Suffering from financial difficulties, the municipality of Hämeenkyrö found its salvation in Tekes' Liideri programme to develop business operations, productivity and the joy of work. The training to renew working methods and the subsequent completion of a specialist vocational qualification got the employees' creative juices flowing.
When Antero Alenius started his work as the municipal manager of Hämeenkyrö in 2011, the expenditure of the municipality was increasing at an unreasonable rate. Not even temporary lay-offs could sufficiently alleviate the situation.
The solution was found in Tekes' Liideri, a programme designed to renew work and working methods by allowing employees to take part in the operational planning of the municipality's finances. In the project, the employees were inspired to use their own ideas to improve their work.
"We were looking for means to permanently enhance the skills of our employees while making our services even more customer-oriented," says Alenius.
The Tekes programme provided an excellent starting point for the change, but a more permanent impact was achieved through apprenticeships. In 2014, the first 30 municipal employees with their various areas of expertise started an 18-month specialist vocational qualification of a service product developer.
More and better with the same resources
According to Alenius, taking part in the training required some convincing at first, but when the benefits of the training started to shine through in everyday operations, the number of participants increased. This autumn, the third group will start its studies. As with the previous groups, this will also contain all types of employees from executives to other staff.
"Involving employees in operations usually means asking for ideas and proposals. Now, the employees taking part in the training have been given development tasks related to their work and told to experiment and see what they can come up with."
The changes brought about by the process have improved the services of Hämeenkyrö, stopped the growth of production costs and achieved more through the same old resources. The implemented digital tools, for instance, allow employees to work faster, saving time for not only routines but much more.
"Retaining the increase of expenditure at less than 1% has been correcting our operational economy for the past four years," says Alenius.
How to make the best of out of what you have
The specialist vocational qualification of a service product developer, provided by training company Tamora Oy, was completed as an apprenticeship.
"At first, the focus of the qualification was in product development, but now, it emphasises the development of services. The studies were very motivating as all the activities were strongly related to the development of your own work and working methods. For example, we discussed what the shift in working life meant for us, what it requires and how to make the best out of what you have," says municipal health nurse Outi Koskinen who started the qualification process in the second group in January 2016.
"Be bold and don't hold back"
The projects provided a tangible opportunity to renew one's work.
According to Koskinen, the training provided by Tamora Oy has benefited the entire work community.
Koskinen started to think of ways to more efficiently reach the secondary pupils and upper secondary school students she works with. She developed an idea of a virtual appointment where pupils and students could ask her questions on Snapchat and Periscope. She also organised health-related contests and sleeping and exercise challenges for pupils and students through Facebook and Snapchat.
"The training helped me to understand that it's important to be bold in your work and to make yourself and your services visible. The kids have been very receptive to my services and have participated actively. There are also a lot of questions as social media makes it easier to ask them. The kids have asked me what to do if a dog bites them or if they forget to take their contraceptive pill, and so on."
Koskinen feels new inspiration towards her work and sees training as an excellent experience to both herself and the entire work community.
"A common issue in the work community has been that if someone requests work-related changes, people feel they are being criticised. The training has enabled us to discuss things more openly and help each other see work-related matters from new perspectives."
Text: Anna Väre Photograph: Antero Alanius