Radical training course for future diplomats

In the first half of the 20th century, when the world was not open to everyone, a career in diplomacy was thought to be grand and glorious. After the Second World War times had changed, and people around the world started to question the point in considering diplomacy as a career for the chosen few. Such changes in global contexts as the growing number of states and international organisations together with the development of faster means of communication meant that diplomacy had to be redefined. The Foreign Ministry’s Training Course for Newly Recruited Diplomats, Kavaku in short, turned 50 in autumn 2020.

Students of diplomatic course, UN Logo in the background
In 2018, students of the diplomatic course learned about the work of UN organisations on a study trip to Tanzania . Photo: Johannes Puukki

Kavaku transformed application to a career in diplomacy in 1970s

At the turn of the 1970s, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs took note of a rapid change in the atmosphere in society. With the expanding range of tasks and responsibilities in the Foreign Service, the Ministry wanted to select trainees based on an open selection process, allowing for applicants from more diverse backgrounds to submit applications for the course. The idea was to get applicants from a variety of backgrounds to the course and to make a career in diplomacy accessible to anyone irrespective of their social background.

The idea was revolutionary. When the first Kavaku courses were organised in 1970, the hierarchical administration in the Foreign Ministry was not saved from clashes between representatives of different generations. 

“A number of young people who had been active in international student politics in the 1960s were selected to the course. For them, it was a fascinating idea to challenge the ways common in the hierarchical and formal Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In this sense, we were radical. Foreign Ministry staff in the Ritarikatu premises fumed that ‘the kids are rebelling’ because the young people attending the course disobeyed to draft ‘a ministerial answer’ to a parliamentary survey, which critisised the organisation of the course. Since we refused to act according to the given instructions, we came to be called a rebel course. The Foreign Ministry was not used to fledgling public officials like us. There was no question of challenging any authorities at the time when Kekkonen was President,” says Pertti Torstila, one of those participating in the first Kavaku course.

“We joined the Foreign Ministry in the decade of détente, which was marked by efforts to mitigate the east-west hostilities. The course taught us that attachés were mainly expected to run various errands and serve as messengers rather than being engaged in rosy big politics. However, what happened was that without further ado our first assignment was to work for the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, the CSCE.  Having passed this acid test, we were ready to do anything.”

Kuvassa suurlähettiläs Torstila SPR-matkallaan pakolaisleirin lapsien ympäröimänä.
Pertti Torstila: The first Kavaku course has a story of its own that none of us will forget. 

The same basic model continued throughout the 1970s. The course focused on international politics, international law, Finland's foreign trade, Finnish society, and language studies. In the selection process, scoring was based on a wide range of factors and on justice.  The Ministry's Senior Management Group had an opportunity to influence what criteria and what kind of scoring were selected. 

Nowadays the entire Finland is represented

In the 1880s and 1990s, more than a half of the participants in the course have been women. A record number of women was selected in 1983, when 12 of the 16 Kavaku participants were women. After that, the Ministry’s selection and training board was convened to look into the matter and, as an attempt to strengthen men's position, it almost decided that men should be given points for military service, but the idea was dropped. 

Today, women have consolidated their position as the majority in Kavaku courses.  At present, approximately half of Finnish ambassadors are women. 

By the start of the 1990s, the Foreign Service had advanced to represent what was aimed at as early as in the 1960s. The whole Finland was represented in the Kavaku courses: participants came from different family backgrounds and held diverse educational qualifications.

Middle-aged Kavaku has changed along with the times 

In recent years, the Ministry has updated the content of the course in order to find new ways of training public officials for their work. Our current training philosophy emphasises work-based learning. Traditional lectures have been replaced by a more participatory approach to training, which includes exercises, discussion and visits. Instead of one long course, we now have three training modules, which are linked together by practical work as trainees in the departments and missions abroad. 

”Kavaku is not only a course but an entire training programme,” emphasises Director of the Unit for Human Resources Development and Occupational Wellbeing Christian Lindholm.

The fact that more than 1,080 people applied for the course speak for the fact that Kavaku continues to be an attractive option.  
The latest example of the course’s resilience and vitality is that, in 2020, Kavaku 43 was conducted in the form of a virtual course because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Digital leap and remote work in 2020 

Laura Hassinen, who entered the course in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, is happy that the course started despite the exceptional circumstances. She has completed her first training period in a department mainly remotely.

Laura Hassinen will leave to work in her first post at a mission abroad next summer. “I am a mother of three small children, which is why the decision to apply for a post at a mission must be made by the whole family.  I’m happy that the Foreign Ministry pays more and more attention to the family perspective.”

“I think that the pandemic’s influence on our work has been relatively significant. All so-called cool things are excluded when we aren’t able to go on official journeys and meet our foreign colleagues. However, we have really rapidly found new ways of working and contacting people,” says Hassinen.

“The digital leap has been long and the threshold to organise international webinars or informal online meetings, for example, is now much lower than it was before. Anyway, I’m looking forward to real action next year.”

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs recruits new talents

The Ministry’s most recent recruitment process started on 4 December 2020. About 10 persons will be selected to a Training Course for Newly Recruited Diplomats (Kavaku) and an Induction Course for Administrative Career Staff (Halku) respectively. Applications for Kavaku and Halku is open at Valtiolle.fi until 21 December at 16.15. The courses will start in autumn 2021.

The Ministry hopes to receive applications from people with diverse educational backgrounds who are interested in different fields. Work in the Ministry is rewarding for people who are curious to learn and know things, and who are resilient and willing to develop themselves. The applicants should be capable of independent work but also inspired by teamwork. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are also assets. Success in the application process requires both professional and personal capacity and a strong motivation to work as a representative of Finland, and to serve Finland and Finnish people abroad. 

A career in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs comprises various tasks in the departments in Helsinki and in the global network of missions abroad. Many Finnish missions abroad are located outside the European Union, in emerging economies and developing countries.