Expert article
Modifier 04 March 2020
by Gabriel Amitsis

Live from the Growth and Social Investments Pacts Project! An interview with the City of Vantaa Mayor Ritva Viljanen

Innovative ways to promote local jobs and skills agendas
Welcome to Vantaa!
The City of Vantaa Mayor is now serving her first term. Ritva Viljanen talks about “Jobs and skills in the local economy” and reinforces the commitment of European city leaders to sustainable inclusive growth.

Vantaa is the fourth biggest city in Finland with about 233,000 inhabitants. It was founded in 1974, and forms part of the metropolitan area of the Helsinki capital.

Ritva Viljanen is the Mayor of Vantaa since 2018. Before the current post, Mrs Viljanen has worked as the Deputy Mayor of Helsinki and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior (2003–2012) and the Director General of the Population Register Centre (1997–2003). Prior to that she held various offices at the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior. 

 European city leaders reinforce their commitment to sustainable inclusive growth

Ritva Viljanen, City of Vantaa Mayor


An interview with the City of Vantaa Mayor Ritva Viljanen

Although well-functioning labour markets place Finland in a very good position in the international division of work and competition, unemployment, under-qualification and under-skilling are still hotly debated issues. How are these risks addressed nowadays in a rather prosperous country?

The targets set by the Government for promoting employment and vitality in Finland are high. The fast paced changes of the job market force us to find fresh solutions. In service production, different ecosystem models are becoming more common. Finland operates strongly within the framework of the Act No. 609/1986 on Equality between Women and Men. The purpose of this law is to promote equality and prevent discrimination and to enhance the legal protection of victims of discrimination. In order to raise the level of competence, the Government’s program includes a reform of continuous learning, which includes the provision and financing of education; and the income support during the studies. The outline of the reform will be completed by the end of 2020. Implementation of the reform will continue over the government term.

It is well known that Finnish municipalities have a strong social impact and, compared to the average European local governance framework, an exceptionally wide range of functions. What instruments may a city, like Vantaa, use to develop its own jobs and skills agendas? 

The search for solutions through systematic strategy work has begun in Vantaa: various projects are developing solutions for promoting the skills and employment of immigrants, the long-term unemployed, youth and part-time workers. In Vantaa, organizational reform also supports the development of necessary measures, as the new operating model promotes cross-sectional cooperation processes within the city and between different actors. It is essential to combine in our services the provision and maintenance of a skilled workforce with the support of business conditions. This is what the Growth and Social Investments Pacts (GSIP) Project is testing now.

The GSIP Project is a municipal programme funded by the EU Urban Innovative Actions Initiative to support the financial and social sustainability of our city through the provision of supporting services to medium-sized and big local companies, which focus either on human intensive and routinely operated industrial sectors or on the IT sector. It will design and apply a solid GSIP-model to help companies’ growth and competitiveness, and improve low-educated employees’ and unemployed persons’ capabilities for life-long learning and further education.

You have been appointed Mayor of Vantaa in 2018. What key challenges for the City of Vantaa have you identified during your term?

There are surely many challenges in a growing city. It means growing investments and ability to foresee the developments. Related to the scope of the GSIP Project, at the moment, the national legislation concerning the municipal responsibilities related to employment services is under revision and we wait for the parliament’s decision on it. It seems that the municipalities will take an even larger role in employment and business service areas, which means of course pressure on the budgeting, capacity building of our employees and so on.

Vantaa forms part of the metropolitan area of the Helsinki capital and is one of the 26 municipalities within the Helsinki-Uusimaa Region, the most “innovative” Region in the EU. But do you think that technological innovation is linked to social cohesion and progress?  

Yes, I believe so. Technology solutions can help build a better service network. We have a lot of good services, but unfortunately they often work in isolation and may not be found by residents. When technology supports the provision of services, it is extremely important to take into account the development of the necessary digital and language skills for the residents. Technology can also be used to study the situation in different areas of the city in a deeper and more comprehensive way by combining different databases. This new knowledge also helps to focus and direct service delivery in a more tailored way to support social cohesion.

How many unemployed people or low skilled workers live in Vantaa? Do you feel that they face great risks of poverty and social exclusion?

The unemployment rate in Vantaa is 9.0% (data for January 2020). About 32% of the workforce living in Vantaa has low skills and education. As a city, we want to help support every citizen to overcome his or her own challenges and be part of our city ecosystem.

Social isolation is a recognized issue in Finland and Vantaa. That is why the different channels, tools and collaboration to reach individuals and families are so important.

What kind of services is available to these categories at the City level? Could you mention some recent developments in this sector?

[EK1] During this term, for example, we have launched a so called Positive Discrimination Programme in the city, aimed at preventing segregation and inequality between urban areas and groups of people. We have dozens of measures under way to complement our services and prevent social exclusion. Of course, these alone are not enough, and we also work closely with third sector players to reach diverse groups. The third sector is an invaluable support and resource for us in this very area.

I realize that the GSIP Project forms one of the main instruments to promote the City of Vantaa jobs and skills agenda using a labour market innovation discourse that interrelates innovation with inclusive business growth. But is the Project linked to the overall City of Vantaa Strategy or is just an experimentation process supported by EU funding?

The GSIP Project seeks innovative solutions to the wicked challenges facing our region. The targets of raising the skill level of the workforce and supporting the business environment are straight from the Vantaa’s strategy. As an EU financial instrument, the UIA Initiative enables us to build solutions with key stakeholders in our region. It is clear that the challenges facing our region need to be addressed through networking, backed up by the necessary digital and technological solutions. Preparations for 2022 must begin already this year. In the light of the Project's recommendations, lessons and information, it is easier to prepare future years than without this knowledge.

What was the policy rationale behind this Project? Have you copied or borrowed ideas from other cities?

The Project reflects the City of Vantaa key policy decision to develop a new, innovative and exceptional service and incentive model (Growth and Social Investments Pacts - GSIPs) in order to promote growth and competitiveness of local companies; and to improve level of education of workforce and offer better training possibilities for low-skilled employees, employees with outdated skills and unemployed persons. In this context, we are always looking for solutions that meet the needs of the Vantaa region and the municipalities. Of course, we are also interested in what is being done elsewhere, so that the solutions to be developed are also better aligned at European level

The GSIP Project confirms the advantages of sharing a collaborative culture between (and within) different partners, which include the academia, the social partners and the market. Are pluralistic and cooperation agendas a key condition to sustainable inclusive growth at the local level?

Yes they are. When different stakeholders find real added value of the cooperation, it becomes meaningful. Various collaborative agreements provide a framework for sustainable growth within which each stakeholder organization can easily operate through its own strategy. However, agreements do not yet guarantee effective cooperation. Therefore, it is essential to manage and coordinate the regional network and to prepare for the necessary changes at the organizational level that will result from cooperation.

How can interested local leaders and stakeholders in and outside Finland learn about the progress of the GSIP Project?

We welcome everyone interested in to visit Vantaa. For international guests, the tip is that the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is right in the heart of Vantaa, so it's easy to make a day trip. We will reinforce our communications dimension to English-language material production as well, our website will be translated into English during the spring and we will produce 'knowledge reports' which will be electronically readable from the project pages. We also got a very professional and committed UIA Expert, Professor Gabriel Amitsis, whose written output showcase us to Europe. We will hold two mini-seminars on the Project's progress, lessons and observations in Finnish this year.

Last but not least. If you were to receive a 5 million euros grant for the social agenda of the city, what would you do with it and why?

What a great grant! I would use the money in a new project that would allow the residents of Vantaa to decide through participatory budgeting process how the money would be spent on the measures that prevent social exclusion and unemployment. The residents have the best knowledge of their various situations and may invent better solutions than any public officer.