their work and its end product.

Trust and cooperation

The programme highlights the tradition of trust and collaboration which is the foundation of Finland’s past economic success stories. Trust is not only necessary within organisations but also between employees. Trust and cooperation must furthermore, according to the programme, extend to society and to individuals facing an uncertain future. This uncertainty is particularly marked in working life.

Health and well-being at work

An important principle in the programme is that work generates well-being among employees, as it does for the whole of society. Productivity and well-being at work go hand-in-hand, and workplaces must be proactive in monitoring the working capacity of their workforce as well as the risks associated with the job.

A competent workforce

The extension of working life is another factor enhancing productivity, as is the preservation and further development of working skills. Not only are high skill levels important for productivity, but they also help workers – and society as a whole – to adjust to the changing demands of the economy. In other words, having good skills will help Finland rediscover its place in the global arena. It will also help individual workers rediscover their place in the global arena during times of structural change.

Simo Virtanen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health

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