A legendary school for laboratory assistants

In 1938, Orion reaches the 100-employee milestone and becomes the largest pharmaceutical plant in Finland. Its challenges include finding competent employees, and the war is making matters even worse.

To overcome its severe shortage of employees, Orion decides to establish a school for laboratory assistants. The first eleven students enrol in autumn 1943. The school continues to operate until 1953, when it is closed down temporarily. The school resumes its operations in 1957.

Martti Aaltonen enrols in January 1950. He has graduated from middle school with excellent marks, and with a recommendation from one of his teachers. The 17-year-old young man excels at chemistry and is enthusiastic about further education.

“I can tell you that the enthusiasm remained throughout my career. I never regretted my choice of field,” says Aaltonen today. He retired in 1995 after a 45-year career with Orion.

At the Orion school for laboratory assistants, the students are paid a salary: initially 50 per cent of the full salary and 80 per cent during the final year. This helps Aaltonen a great deal, as he comes from a poor family. The studies are very practical. “We spent mornings in the classroom and had practical training in the afternoons. The programme took three years to complete. During that time, I worked in at least five different departments.”

Aaltonen says he remembers many of the instructors as great personalities. The head of the alkaloid department was demanding, much like all of the instructors.  

“However, he asked me whether I would be interested in working for his department after graduation. I was indeed, and I worked there for 13 years, until the department was closed down. I spent the rest of my career working for the synthetic laboratory.”

The Orion school for laboratory assistants remains operational until 1977. Since then, the company has trained laboratory assistants through apprenticeship training arrangements.

Pictured here is Irma Hirsijärvi teaching a class of students at the school for laboratory assistants in 1961.