In Finland, the UoF igniting event was held at Aalto University Design Factory on March 3rd, 2019. The event, titled Joining Forces Across Sectors, focused on cross-sectoral collaboration through the lenses of education and learning. The theme of cross-sectoral collaboration was highlighted as one of the most important success factors by interviewees of several of the benchmarks done for the Best Practices in Education for Industry 4.0 report. In the best practices, cross-sectoral collaboration was seen as a means to reach better learning outcomes and to stay relevant in a fast-changing world. These findings provided a fruitful basis for the igniting event.

The purpose of the event was to inspire the participants and the organisers alike to think about their own role in cross-sectoral collaboration: what kinds of initiatives they might be able to participate in – or even initiate?

The program started with a keynote by Professor of Technology Education Maria Clavert. She set the tone for the event by introducing the concept of Industry 4.0 and its impact on education. After the keynote, the stage was given to five panelists: Leena Pöntynen (Technology Industries of Finland / public bodies), Petri Vuorimaa (Finnish Institute of Technology / HEIs), Jouni Kaplas (Futurice / industry), Noora Vänttinen (Aalto University / students), and Wycliffe Raduma (Pexraytech / HEIs and industry). The discussion flowed from key success factors in education, to skills needed in future work, to benefits of cross-sectoral collaboration. In case of intereste, you can find the video on the panel discussion here

The panelists had similar ideas on key success factors, everyone agreed on the importance of collaboration skills, having a common language, and having common goals. It was also generally agreed, that while tech skills are very important, they evolve fast: something learned when starting studying might be irrelevant by the time of graduation. This highlights the importance of soft skills, like communication, empathy, and the ability to learn. Panelist Noora Vänttinen, a student at Aalto, noted understanding of the social impact of one’s own discipline as an important learning goal that is not currently given enough attention. As benefits of cross-sectoral collaboration, the panelists named learning from each other and providing students with opportunities to learn about working life. Jouni Kaplas from Futurice, a digital consultancy, added that cross-sectoral collaboration is needed to attract talent to Finland.

The panel discussion ended with thought-provoking questions from the audience, who asked about solutions for lifelong learning and concrete ways to increase cross-sectoral collaboration. According to prof. Petri Vuorimaa, the whole environment is changing. He thinks that the role of universities should be more than to just give a degree, it should be to help with one’s whole career. Wycliffe Raduma continued with a metaphor: “If you are sick you go to a doctor, but if you are a knowledge worker and need to develop professionally, you should be able to go to an academic institute for that. The role that universities have had traditionally, is a platform for creating new knowledge, and that’s more focused on scientific side. I would put that in the same category as a hospital, whose only purpose is to develop new medical practices, but not actually treat patients.”

Lifelong learning was regarded as being still in a very early stage in Finland, and several key questions are yet to be figured out. Leena Pöntynen highlighted the funding model as important: who is in need of continuous education and learning, and who will pay for that: companies, people themselves, or the society. According to her, we need to find new models. To the question of concrete ways to do cross-sectoral collaboration, the panelists could name a few successful examples, but mentioned, that implementing cross-sectoral collaboration on a large scale is still very much an abstract idea, and the exact reason why we are having discussions like this one.

After the panelists left the stage it was time for an interactive session. The participants were challenged to create their own way to engage in cross-sectoral collaboration to solve a given challenge drawn from the reports Industry 4.0 Implications for Higher Education Institutions and Best Practices in Education for Industry 4.0. After forty minutes of intensive work in cross-sectoral teams, it was time to hear what the participants had come up with. To tackle the lack of people with STEM skills, the participants suggested focussing on storytelling: bringing the message that technology can save the world to K12 education, and especially to young girls. For the need for soft skills, the participants came up with providing students opportunities to collaborate with companies, in order to learn how to collaborate, in other words learning by doing. The third group of participants tackled the challenge of a lack of diversity in tech and suggested mixing radically different groups. Tech companies could work with naturally diverse groups, like refugees, for the benefit of both groups.

The event provided an excellent opportunity to look at cross-sectoral collaboration through many lenses:  both the participants and the panellists represented students, industry, public bodies, and higher education institutions. The limited number of participants, 30, enabled a warm and welcoming atmosphere and created a space for active participation by the audience. The lively conversations sparked new ideas on workshop topics – and one of them is going to be used in the next set of events – the enabling events. We hope that the event created interest in joining other collaborative activities within the UoF project.

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