Today’s master-apprentice model helps to lengthen work careers
The 2+1 coaching model used at Skanska’s construction sites helps students in the construction sector to get a grip on work life. Older and more experienced workers train the young people, and in this way also get more motivation for their own work careers.
Construction work is physically strenuous. In addition, the rainy weather since the beginning of the year has hampered work at the construction site of Härmälänranta in Tampere, the site of the old aeroplane factory.
– Last June we got more rain here than anywhere else in Finland, says 22-year old Riku Nurkkala, construction worker, as he is standing high up on the ninth floor roof of a residential building under construction.
Nurkkala insists that he wouldn’t change his work for anything else – regardless of the weather.
– I like physical work out-of-doors. Construction work is nice because every day is different.
A couple of years ago Nurkkala completed his vocational education under the 2+1 coaching model of Skanska. He had originally come to the Skanska construction site for a two-week work practice period as part of his school curriculum. Then he came back to work for the summer.
– At that time I was studying for the basic examination in construction at the vocational college of Valkeakoski. After the work practice period and summer job I was selected to participate in the 2+1 coaching. My study protocol changed into on-the-job training, and I went back to school only to do my practical demonstration tests.
Nurkkala feels that the 2+1 model is definitely the best way to learn a trade.
– I was able to do things with my hands, and especially things that were required for the practical demonstration tests. That isn’t possible at all work sites. And I learned things from my workmates that I would never have learned at school. But of course it was super that I started to earn money more quickly too.
The old professionals pass down tacit knowledge
The 2+1 coaching model used at Skanska construction sites was developed a few years ago when it became apparent that important skills would disappear as the old professionals retire.
– We also noted that young people studying for the construction sector tend to discontinue their studies – as many as 50% had dropped out of some vocational institutes. We started to think of ways to recruit new skilled people to replace old ones who were retiring, says Kirsi Mettälä, personnel manager at Skanska.
The 2+1 coaching model used at Skanska is a modern version of the old master-apprentice way of learning a trade. A young person studying construction work is taught and guided by an experienced worker.
– Studies in a vocational institute usually take three years. In the 2+1 model, theoretical studies are covered during the first two years. Already in the third year the student can start working as an on-the-job trainee at our work site, Mettälä explains.
Motivated students are accepted for the coaching model. According to Mettälä, the student’s capacities and suitability for the on-the-job training contract are revealed during the school training period and during their summer job.
– The model requires the support of the vocational institute. The job is linked to the studies so that the employer will provide work tasks that are required for the practical demonstration tests. The employer also trains and appoints an experienced construction worker to act as a teacher and coach for the student.
The master-apprentice model has long traditions in the construction sector. The 2+1 coaching model is a modern version of it.
According to Mettälä, the model has proven its worth in just a few years, as cooperation between the generations has increased at workplaces.
– Young people adapt to work life easily. The practical skills and tacit knowledge of the old pros have been passed on to the newcomers. Also the work careers of the older men have been lengthened, as physically lighter work is available for them as coaches for the youngsters.
A coach needs teaching skills
The sun shines brightly, as 58-year-old Reijo Pääskynpää is standing next to a big crane. He is an old-timer whose job is also to coach students. Today he is working as foreman on the construction site of a residential building.
– I started construction work when I was 16. So I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. If I’m able, I’d like to continue working until the official retirement age (64.5 years).
In addition to his qualification as construction carpenter, Pääskynpää got special qualification in construction work when he was 40. At the same time he demonstrated his skills as a coach and mentor, so he is qualified to coach construction students.
– When I started as a young helping hand at a construction site, the more experienced men instructed me. So I have experience in many kinds of work guidance.
Pääskynpää says that coaching doesn’t suit everybody.
– A coach must have teaching skills: patience and calmness. If a student doesn’t catch on right away, it doesn’t get better if you scold and rush him. The worst outcome may be that the student won’t show up at work the next day. I myself have four children with whom I’ve been able to practise patience, Pääskynpää laughs.
As part of the 2+1 coaching method, Pääskynpää is in contact with the institute of the student he is coaching, so that he knows how his studies are progressing at school, and what kind of practical demonstration tests the student will have to pass. At the moment Pääskynpää doesn’t have anyone to coach, but a new student will start at the work site next week.
Riku Nurkkala tells how his own coach, and also the other older workers, taught him many tricks of the trade.
– I probably learned three times more here than at school, mostly by listening to the others and watching how they did things, Nurkkala says.
Even an old pro can learn from a young person
In the 2+1 model, the coach works in the same team as his trainee, but doesn’t stand next to him all the time.
– At times the student just observes how the work is done. Often he carries on with his own job and comes to ask for advice when necessary, Pääskynpää says.
Pääskynpää usually explains first how the work is done and why it’s done in a certain way.
– For instance, the order of doing things is important. It helps your own working, as well as that of the men who will do the next phase. I want to teach how to carry out tasks better and more efficiently.
Safety is most important. It’s the number one lesson that a coach teaches to the students at the work site.
– Safety regulations are taught at school, but the practical matters have to be learned at each work site. We explain safety practices first during our workplace orientation. Then I make sure that the student does his work safely, Pääskynpää says.
21-year-old Santtu Järvinen, who was Riku Nurkkala’s classmate in the vocational institute of Valkeakoski, says that he has learned everything about building from his coach Reijo Pääskynpää.
– At school we could build something from wood, for example small garbage shelters. We weren’t taught anything about the construction of high-rise residential buildings. Here Reijo taught us how concrete is used to build big buildings.
Pääskynpää remembers that he in turn got help from Santtu Järvinen in his work.
– You see, I’ve got problems with my knees, so I can’t do anything where I have to be on my knees. For example, the assembling of wall elements includes some phases that are really hard for me. We agreed with Santtu that he does the tasks close to the floor that require kneeling, and I do the things that can be done standing up.
Pääskynpää is glad that the students have new fresh ways of looking at things.
– It’s good that the students call into question some work procedures: they want to know why something is done like this and not like that. It gets you thinking that something might in fact be done differently, and not always the same old way.
”Many older workers are worried that their work capacity isn’t the same as before.”
Support throughout the entire work career
The 2+1 model is part of our age management programme, which includes many other things as well. Personnel manager Kirsi Mettälä says that age management cannot apply only to young people and those about to retire.
– I would rather talk about how people are managed during different phases of their work career. Here at Skanska we readily offer support and flexible work solutions to our employees at different stages in their life: during the busy mid-life years, during sickness, when family members fall ill, and so on.
According to Mettälä, this kind of flexibility is worthwhile.
– When employees appreciate their work and commit to the workplace, the payback to the company is manifold.
Musculoskeletal diseases are the greatest cause of work disability in the construction sector. Mettälä knows that many workers get problems in their shoulders and knees already around the age of 40.
– At Skanska we try to prevent problems that lower work ability, and we tackle them as soon as possible. We apply the model of early intervention.
Mettälä explains that if an employee is noted to have more or longer sick leaves, a meeting is arranged between the employee, his supervisor, and a representative of the health service. Together they try to think of positive ways how best to help and support the employee.
– Our coping-at-work toolbox contains many different possibilities. The work can be adapted to suit the employee, so that it is lighter, for instance. Also, rehabilitation or retraining can be provided, and various work trials can be tested.
Especially during the last years before retirement, a model of in-depth discussion between the employee and his supervisor is applied at Skanska. Together they go over carefully the employee’s health status, job description, hopes and plans, possibilities to change or lighten the work, etc.
– Many older employees are worried that their work capacity is not the same as before. It is important for an older worker to hear his supervisor say that he is an important player and that his work is appreciated and valued. Based on the in-depth discussions, we attempt to make changes in the work so that the employee can keep working until retirement age.
According to Mettälä, the workers are usually able to work right until their official old-age pension begins (64.5 years).
– And that’s not very common in the construction sector. Also the average age of persons who retire due to work disability is quite high, 57 years.
A broader look at good management
According to Mervi Ruokolainen, researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the concept of age management may in fact be too narrow if it mainly emphasizes differences between the age groups.
– In other words, if it leads to prejudice and segregation between different-aged employees. One common view may be that older people can’t keep up with developments in information technology. This isn’t true of course. They learn just like everyone else, when they are given sufficient time, and when the benefits of new technology and new methods are explained and justified to them.
– Age must not be the only criterion for how employees are treated. It is of paramount importance for enterprises to discuss more thoroughly how they manage their personnel, and how they promote the well-being of their employees throughout their work life.
The concept of age management is being up-dated at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health to cover overall work career management. The key words of good work career management are fairness and individual-centred thinking.
– When people of all ages are recruited and respected at the workplace, and opportunities for maintaining and improving work ability and professional know-how are available for everyone, this builds trust. Problems arise if only younger employees are promoted or offered training opportunities – or correspondingly, only older and more experienced employees.
Developing good management needs a lot of planning and hard work. According to Ruokolainen, a carefully planned personnel strategy is needed. It has to be formulated by the top management and supported at each level of the organization.
– But great responsibility is still left to the supervisors. Persons in a supervisory position should understand that in addition to age, the different phases and expectations during a person’s career, as well as the factors affecting them, need to be taken into account. Special knowledge, and perhaps additional training may be needed to understand this fully.
”Still 20 years ago it was harder for young people to come to a work site. They weren’t instructed properly, and if they were, the instructions were often bad on purpose.”
Expectations are personal
What kinds of expectations do employees have? International research has shown that people’s expectations at different stages of their work careers may be quite different.
– At the beginning of their work career, people’s wishes tend to be related to professional training and career advancement. People look for versatility and opportunities to broaden their know-how.
At a later stage of their career, people have more expectations related to job security.
– People usually wish that they could continue to utilize their know-how at work, and that their expertise would be appreciated – they don’t want to feel useless. The fear of losing one’s job is another concern.
Knowledge of people’s most common expectations provides guidelines for management. In addition, Ruokolainen feels that it is important to treat employees as individuals: in other words, what is each person’s own expertise area, his or her life situation, personal resources, and what kind of support he or she needs at a particular time.
– Organizations should focus on well planned individual work career management, because it enhances an employee’s trust in his own capabilities and strengthens his ability to cope with changes and setbacks.
An employee who is motivated and strongly committed to his work contributes more to his or her work, and the employer also benefits from this.
– When employees are motivated to continue working until the official retirement age, this may bring savings to the organization by reducing costs incurred by premature retirement or expenses due to work disability.
A long work career can be supported by providing training and career advancement opportunities, but also by flexible working times, teleworking possibilities, and adapting work tasks to suit the employee’s work capacity. These measures help to maintain work ability, and also support the working of persons with partial work ability.
– In-depth discussions between an employee and his or her supervisor are a good starting point when the employer is genuinely interested in supporting an employee as an individual.
Building a positive team spirit at work and supporting young employees to commit to their workplace and their work community also help to lengthen work careers.
– Orienting a young employee to the workplace and providing thorough work guidance has a huge impact on launching a young person on a positive work career. For older employees, the meaningfulness of work can be enhanced by providing an opportunity to participate in the work guidance or mentoring of young employees.
The team welcomes you
The employees at the Härmälänranta construction site are having a coffee break. They are of different ages, men and women. At first the room is quiet, every other person is fingering a mobile phone, but soon they start joking and laughing and teasing each other.
– Look, the youngsters are already getting a sore neck because they are in the social media, jokes safety specialist Heikki Qvick. He is the initiator of the 2+1 model. As an employees’ trustee, he noticed years ago how tacit knowledge was disappearing as the older generation was retiring, and young workers were difficult to recruit. Together with the Valkeakoski Vocational Institute and other collaboration partners he started to develop the idea of a coaching model for workplaces.
Qvick tells that during coffee breaks the younger men are teased, but in a good-humoured way. In the old days the goings-on were much rougher. One of the older men describes how he was once lifted up against the wall, as a nasty joke, when he was a newcomer.
– Still 20 years ago it was harder for young persons to come to the work site. They weren’t given any instruction, and if they were, the instructions were often bad on purpose.
The times have changed, Qvick says, and now the spirit at the work site is good. At some other sites old ways may still linger, however. Riku Nurkkala has noticed that some students aren’t eager to come to construction sites. For instance, there has hardly been a crowd applying for the 2+1 coaching.
– One concern of many students is how to get along with adults. But my experience is that I get along really well with the men here because we work together every day, says Nurkkala.
Reijo Pääskynpää thinks that it might be a good idea to have construction workers go to the school and talk to the students and tell them that it’s not so bad to have a go at work life.
– At the work site I always go over to the young workers and chat with them, so they won’t feel like outsiders.
There is unanimous agreement in the coffee room that young workmates are warmly welcome.
– We all realize that the views and ideas of different-aged people enrich the work community. There’s no point in putting just young persons in the same team, or just older people in their own groups, Pääskynpää sums up.
The mentoring continues
Thus far, 12 young people who enrolled in the Skanska 2+1 coaching programme have completed their basic training in construction. Their coaches were six experienced construction workers. Two years ago Nurkkala and Järvinen got their basic certification in construction. They then completed their military service, and afterwards came back to work at Skanska.
– We are now equal workmates with Pääskynpää, but I still go to him for advice, if and when I need it, Järvinen says.
Pääskynpää thinks it’s good that working as a pair doesn’t necessarily stop after the student’s training is over.
– Even later on young workers encounter many situations where they have to learn new things. For instance, at other work sites surprisingly different situations can come up. Mentoring, at least for me, continues long after the young person has graduated, says Pääskynpää.
New students are taken continually into the coaching programme at Skanska. The aim is to extend the use of the method from the Tampere region to other regions too.
– We are developing the coaching model further, and we are looking for collaboration agreements with other vocational institutes, says personnel manager Kirsi Mettälä.
Skanska has started to collaborate also with the Varia Vocational Institute at Vantaa.
– Our aim is to get new students from there for work practice at Skanska. In the spring we will also get the first work trainees from the new hospital of Kainuu, who are studying at the Kajaani Vocational Institute. Individuals who are suitable for the coaching programme will be selected from the students coming for their two-week work training session, and they will start their training at Skanska in the autumn.
Mettälä stresses that cooperation between the institute and the collaboration partners is vitally important. Responsibilities must be clearly defined for everyone.
– It is essential that we have a common goal. The young people will get their certificate and they will become tax-paying citizens. Enterprises will get skilful workers. The schools benefit because fewer young people will drop out.
In 2017 the Working Life Prize of Sitra, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, and the Finnish Work Environment Fund was awarded to the 2+1 coaching model. This prize is awarded to workplaces that have promoted life-long learning, improving know-how, supporting coping at work and, consequently, longer work careers.
– In future, we will we will use this prize money to give scholarships yearly to young construction workers who train via the Skanska 2+1 coaching programme.
- Source: Jukka Vuori, Marjo Wallin & Kaisa Kirves: (A field intervention study in 17 organizations) Työn imua uran seniorivaiheeseen. Kenttäkokeellinen interventiotutkimus 17 työorganisaatiossa. Helsinki: the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health 2017.