A Words Matter literacy workshop was held at Jämsä College at the end of May. Participants studied how the meaning of a message changes depending on who sends and who receives it. After completing the workshop, the students also received information about job opportunities at UPM in the Jämsä region.
More than 20 students participated the workshop, the majority of them second-year forestry students.
“The age range at our mills is such that we will need new permanent employees within the next five years. This is a generation of future UPM employees,” says Antti Hermonen, General Manager of UPM Jämsä River Mills. Some 900 UPM employees live in Jämsä. UPM works with the region’s educational institutions by hiring trainees and thesis workers, for example.
Reading helps professional development
Hermonen emphasises the connection between literacy and professional skills. “Even in this impatient world of smartphones, we still need to read long texts such as technical documentation and instructions. We also need to be able to concentrate. For example, there are periods during shifts where nothing happens, but you still need to keep yourself alert.”
Reading also promotes personal development and learning.
“When you read, you learn to be more open-minded. By reading different texts, you not only learn how to criticize sources, but also new information. Reading also encourages a thirst for knowledge. Keeping yourself up to date and curious helps you connect with the world, meaning that you can avoid marginalisation,” says Hermonen.
New ways required to maintain literacy
In the workshop, trainer and art and literature critic Aleksis Salusjärvi and rapper Mikko Sarjanen used music to illustrate how deciphering and interpreting lyrics reveals information about the author and the intended audience. The students were also asked to analyse rap lyrics.
“Only a few young people read regularly, but they all listen to music. It is a gateway into their world,” says Mikko Sarjanen. “We chose rap for the workshops because it’s popular at the moment. It also works well in workshops, as rap lyrics involve a lot of playing with words and the text has a major role,” Sarjanen continues. He heard about the project through a friend and became interested in the idea. The workshop format was developed in collaboration with Aleksis Salusjärvi. At first, Sarjanen was only intending to visit a few of the reading workshops. Since then, the duo has organised dozens of workshops together.
“Literacy helps you understand the world and, most importantly, it helps you to think,” says Sarjanen. “The students also learn critical thinking and media criticism. Young people are often aware of the basics, but the workshop motivates them to further analyse why someone is saying what he/she is saying and how it relates to the big picture.”
Finnish teacher Saija Pohjola from Jämsä College welcomes the change brought about by the reading workshops. “I think it is wonderful that an opportunity like this is offered to vocational students and includes boys as well,” says Pohjola. In her work, Saija has noticed that many students find it difficult to concentrate on reading long texts. Young people who are used to the virtual world may also find writing difficult. “Studying Finnish is less desirable these days. We must find new ways to promote reading and writing. There is a clear need for these kinds of workshops,” Pohjola concludes.
Experimentation helps you to discover your own career
After the workshop, Antti Hermonen spent some time with the students discussing working life. “Apply for all kinds of work, I would say. There is no need to limit yourself to just one field. When you try out different things, you will discover your calling,” says Hermonen. Hermonen‘s career has taken him from UPM’s mill in Voikkaa to Austria, Lappeenranta and finally to Jämsä.
Hermonen talked about the jobs available at UPM mills, as well as the various kinds of professionals the mills employ. As an example of the benefits of working for a big company, Hermonen mentioned the opportunity to change jobs internally and try out different things in terms of occupation, technology and innovation. He also emphasised the importance of social skills in job-seeking and in working life. “It’s important that you get along with your colleagues and supervisors as part of a community that can communicate well.”
The workshops aimed at improving the literacy of technical students are arranged by the Finnish Reading Centre Lukukeskus – Läscentrum ry and are supported by UPM. Some 60 workshops have been held in several locations around Finland. The objective is to hold 100 literacy workshops. The workshops are part of UPM’s Biofore Share and Care programme and our contribution to the Finland 100 programme. The project is also aimed at teachers and principals who can arrange and develop further workshops themselves.