The consideration of responsibility requirements is no longer optional for companies; stakeholders expect them to demonstrate responsibility. The EU’s due diligence obligation further expands the requirements placed on companies, leading the Confederation of Finnish Industries (CFI) to describe it as a tsunami of responsibility regulation engulfing the business field.
While many regulatory initiatives related to responsibility are still in the preparation phase or have not yet been extended to SMEs, several companies have proactively started preparing for these changes. This proactive stance is evident through open job positions and the increasing number of consulting firms specializing in responsibility.
The key regulatory measures for responsibility include the taxonomy, which mandates reporting on climate impacts, and sustainability reporting, which requires companies to publish a corporate responsibility report (ESG) as part of their annual reports. Additionally, the corporate responsibility law aims to oblige companies to ensure the sustainability of their subcontractors (CFI, 2023; 6).
Crucial role in educating future professionals
In Finland, universities of applied sciences have close interactions with SMEs. They are expected to provide not only business-oriented service models but also support the development of workforce skills and create growth opportunities in the labor market and industry. As a result, universities of applied sciences must prepare for the increasing demand for responsible expertise.
The Ministry of Education and Culture has emphasized the goals of higher education institutions in striving for carbon neutrality and promoting the circular economy, as emerging technologies require a competent workforce. According to the ministry, higher education institutions play a crucial role in educating professionals and driving solutions (Finnish Government, 2021; 90).
While meeting the immediate need poses a challenge, it is not insurmountable. Each year, approximately 30,000 new professionals graduate from universities of applied sciences and enter the job market (Arenery 2020), with an increasing number of them having studied responsibility-related topics. As demand grows, so does the pool of qualified individuals.
Simultaneously, university personnel are proactively educating themselves in the field of responsibility. This is evident from the increased interest in webinars on the subject and a surge in sustainable development projects. Plans are even underway for projects where universities of applied sciences can share their expertise in life cycle assessment and responsibility with each other.
Transformation demands collaboration
The transformation toward responsibility and expertise extends beyond individual sectors and encompasses society as a whole. In this regard, universities of applied sciences face the same challenges as the business world. How can the identified skills gap be filled when regulations are still evolving and the required standards remain uncertain?
Understanding complex systems and connections requires multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Educating the next generation of responsibility experts also requires university staff to embrace continuous learning—a quality that has always been inherent in universities of applied sciences.
Teaching life cycle assessment, carbon footprint calculation, and topics related to ESG demands expertise in evolving areas. The most effective way to train staff is by leveraging the entire network of universities of applied sciences, ensuring that sector-specific knowledge spreads widely across different institutions.
Hence, ecosystems like the Circular Economy Academy, Circular Economy Finland, and other project-based networks will play a crucial role in disseminating responsibility expertise and offering solutions to companies. Simultaneously, they will support Finland’s ambitious goals for a sustainable and environmentally friendly transition.
The Rectors’ Conference of Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences. Arene ry. 2020. Kestävä, vastuullinen ja hiilineutraali ammattikorkeakoulu: Ammattikorkeakoulujen kestävän kehityksen ja vastuullisuuden ohjelma. Ammattikorkeakoulujen rehtorineuvosto Arene ry. Helsinki.
Conference of Finnish Industries. 2023. Vastuullisuuden EU-sääntely etenee – mihin pk-yritysten on varauduttava? Conference of Finnish Industries. Helsinki.
Finnish Government. 2021. Valtioneuvoston julkaisuja 2021:24. Valtioneuvoston koulutuspoliittinen selonteko. Finnish Government. Helsinki.