Sea view and sailing boat in the Archipelago Sea

Upskilling and reskilling workforce in tourism for sustainable development

Finland and the other Nordic countries represent an interesting case in the context of sustainable tourism. In the South-West of Finland, the Baltic Sea coast spreads to an archipelago of thousands of islands between Turku and Stockholm. Many of these island communities differ from the Finnish mainland with the Swedish language, culture and traditions. Up north in Lapland, we find the Sámi, the only indigenous people of the European Union, spreading across an area between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. These unique, vulnerable ecosystems and culturally diverse landscapes in the archipelago and Lapland make two of the four main geographical areas for tourism in Finland. The need for the upskilling and reskilling workforce in tourism for sustainable development is evident, but what modalities of learning can enable their participation in adult education?

Increasing the level of participation of adults in education is high on the agenda of many international organizations and national governments. However, in many countries, those who participate in adult education are individuals with already high levels of education. They are often young workers and come from socio-economically advantaged households. Hence, the challenge remains on how to increase participation in the education of those social groups who would gain the most social returns from upskilling and reskilling. (OECD, 2021).

Tourism provides us with a case where obstacles such as low income, irregular working hours or seasonal work may restrict participation in adult education. These social conditions for work were further disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to recent research (Sun et al., 2022), jobs affected in tourism were mostly occupied by women, youth, and low-income workers. Those with more ”teleworkable” work profiles could continue to work from home, mediating the social distancing and other restrictions. In contrast, these jobs were held by male, older, highly educated, and highly paid employees. Hence, those already in disadvantaged positions were subjected to a deterioration of their working status, by unemployment, reduction of working hours, reduction of wages, or unpaid leave. Due to this process what Sun and others conceptualize as job vulnerability and income inequality, many workers have found themselves in situations where social conditions restrict their access to adult education (Sun et al., 2022).

Microcredentials and open badges – new opportunities for participation?

In addition to the mentioned financial barriers, the relevance and quality of the training provided remain to be the main obstacles to participation in education (OECD 2021). In the area of tourism education, research has debated (e.g. Hales & Jennings, 2017, Stone & Duffy, 2015) whether sustainable development has been implemented throughout the curriculum in the programs, and what graduate attributes are actually achieved in these programs. As tourism studies often reside in business schools, researchers have questioned whether an industry-led tourism curriculum is able to produce critically reflective tourism practitioners or simply work-ready graduates (Mínguez et. al, 2021).

The Service Centre for Continuous learning and Employment in Finland has granted support for developing micro-credentials and open badges in sustainable tourism. Experts from the University of Turku and the Brahea Centre partner with researchers and educators from the University of Lapland, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, Lapland University of Applied Sciences and the Lapland Education Centre REDU in the project. The Association of Finnish Travel Industry and its members are valuable partners in designing new educational offers to meet the needs of the industry.

For learners, micro-credentials and open badges offer an opportunity to partake in short episodes of learning, studying at their own time and at their own pace. As a form of criterion-based learning, micro-credentials give individuals a chance to accomplish studies that have clearly defined outcomes, size and level. These bite-sized offerings of learning may form a part or add to formal qualifications but are still more flexible than traditional degree studies. Micro-credentials are designed to be stackable, thus enabling learners to combine them according to their needs.

Sustainable development as an encompassing topic in the workplace curriculum

In continuous learning, micro-credentials and open badges may have a broader value than the learning of individuals. In the project Open Badges for Sustainable Tourism the topic area of sustainable development is not detached from the curricula as a separate course or module (see e.g. Arrobas et. al 2020) but forms the essence of the entire offering of digital courses and open educational resources.

In Finland, educational policies traditionally speak for equality and the well-being of individuals, thus promoting democracy in society. (Ukkola & Väätäinen, 2021.) Education can improve the standard of living and increase satisfaction with life. In a broader perspective, education can be seen as participation in the renewal of communities and can contribute to appreciating cultural heritage, diversity and global citizenship.

For employers, an ecosystem of micro-credentials can open a new route for professional development. To make this a reality, micro-credentials and open badges need to be clearly defined with level descriptors and connectivity between each other. Micro-credentials and open badges should also be described in relation to the already existing educational offering in degree studies.

For members in local, remote communities this new educational offering can make a difference in terms of educational attainment. Flexible and modular modes of study cater to the needs of those learners who cannot participate in education during fixed terms or otherwise wish to study at their own pace. By participating in these new courses, adult learners may gain access to employment with confidence in their knowledge and skills.


Timo Halttunen is working as a Head of Unit at the Brahea Centre. He is also a PhD candidate in Social Sciences at the University of Turku, Finland. His research is focused on the impact of personal and organizational characteristics for the development of working-life-oriented education.


Arrobas, F., Ferreira, J., Brito-Henriques, E. & Fernandes, A. (2020). Measuring tourism and environmental sciences students’ attitudes towards sustainable tourism. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sports and Tourism Education, 27

Hales, R., & Jennings, G. (2017). Transformation for sustainability: The role of complexity in tourism students’ understanding of sustainable tourism. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sports and Tourism Education, 21, 185-194.

OECD (2021), OECD Skills Outlook 2021: Learning for Life, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Mínguez, C., Martínez-Hernández, C., & Yubero, C. (2021). Higher education and the sustainable tourism pedagogy: Are tourism students ready to lead change in the post pandemic era? Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sports and Tourism Education, 29

Ukkola, A. & Väätäinen H. (2021). Equality and participation in Education. An overview of national evaluations. Finnish Education Evaluation Centre. Summaries 18:2021.

Stone, G. A., & Duffy, L. N. (2015). Transformative learning theory: A systematic review of travel and tourism scholarship. Journal of Teaching in Travel & Tourism, 15(3), 204.

Sun, Y-Y., LI, M., Lenzen, M., Malik, A. & Pomponi, F. (2022). Tourism, job vulnerability and income inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Annals of Tourism Research Empirical Insights. 3. 100046. 10.1016/j.annale.2022.100046.

Image: Kirsi Laitio