Katja’s story: I know that my feet are firmly on the ground, and that is a good place to reach for the stars

I am Katja Tanski, 36, from Punkalaidun in the south of Pirkanmaa, Finland. Currently, I am an unemployed job seeker. My home is conveniently located close by the borders of four regions and so, in addition to my home region of Pirkanmaa, I have extended my job hunt to Satakunta, Southwest Finland and Kanta-Häme. The cities of Tampere, Turku, Hämeenlinna and Pori are all less than a 1.5-hour drive from where I live.

I went to general upper secondary school for a couple of years, then switched to an agricultural institution where I completed a vocational qualification in agriculture, getting my rural entrepreneur diploma in 2008. I worked summers and other holidays on the farm of a relative of mine. My tasks included milking cows, building fences, chopping firewood, making feed and other farm work. One summer, I worked at a peat bog.

While still at school, I had the idea that when I grow up, I’ll become an artificial inseminator. I started to study for a further vocational qualification in artificial insemination, which I completed in 2009. Following a practical training period, I was employed by an artificial insemination co-operative operating all over Finland. The work of an artificial inseminator starts and ends at home. In hindsight, I was very lucky to find a job that enabled me to work from home, just like that.

I did artificial insemination work for years. I have two kids, born in 2014 and 2015. The situation of agricultural producers was getting increasingly tough, and I was worried about keeping my job and the ability of farm owners to cope. When I returned to work after each parental leave, I started to suffer from burnout. I was trying to decide what to do for a long time until, in the autumn of 2018, I had the idea of studying. By sheer luck, I discovered a university of applied sciences with an education programme in sustainable development, which is one of a kind in Finland. Through the winter of 2018–2019, I was studying for the entrance examination and doing maths. At Midsummer in 2019, I learned that I was one of the 11 applicants admitted to the sustainable development programme implemented as blended learning.

In the summer of 2022, I graduated as an environmental management specialist with expertise in sustainable development. As an adult, I found the studies quite meaningful, even easy, as I was already used to the rat race of working life. My goal was to get my degree in two and a half years but, because I stayed working for the organisation where I did my traineeship in the summer of 2021, my thesis was delayed. In the end, it took me three years to get my degree. I did my thesis on environmental education in comprehensive schools.

After my traineeship, I was employed on an hourly basis by a public sector organisation that produces environmental data. I was working in the development projects of the European Social Fund under the title of Circular Economy Expert and, when a Project Manager's position became available as a parental leave cover, I jumped at the chance. I was involved in events, training, brainstorming, mainstreaming new practices, reporting and communications. However, projects always come to an end, and my employment relationship was terminated at the end of August 2023.

The fragmentation of work provides opportunities to experiment with new ways of working

Even though I had read about the job market situation, I thought finding a job would be easier. My work history is highly linear: a vocational upper secondary qualification, a further vocational qualification and 10-year career working for the same employer. Then I took a leap into the unknown and started to study for a university degree as a parent of small children with a mortgage. I am proud of myself because I had to work hard for the chance to study for a university degree. I learned a lot and completed my studies quickly. I think of myself as a freshly graduated veteran.

In addition to the themes of circular economy and sustainable development, I have done a lot of work on the development of sustainability, sustainable work and know-how. I have come to terms with the fact that working life is constantly changing and you can no longer take it for granted that you will find a permanent job. On the other hand, the fragmentation of work provides opportunities to experiment with new ways of working. Of course, this may be more of a comfort in the expert field than, say, in nursing. That said, I still appreciate commitment and stability.

I have never dreamt of becoming a vet or a pop star. Anyway, I’m not much of a dreamer. I remember wanting to be a pathologist in my early adolescence, but I didn’t chase that goal. During my studies at the agricultural institution, I got the idea of becoming an artificial inseminator. It all started as a joke, but it so happened that I did become an artificial inseminator. I thought that I would do that job until I retired, but I had to accept that the world changes and so do I. I really loved working with people and animals. I also liked having incredibly deep knowledge of a specific subject, even if it was the reproduction of cows, a skill that is hard to apply to anything else, really.

I have had to learn to be kind to myself

The last job I did was as a circular economy expert. At the time, I suffered from the impostor syndrome. Circular economy and sustainable development are such vast areas that it annoyed me that I did not have a profound knowledge of everything. I have had to learn to be kind to myself. I have also come to understand that other experts don’t know everything either. Everyone has their own areas of interest and points of view that inform their thinking.

I have discovered that I’m good at learning and finding out information. Even though I think of myself as a resourceful and independent worker, I do find that I crave for the support and encouragement of the work community. From time to time, it can be hard to give and receive work-related feedback. It is of the utmost importance to me, but it can also be really difficult. I want feedback on the work I do, either to receive praise or to find areas where I can improve.

I can use my time as an artificial inseminator as an ice-breaker in pretty much any conversation. Those years laid the foundation for all of my work skills and knowledge because the job taught me a lot, everything from driving a car to handling sperm but, first and foremost, interaction skills, problem-solving and a service-oriented attitude. Outsiders may find it hard to understand the work of an artificial inseminator. The fact that I chose it as a job speaks volumes about my sense of humour and colourful personality.

I need my work to be meaningful

At the moment, I am absolutely convinced that I want to work as an expert. I love to immerse myself in big subject areas, get my hands dirty, work remotely and meet people. In other words, I like my job to be diverse. I am a jack of all trades but, with proper orientation, you can turn me into a master of almost anything. That being said, working has taught me that I need my work to be meaningful.

In my free time, I’m always in the middle of knitting something. I am also a mass consumer of streaming services. I listen to audio books and watch TV series. Every opportunity I get, I also go to gigs and the theatre, do escape rooms and eat out with friends and family. I live in the countryside where hobbies don’t cost an arm and a leg, and I have done ceramics and even yoga courses at the adult education centre. Anyway, I focus on peaceful walks in the forest with my dog and body maintenance instead of target-oriented training. My approach to this spell of unemployment is to see it as an opportunity to stop and take stock. Once I’m employed again, my daily life will be more scheduled and faster-paced. I’m already looking forward to it!

I’m not going through some sort of age crisis. On the contrary, I feel like I’m in my peak work age. I already have long experience in one field and I have gone through many different stages during my career. I know that my feet are firmly on the ground, and that is a good place to reach for the stars.

Katja Tanski