The Finnish battery sector will fall behind other countries if the availability of workforce cannot be anticipated

Availability of workforce will become a bottleneck for the growth of Finland’s battery sector unless training is made a high priority. Otherwise, the inputs already made in innovations, production, skills and competence will come to nothing. The Ministry of Education and Culture is well placed to ensure the availability of skilled workforce for the battery sector and should recognise its responsibility in this area.

Electrification of transport and society at large is part of the digital and green transition. According to the vision laid out in the National Battery Strategy, in 2025, Finland’s battery sector will be a forerunner that provides skills, innovation, sustainable economic growth, wellbeing and jobs for Finland. The vision is ambitious because the Finnish battery sector is still in its formative stages and there is fierce competition for investments and the jobs they create in an industry that is growing globally.

For many years, Finns have considered cutting-edge skills as one of their strengths in the growth of sectors requiring top-class expertise. Availability of skilled workforce would create a basis for a new growth industry with significant export potential. A large number of production plant projects are under way in Finland and, if realised, they will have a major impact on turnover, exports and employment in the battery sector. The availability of workforce to safeguard the growth of the Finnish battery industry can only be ensured if the Ministry of Education and Culture takes determined action to expand training for the sector.

Foresight information has not been used to meet skills and competence needs

The competence and training needs of the battery sector were first identified a few years ago in the foresight work focusing on energy-sector competence in Finland. Further skills and competence needs specific to the battery sector have also been pinpointed in the implementation of the National Battery Strategy and in the competence road map project of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

Even though the skills and competence needs of the battery cluster have been known for years, no decisions to boost competence in the sector have been made at national level. The Ministry of Education and Culture has been of the view that meeting the skills and competence needs of the sector falls within the purview of the training providers, and none of the objectives or measures set out in the National Battery Strategy have been carried out at ministry level.

Skills and competence needs of the battery sector cannot simply be met by increasing the number of intake places in a specific field of training. The battery industry and its skills and competence needs consist of several interconnected sectors in which integration between the sectors is needed from the perspective of competitiveness, sustainability, responsibility, competence creation and renewal. Skills and competence needs of the battery industry should prompt the training providers to direct resources to solutions cutting across fields of training, degrees and qualifications, in which training contents are combined to meet the skills and competence needs of working life.

Training is fragmented and on an unpredictable basis

For training providers, introducing battery sector training involves risks because the industry is still in its formative stages and major employment impacts depend on investment decisions. If on the other hand, training programmes are only launched after the investment decisions have been made, there is simply no time to train the skilled workforce needed. Business operators would like to see training decisions making it more likely that skilled workforce is available as soon as the factories become operational. According to the findings of our audit, there are already major problems concerning access to training, and  the workforce needs of the sector have not been met in a timely manner in all parts of Finland.

Uncertainty and unpredictability concerning the availability of workforce may make Finland less attractive as a destination for investments. The capacity to train skilled employees is not the only problem; the competence system must also demonstrate that it can respond to new skills and competence needs in an agile manner.

Training providers have managed the uncertainty arising from the need for skilled workforce in different ways. Training has been provided with project funding, companies have contributed to the costs of the training by donating professorships, or the training has only been launched when the need for it exists (for example, after the decision to build a plant has been made).

Uncertainty has also been managed by keeping the training at general level so that the competence it generates would not be too specialised in nature. Training providers examine the situation from the perspective of workforce needs in their own sector and region, which means that the overall picture, important for developing the sector, is lacking.

Procedures applied to the granting of training and operating licences have added to the uncertainty concerning the supply of skilled workforce. Examples include a decision to reject an application for a licence for offering training in English in order to attract foreign students to the sector or the refusal to grant a licence for training meeting regional skills and competence needs. The growth targets set for the battery sector have obviously not guided decision-making in the above cases.

Finland is not the only country competing for battery experts

Investments in the battery sector in Finland, other Nordic countries and in Central Europe will further increase competition for skilled workforce. In Finland, availability of skilled workforce to meet the current needs of the battery sector varies by region. Some regions are already facing a serious mismatch problem while in other regions, demand for and supply of workforce are still in balance.

Even though many companies in the sector report that they can get the experts they need, the situation may change quickly if the need for workforce is boosted by the expansion of existing operations or the construction of new plants in the same commuting area or areas adjacent to it.

In such regions as Ostrobothnia and Northern Ostrobothnia, the supply of skilled workforce may also be impacted by the battery sector projects under way in Sweden. Europe and the rest of the world compete for major industrial investments and skilled workforce.

Silo thinking means less impact

According to the findings of our audit, the objective of closer cooperation between actors set in the National Battery Strategy has been mostly met at practical level. Companies in the sector, research institutes, universities and other training providers have worked together to meet training needs or to disseminate latest research data. The national cooperation body has brought battery sector actors together and made them aware of each other.

However, the failure of the Ministry of Education and Culture to assume responsibility for meeting the skills and competence needs is a more serious problem. It means that risks cannot be shared in the manner envisaged in the National Battery Strategy and that the backbone for the risk-taking is lacking.

Moreover, not all administrative branches have implemented the strategy concurrently or given it the same priority. Business Finland had already channelled funding into battery sector RDI before the battery strategy. It was also actively encouraging Finnish companies to join European networks (BATTERY-IPCEIs). At the same time, the Ministry of Education and Culture has stated that the sectoral training policy is outside the ministry’s purview and that the shortage of workforce is part of a wider issue.

Objectives of the RDI actions (growth of the battery sector and its employment impacts) will not be fully met if the availability of skilled workforce cannot be ensured. In that case, the synergy benefits generated by the actions of individual administrative branches are also unlikely to be achieved.