Construction sector apprentices’ secret weapon at the construction site: A tablet PC donated by the company Skanska

(Fresh news from the Finnish pilot using Learning Layers’ tools, published originally in
Rakentaja 3/2015¹, Text and Photos by Esa Tuominen, Translation by Pekka Kämäräinen, ITB)

Santtu Järvinen, 17, a vocational school student in building and construction trades, is fastening a screw that fits a case to the hull structure on the front side of a building. But what is the carpenter Eero Luhtala doing at the same time? Well, Luhtala is shooting a video on the work of Järvinen with a brand new Samsung tablet PC. Thus, a video is created on the vocational learner’s performance at the workplace. Later on Järvinen can access the video, write comments and add other notes as well. Finally the video will be handed to the teacher of Järvinen at the vocational school. On the basis of the mobile picture the teacher can conclude, what kind of progress the young man has made during his period of workplace learning. A picture tells more than thousand words. A moving picture with annotations tells even more.

LL-article_Picture-One The carpenter Eero Luhtala is shooting a video on the performance of the trainee Santtu Järvinen. The documentation with a video is merciless: you can clearly see, whether the job is done correctly.

Communication between teachers and learners
The video shooting session takes place at a construction site of the company Skanska² in the municipality of Lempäälä. The school of Lempoinen is being extended and renovated thoroughly. Among the older builders we find Lauri Laulaja, 18, (3rd year student in Tredu – Tampere Vocational College³) and Santtu Järvinen (2nd year student in Valkeakoski Vocational College). Both have a tablet PC donated by Skanska to support them, when they document their workplace learning for vocational schools.

Lauri Laulaja is spending the third year of his school curriculum at the construction site doing practical work on the basis of an apprentice contract that is also supervised by a vocational teacher of Tredu. This is the current 2+1 model in vocational education and training. Santtu Järvinen is completing a two months’ period of workplace learning and may also move on his third year of study to an apprentice contract and from school bench to production. The tablet PC may seem as a somewhat exotic instrument at a construction site – they are probably better used to a nail gun or spirit level. And indeed, Lauri Laulaja and Santtu Järvinen are not using their computers in the construction work but rather as means of communication with their vocational teachers.

The Aalto University has been developing a program with the help of which specific phases of work can be recorded on a video in such a way that moving pictures can be annotated with texts and other signs that refer to progress of the work. The video will be sent to a vocational teacher, who can assess from a distance how well the performance at work is progressing. The video annotation program provided by Aalto University is called Ach So!  (the name comes from German language and means in Finnish ‘Vai niin’, in English ‘Oh, that is how …’). So, a vocational learner in construction not only has to learn, how to build houses but also needs to get skills for creating video installations.

”This tablet PC seems to be a well functioning gadget. And making a video recording does not require that fantastic skills. Yes, we can shoot videos with these”, Laulaja and Järvinen assure with full confidence in themselves. And if you yourself cannot shoot a video of the current phase of work, you get your next fellow colleague as a cameraman. ”I have never come to shoot videos before. In our family it has been the task of my wife to make photos. But this seems to work well and is not so complicated for a user”, says carpenter Eero Luhtala while monitoring the work of Santtu Järvinen behind a tablet PC.

Skilled workers are needed

Heikki Qvick, shop steward of the Skanska company in the Pirkanmaa region, is a strong supporter of the current 2+1 model in vocational education and training. According to him two years school-based education is enough and it is better to use the third year for workplace learning on the basis of an apprentice training contract. ”I have been as a mentor for tens of young beginners in construction work during all these years. And I myself started as a journeyman in this trade. I was working as an assistant worker in the team of my father and earned 85% of the average wage of a more experienced worker. Via that route I worked myself into carpenters’ trade.”

Qvick is concerned about getting successors to the work of skilled craftsmen who are going on retirement. He appreciates it that the company Skanska has discovered the benefits of apprentice training and offers vocational learners the opportunity to spend their third year of vocational education at the workplace: ”Skanska is losing more skilled craftsmen than we can get as newcomers. However, all apprentices that have been trained by us have been successfully employed in our company. In a recent study that was commissioned by the Finnish Construction Trade Union (at the end of last year) we got the result that most of the vocational school students in construction sector preferred to spend their third year in production i.e. in real work at construction sites.”

In Pirkanmaa region the Finnish Construction Trade Union, the company Skanska and the vocational schools have started a cooperation to promote the current 2+1 model in the vocational education and training for construction occupations. ”The vocational school students have a chance to show what they are up to during a two months’ workplace learning placement or in a summer job – or in both of them. And if the construction site manager gives a green light, the trainee can be taken for the third year into apprentice contract. Then he will get one of the most experienced skilled workers as his closest colleague and mentor, who also serves as a tutor in the current 2+1 cooperation with the vocational school”, Qvick explains how the model works.

Vocational learners are interested in construction trades
Vocational teacher Juha Laatu from Tredu is happy about the fact that building and construction trades attract new vocational school students. ”For building and construction trades we have got about as many applicants as couple of years before and that is good news. And also, the number of applicants who have marked building and construction trades as their first priority is about the same as we can offer as education and training opportunities.” According to Laatu about 45 vocational school students in construction sector from Tredu have participated in training arrangements based on the current 2+1 model during the last seven years. Only quite recently the weaker employment prospects have decreased the attractiveness of this kind of training arrangements.

Pentti Naukkarinen, training manager from the Valkeakoski Vocational College considers that the current 2+1 model is appropriate for responsible and active vocational school students. ”I think that the current 2+1 has proved to be a well functioning model alongside some other newer models. I only see a problem in a situation in which a 17 year old guy is not brave enough to commit himself to such a long work contract as is the case with the apprentice contract for the third year.”

The two young men working in Lempäälä at the construction site of the school, Lauri Laulaja and Santtu Järvinen, have opted for education and training in construction sector fully convinced that this is exactly the right choice for them. ”Already as a small kid I have wanted to do make all kinds of things with my own hands, theoretical stuff has never been my great thing”, Laulaja tells. ”Neither have I been interested in sitting all day long and studying on school benches, I am more a practical man”, Järvinen adds.


The apprentices/trainees in construction trades, Lauri Laulaja (left) and Santtu Järvinen present their exotic tools. With these iPads they are expected to record their performance during workplace-based learning. Then they send the videos to vocational teachers for assessment.

Laulaja has not yet completely made up his mind, in which trade he wants to specialise. A things stand now, he is most interested in the work of carpenter. Järvinen thinks in the same way, he finds that the tasks of carpenters vary to a great extent.

The apprentices get during their training a wage of ten euro per hour, which adds up as 1 700 euro brutto per month for a young man. Why would anyone prefer to stay at school during the last year with only the student’s allowance as an income? ”Perhaps they do not like to wake up at six o’clock in the morning”, laughs Santtu Järvinen. ”It is a riddle to me. At least I have been able to buy a care and to pay for the fuel, which I could not afford with only the student’s allowance as my income”, Lauri Laulaja adds with a smile on his face.

Notes on the English translation (PK)

¹ Rakentaja (Builder) is the monthly journal of the Finnish Construction Trade Union, one of the strongest industrial trade unions in Finland.
² Skanska is a global player in construction sector with head office in Stockholm and activities all around the world. The Finnish branch of Skanska is one of the mainconstruction companies in Finland.
³ I have used the English names given by the websites of the vocational colleges. Literal translations would be the following: Tampere region vocational college (Tredu) and Valkeakoski college for vocational and adult education. They are mainly providers of initial vocational education (and additional vocational adult education schemes).
 Here the author refers only to Aalto University as the R&D partner of the Finnish pilot project and does not mention that the tool (AchSo!) is being developed in the context of the EU-funded Learning Layers project. This European connection is a peripheral matter for the Finnish audience. However, in the Learning Layers project we have had/will have several partners working with the tool (incl. RWTH, ITB, Agentur, Bau-ABC, RayCom, …).
 Pirkanmaa is the region around the city of Tampere. The municipality of Lempäälä is South of Tampere and the neighbouring town Valkeakoski South-East of Tampere.
I have used the translation “the current 2+1 model” to highlight a shift of emphasis in the Finnish policies for vocational education and training. In the years 1999-2000 the duration of school-based vocational education was extended to three years in order to accommodate a period of ca. 1 year workplace learning (as trainees) during the final year (the original 2+1 model). The current 2+1 model is promoting a transition in organising the workplace learning on the basis of apprentice training contracts. Thus, the status of workplace learners would no longer be that of external trainees (to be hosted as visitors) but of apprentices (with employment contracts with the company).

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