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Self-employment as a chimney sweep through vocational rehabilitation

Self-employment as a chimney sweep through vocational rehabilitation

21.1.2015

Michel Kuosmanen keeps houses’ chimney flues and ventilation shafts in safe and in working order in the Lohja region. Vocational rehabilitation created a foundation for his new career as a chimney sweep.

Coming into the 2010s, Kuosmanen was going through a difficult time. He had been working as a lighting installer for years. He spent a lot of time travelling around Finland; he was on the road for 150 to 200 days each year.

“I would often leave on a Sunday and return on Friday. It was tough. And with my children’s wrestling hobby often taking up the weekend with training camps around Finland and overseas as well, there was very little time for me to recover,” says Kuosmanen.

Off the sofa

Kuosmanen burned out and was forced to go on sick leave several times, for a total period of around one year and four months.

“For a year I just sat on the sofa. I was too tired to do anything. Then I thought ‘I have to get up’,” he says.

Around the same time, a chimney sweep climbed onto his roof. Kuosmanen watched the professional at his work and thought: that could be fun. That is also what he thought of the work performed by the garbage collector whose truck pulled into his yard. Useful, hands-on work.

No going back

Finally Kuosmanen applied for vocational rehabilitation and was granted it in spring 2011. First a plan was hatched for him to return to his old job through a work trial. That is something Kuosmanen did not want to do. At the same time the company transferred the majority of its operations to Poland. There would have been no going back after all. 

He had to come up with something else, which was a good thing.

Vocational psychologist’s help speeded up return to work

Varma arranged planning for Michel Kuosmanen’s return to work. In practice this meant discussions with a vocational psychologist appointed by Varma.

“It was a great experience. We talked, or should I say I talked, for two hours at a time,” Kuosmanen grins.

“And during the second session we looked into what I could do. I still sometimes felt that I didn’t want to get off the sofa. I was scared. The psychologist was helpful and encouraging. Without that, it would probably have taken me longer to return to work.”

Apprenticeship training to learn a new trade

The vocational psychologist helped Kuosmanen look at a long list of professions of which he selected two: chimney sweep and garbage truck driver. Being a chimney sweep felt more like his thing. It keeps you on the move and allows you to come into contact with people. It was perfect for the positive and talkative Kuosmanen. The job is a responsible one and important because it involves fire safety. Another positive aspect is its hands-on nature.

“I didn’t want to go back to school. You learn to be a chimney sweep through an apprenticeship,” Kuosmanen explains. It is also an option for adults.

Pick up the phone and become an apprentice

Kuosmanen found his apprenticeship positions himself. He looked up the contact details for chimney sweeps on Google and started calling them one by one. He made the first calls from the vocational psychologist’s office. He was soon offered a spot and his apprenticeship was on its way.

Kuosmanen achieved his vocational chimney sweep degree in two years. The two-month-long stretches of work were interspersed with one-week periods in school. They studied legislation, construction regulations, customer service and business, among other things.

Self-employed and happy

Michel Kuosmanen’s goal from day one was to establish his own chimney sweeping company. That is why he applied for two different kinds of apprenticeships, in order to gain the best know-how he could.

Kuosmanen’s business, MK Nuohous ja IV is now in its first year. Chimney sweeps are in short supply so his prospects are good.

Now a self-employed person, happy with his work and suitably busy climbs onto the roofs of houses in southern Finland – and makes it home every evening to his family. 

Vocational rehabilitation in brief 

  • possibility to apply after a long sick leave or rehabilitation benefit, also for self-employed persons
  • means transferring to tasks that are more suitable to one’s state of health, possibly a change of profession
  • rehabilitation allowance is paid out during vocational rehabilitation
  • work trials ease the return to work, job coaching helps to take on new tasks
  • in 2013 more than 9,500 people applied for vocational rehabilitation (all earnings-related pension companies)
  • more than 80% were granted rehabilitation
  • musculoskeletal diseases most common reason

Sources: Varma, Finnish Centre for Pensions

Text: Riitta Gullman
Photo: MK Nuohous ja IV

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