Growth through competence management

Project News

TEXT | Tuija Liljander 

One part of the Urban Growth in Vantaa project included in spring 2021 a coaching programme for competence management and development called ”Competencies for Growth” (OSKA for short) for Vantaa SMEs. Work on the programme was begun in 2020 to meet challenges experienced by companies as a result of technological changes, and it was first developed with partner companies.  OSKA was warmly welcomed by SMEs, and there was a clear need for coaching in competence management. Competence management and development were made transparent and actively developed processes with the support of an external coach. The commitment of both management and staff was considered crucial in order to create change. Close cooperation between the coaches ensured that the level of coaching remained high. 

Competence development increases resilience 

The Urban Growth in Vantaa project addresses challenges faced by businesses as a result of technological developments. One objective with the Growth Deal 3 of the project was to improve the resilience of companies and employees during times of change. Companies need new type of competence to meet changes in working life. To improve their resilience, a key element is to ensure sufficient competence and continuous learning. It was also considered important to develop the competences of supervisors and management to embark on building a systematic competence management model in companies. It was stated in the project that systematic identification, development and management of competence improves the resilience, renewal and success of the company and its employees. (Liljander, 2020.) 

The purpose of the OSKA programme was to achieve systematic competence management and to create an enthusiasm for continuous learning. 

The project created the Competencies for Growth! (OSKA) programme to improve competence management in companies. The purpose of OSKA programme was to create new ideas and operating models for companies to improve competence management and the continuous development of competence, to create better conditions for growth, and to motivate staff for continuous learning. The programme was planned and implemented to different staff groups on the basis of company size, needs and targets. The content of the programme was tailored on the basis of competence management and development themes, chosen according to the company’s target group. Coaching was applied during times of change, for example, when it was necessary to develop the work community’s competences. 

The coaching targets were: 

  • To increase understanding on how and why competence should be managed 
  • To identify what kind of competence the company needs now and in the future 
  • To develop, as necessary, basic training, recruiting or development discussions, for example 
  • To jointly create a plan for staff competence development 
  • To find suitable competence development methods for each company 
  • To create practices for the continuous learning of the staff. 

The coaching programme consisted of a kick-off, coaching meetings (online or live for a total of at least eight hours) and feedback discussion. The coaching meetings could also be coupled with an online escape game built during the project, based on a suitable theme on competence development. The purpose of the escape game was to encourage the participants to ponder on the strengths of their work community and on competence development and interaction. 

A total of more than 200 participants from 22 companies in Vantaa took part in the programme. Themes that were discussed included strategy-oriented competence management and the identification and definition of competence needs. Competence needs were discussed in terms of, for example, change situations, the future, requirements for the company’s basic processes, and introduction of technologies. Identification of competence and strengths and management through them was another theme that emerged. Competence development plans and their active implementation was also worked on. Under the theme of competence management, there were substance themes and also general working life skills, customer-orientation, self-management and difficult situations with customers. Other themes included success/target discussions and better utilisation of the company’s resources to improve productivity and growth. 

Commitment to competence management and development a must 

It was at first somewhat difficult for companies to get to grips with the Companies for Growth! programme, but once implemented, it was warmly welcomed. Companies do not always see competence management as part of management, and it is therefore not given enough emphasis (Osaamisen johtaminen kannattaa. Osaamisen johtamisen käsikirja, 2015). The need for competence management and development was obvious in companies. In the OSKA process, competence management and development were made transparent and actively developed processes. OSKA helped companies identify their challenges and to adapt their operating practices. During coaching, it was realised that companies need the support of an external coach  to help with the internal dialogue and the creation of a systematic competence development model. When coaching progresses towards set goals with the support of a neutral coach, results will be achieved. 

Coaching must be tailored in order to focus on the company’s targets and challenges and to take account of the company’s skill set. The crucial aspect is to make both the management group and staff committed. Real change cannot take place without the management’s commitment. On the other hand, the entire staff must have an idea of what their future competence needs are and how they can develop their competences. As a by-product of the coaching, the participants learned digital skills and methods. 

Online escape game experience OYAB provided inspiration to seek strengths 

The online escape game OYAB was developed during the project to encourage the work community to consider their strengths and competence development, and to improve their interaction and communication skills. The escape game evoked a range of opinions and feelings in the companies (Figure 1). It was considered a fresh and concrete way to make people enthusiastic about learning and cooperation. The game also broke the organisation’s conventional hierarchy and roles. There was also some frustration with the game concerning the technical tools and lack of skills. The coach must keep the game under strict control, and also to listen attentively and react quickly. 

Participants' comments on the escape game : "I took part in the escape game and it was a fantastic experience. You really had to push yourself mentally and think outside the box."
"The escape game was difficult at first: a new thing with new rules wasn't instantly clear to me, but thanks to the younger participants I got the hang of it soon. :)"
"I could have played the escape game all day."
"We made some good observations about our group's internal abilities – everyone is needed and has an important role to play."
"I felt a bit stupid, the younger people were so clever. I just did my best and encouraged the others. And to keep the group together."
"The game played remotely worked well and fluently." 
"We ran out of time and some members of our group didn't get the game at all, fortunately some did."
"Understanding the logic of the game was challenging; this was the first time I've played a game like this."
"The escape game was a bit beyond the participants."
Figure 1. Participants’ comments on the escape game 

Participant feedback was positive 

The participants were asked to provide feedback with an electronic survey. On the basis of preliminary feedback, the participants were were extremely happy with OSKA. The coaching met with the employees’ professional development needs and also the company’s needs. The coaches and the methods they employed were considered functional. And best of all, the coaching inspired the participants to learn more. The coaching also encouraged the participants to think about things from a wider perspective. They realised how much competence they have within the company and how important it is to identify people’s strengths.  It was seen positive to be able to talk with the team and to hear why things are done in a specific way. The participants also received new insight and ideas about future development. Systematic development of competences is crucial for the success and growth of a company. (Feedback survey, 2021.) 

According to the feedback, short time spans and scheduling were challenging. The coaching touched on a number of subjects, and it takes a long time to process and internalise them.  Technical issues appeared in both the pros and cons. The participants were surprised how well coaching worked remotely, but they also hoped for face-to-face interaction. (Feedback survey, 2021.) 

Cooperation among coaches ensured coaching quality 

During coaching, the OSKA coaching team convened weekly to discuss implementation issues. The team consisted of three coaches from Metropolia and two from Laurea. These meetings were coordinated by the undersigned. 

First the discussions revolved around the targets and implementation. Gradually the team became a source of mutual support for the coaches.  The team shared material and competence about the use of tools. On the other hand, the meetings were a good forum for tips concerning coaching situations. The team was a confidential forum to discuss challenging situations and to receive collegial support and advice in a positive atmosphere. At its best, project can create such good practices to support service implementation. Jointly agreed coaching targets, content and implementation principles ensured high quality of coaching. 


  • Liljander, T. 2020. Osaamisen tunnistaminen ja kehittäminen tukevat muutoksessa – näkökulma resilienssikoulutusten suunnitteluun. Kokemuksia kentältä, online publication. Urban Growth in Vantaa project. 
  • Osaamisen johtaminen kannattaa. Osaamisen johtamisen käsikirja, 2015. Osaamme (”We can”) project (ESF)  
  • Feedback survey: OSKA coaching programme. Preliminary results. 2021