FINLAND: VET college building family houses for real customers
Construction students have diverse learning environments where they can practice construction skills. In their 1st year, they build smaller constructions such as playhouses, saunas or sheds; in their 2nd year, they build family houses for real customers on our school construction sites; and in their 3rd year, they move to work-based learning in companies.
Luksia, Municipal Education and Training Consortium in Western Uusimaa, Finland
What problem or issue has the innovative practice aimed to tackle?
Most of the Finnish national qualification requirements in the initial vocational qualification in construction cannot be taught in a class-room or in theory, but they have to be learnt by doing in practice. In our VET college Luksia, first year construction students work on smaller constructions in our school workshop area (children’s playhouses, saunas, sheds).
In the second year, they go to our school construction sites where family houses are built on municipal plots and, after they are finished, sold to real customers. The house building sites also have classroom containers where the necessary theory can be taught.
In their third year, construction students move to work-based learning outside the school in workplaces either with an apprenticeship agreement (when real salary is paid, according to the agreements) or with a training agreement (unpaid). This is called 2+1 model, where two years are school-based, and one year is work-based learning.
One of the reasons for organising learning in this way in the construction field is that school construction sites are cheaper to maintain than the infrastructure at school. If all the students would be on the school premises during their first two years of education, we would need more space. As the family houses are sold after they are finished, most costs related to the buildings can be recuperated afterwards.
What have been the achievements?
The benefit of having school construction sites is that certain units of the qualification, e.g. foundation work (25 credits) can only be learnt in real working life circumstances. School construction sites, although owned by Luksia, correspond to real work environments outside the school. Also, competence demonstrations, used for VET students’ evaluation in Finland, can be done on our school construction sites.
School-owned construction sites are important for not only learning about the professional content of how to build, but also gaining knowledge about the weather conditions and the different regulations that must be followed on all construction sites. All the same requirements apply in school construction sites as in workplaces outside the school: for example, the responsibility of the builder lasts for 10 years after finishing the building; occupational safety laws and regulations have to be strictly followed; students’ tax numbers on the construction site have to be registered, and so on.
Students will learn to plan their work in stages so that weather conditions will not obstruct their work. For example, in Finland it is important to build the roof and walls fast, so that the building can be heated as soon as possible. It is also valuable to learn how different professions collaborate on the construction site: first earthmover operators start the foundational work, then builders come, plumbers and electricians continue, and painters and interior decoration students finish the work. Students have to learn teamwork; no-one works alone.
These kinds of construction sites are not new in Finland and Luksia has had them for at least the last 20+ years. Luksia has the building plot for seven years, and usually it takes 3-5 years to finish one house. The house buyer will then either buy the plot or rent it from the municipality.
Digital learning methods are also used in the construction field nowadays. All theory material is now on our Moodle learning platform and the materials/courses are shared and co-developed by all construction teachers.
The school construction sites have also enabled us to host international builder students for Erasmus+ mobility periods in Finland. Due to strict safety and migration regulations, it would be difficult to find placements for Erasmus+ students in construction sites outside the school.
Achievements regarding the development of our staff include the possibility for teachers to have job rotation: one year, the teacher can be responsible for the school workshop (1st year students); in another year, they might focus on the school construction sites (2nd year students), or work more closely with the companies outside the school (3rd year students).
Teachers can also organise their work autonomously and collaboratively, also with teachers in other fields of study (electricians, plumbers, painters etc).
Who was involved and how?
The managing director of Luksia discusses with the municipalities about the plots for the houses.
The education manager plans the budget and teaching accordingly.
Vocational teachers manage the learning process.
Special vocational craftsmen take care of the competitive bidding and ordering of goods for the buildings.
The coordinator for international affairs arranges the logistics and preparation for the incoming Erasmus+ students practicing on the construction sites.