FITech to tackle tech expert shortage straight away

Aalto is coordinating a new cooperative university education venture for the technology sector called FITech, which is to start immediately providing support for industrial growth in Southwest Finland.
Illustration: Lotta Fors.

An influx of orders for cruise ships has created a positive problem for the Meyer Turku shipyard: the business now creates employment for some 7,000, but the number of people required is set to almost triple in just a few years.

“By the beginning of the 2020s, our employment-creating effect will extend to 20,000 people, including a lot of people with university-level degrees,” says Meyer Turku design director and executive team member Jarno Soinila.

Meyer is the most visible, but far from the only example of the industrial growth and related need for talent that is affecting the Southwest. FITech, a cooperative university venture for the technology sector, targets this positive structural change, and its launch is being coordinated by Aalto University.

The purpose of this venture is to provide more tech experts with university-level degrees for Southwest Finland. The goal is for some 400-450 people with a Master’s degree in engineering to locate to the region each year by the closing stages of the venture.

The training options offered by FITech have the aim of attracting especially technology students who are from the region, but studying at universities in other parts of the country. On the other hand, tech students as well as students of maths, physics and chemistry from the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi are being offered separate admission to study at other tech-sector universities.

Quantity and quality are both required

Soinila expects FITech to supply more high-quality job applicants for the maritime industry.

“Volume’s no good unless the quality is there as well.”

Soinila says the Turku shipyard is now building “floating intelligent cities” that incorporate extravagant hotels, entertainment options, restaurants, shops and advanced technology such as internal power plants, water purification units and waste treatment facilities. This calls for a very diverse range of competencies.

“We need every possible kind of engineer you can imagine: different types of shipbuilders, experts in interior decoration, materials, automation and water chemical processes. Then there’s the specialists in logistics, procurement, management and information systems – it’s really hard to say what we don’t need,” Soinila lists.

University cooperation is nothing new for Meyer, where it exists in many shapes from student group visits to summer jobs, support for thesis projects and in-depth research collaboration.
“Research collaboration has been very important for us. With Aalto in particular, but also with other universities. It has yielded unique results with respect to, among other things, the structural form of cruise ships, and we’ve been able to exploit these results in practice as well,” says Soinila.

Flying start

Sisko Hellgren, who is responsible for the FITech launch project at Aalto, herself holds a doctorate in marine technology.

“This is a bit of a flying start, as we wanted to get going quickly. What kinds of degrees this cooperation will result in will be specified once things start moving forward,” Hellgren says.

To begin with, companies in Southwest Finland were surveyed about their competence requirements, and the university cooperation network will aim to meet precisely these needs. A joint workshop, which will aim to further specify these competence areas, will also be arranged in the autumn for the participating universities and companies.

“At first, we’ll offer theses subjects that were raised in the company survey to students, whose studies are at that stage. The offering of courses related to the highlighted themes will commence gradually. Applications are already open in Lappeenranta, for example, and the first course will begin in October, while the other universities are to get in during the spring semester,” Hellgren says.

Retraining and upgrading qualifications, doctoral thesis subjects

The university cooperation network will also arrange supplemental education and retraining for holders of Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in engineering, in addition to which it will offer doctoral candidates research subjects, which are linked to the growth of companies in Southwest Finland.

An essential goal of the venture is to boost the attractiveness of academic engineering training. The participating universities are communicating actively about available opportunities in the technology sector and related education options to young people with a particular emphasis on girls.

“Communication is very important: we must succeed in telling people what it’s like here and what kinds of opportunities are on offer,” Meyer’s Soinila underlines.

 

What is FITech?

•    The Finnish Institute of Technology, a cooperative university education venture for the tech sector. Seven universities have signed a letter of intent to establish a university network.
•    The university network’s participants are Aalto University, Lappeenranta University of Technology, University of Oulu, Tampere University of Technology, University of Turku, University of Vaasa and Åbo Akademi.
•    The other founding member organisations are Technology Industries of Finland and the Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland TEK.
•    Prior to the official establishment, the cooperation is being coordinated by Aalto University.
•    The Government has allocated €12m for this cooperation in the period 2017–21. In addition, the participating universities have pledged to fund activities.

Text: Heidi Hammarsten. Illustration: Lotta Fors.

This article is originally published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 20, October 2017. (issuu.com)

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