Estonia, the first country to function as a digital service, has now initiated an innovative solution by offering a unique opportunity for IT students to pass military service in the Cyber Command of Estonian Defence Forces as part of their vocational studies. Estonia is among the 7 European countries, where military service is compulsory – in the case of Estonia, the service is compulsory for men and voluntary for women.
Estonian Defence Forces have concluded an agreement with Kehtna Vocational Education Centre and as a result of the partnership, IT-students will be able to complete their mandatory vocational internship together with compulsory military service in the Cyber Command. The main mission of the Estonian Cyber Command is to carry out operations in cyberspace to provide command support for the Ministry of Defence’s area of responsibility.
Many IT students must anyway pass military service either before or after their studies. The main purpose of military service is to prepare reservists, and this is not an exception in cyber military service. Therefore, completing military service from a professional perspective as well as being able to do so in combination with the school program is a valued opportunity for students as passing military service while studying as a part of the cooperation takes less time than completing both separately. The new arrangement is expected to benefit both parties, as it is important for the Estonian Defence Forces that conscripts in Cyber Command have professional IT knowledge as they are an important part of the country’s defence capabilities.
The initiative of the pilot program is not only to train ICT-specialists but rather provide people with experience at one of the largest employers in Estonia as well as specific knowledge in the field of defence – as an addition to their already existing education and skills, Kristo Pals, the NCO of Cyber Command, introduces. “From the viewpoint of the Defence Forces, the basis of a combat-capable unit is a motivated soldier. If a young person comes to the military service voluntarily, they can improve in the chosen field, they are more motivated and make a maximum contribution to national defence,“ he states. Pals adds that this cooperation is a great example of how different fields can be integrated – there is no separate vocational education and military service, but rather one united Estonia where different institutions work together in order to better contribute to the country’s sustainable development.
Combining internships and teaching
Triin Muulmann, the ICT-teacher of Kehtna Vocational Education Center, believes that cooperation provides students with practical experience and a great introduction to work-life. “We want to introduce students to new opportunities by combining internships and teaching so that they can start professional work after military service, either in the Defense Forces or in the private sector,” Muulmann explains. “In the course of the Cyber Command internship, students can put their knowledge into practice. They learn how IT work is done in a big organization that has several different locations. They will challenge their resilience, cooperation and teamwork skills.”
It is important that serving in the Cyber Command does not only cover IT-related work, Kristo Pals explains. Soldiers also have to pass the soldier’s basic course (SBC), followed by an IT specialist specialization course, where various systems and current work organization of the Defence Forces are taught. This is followed by an internship – thus upon finishing military service, young people have also completed the internship required in the syllabus. The parties hope that cooperation also helps to solve the shortage of ICT-workers, which is an important task for many countries and governments, including Estonia.
Laura Põldma, Education Estonia