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How degree programmes prepare students better for the labour market

From ‘challenges’ at ministries to reflection sessions where students coach each other. Students, study advisers and other employees shared their best practices regarding labour market preparation at the Employability Working Conference on 24 January.

‘The labour market is changing at lightning speed,’ Vice-Rector Hester Bijl stated at the PLNT innovation centre in Leiden. ‘Many jobs are disappearing, but new ones are developing in their place. We must ensure that we incorporate the outside world into our curriculum.’ Various degree programmes are doing this in different ways, for example, through internships, company open days, business cases and alumni who make themselves available as mentors. But not all students are seizing these opportunities, the Vice -Rector observed. ‘How can we encourage students to take greater advantage of these opportunities?’

In various inspiration sessions, the participants explained how they integrate employability into their curriculum.

Flexibility is the new job security

‘By spelling out explicitly what is often already happening implicitly,’ suggested Nieke Campagne, Employability & Skills project manager. Degree programmes are training their students in skills such as presentation techniques but can sometimes explain even more explicitly how these are also important skills for the labour market. Campagne also emphasised how rapidly the labour market is changing and that students should therefore already be learning during the programme what it means to be employable. ‘Flexibility is the new job security.’ At this working conference, students and employees heard inspiring ideas about how to integrate employability into the curriculum of their programmes.  

Avoid making labour market activities too optional, participant Chemistry student Maarten Stam advised.

Self-reflection by students

Being able to reflect on one's own development is a crucial condition for staying flexible, several speakers pointed out. That is why more and more programmes are facilitating coaching sessions in which students take part in 'self-examination'. For instance, this is done with the help of the University's Centre for Innovation, which developed an online skills tool for Science Based Business students, among others.

Not woolly

Education project manager Niels van de Ven explained how this tool works. The online tool contains an overview of the key skills and competences crucial for these students’ later work environment - such as entrepreneurship. This allows students in each component to determine for themselves which skills they still need to work on. In a group setting, students reflect on their own performance and internship and advise each other. Van de Ven: ‘The students were a little sceptical initially because such a reflection session seemed rather woolly to them, but they are now very enthusiastic because they have a clearer idea of what they need to further develop.’

The 'master challenge' at the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations.

Unexpected request from a minister

First ask students which labour market skills they want to learn, lecturer Iris Boevée advised. Public Administration Master’s students expressed their hopes in a survey: they wanted to learn how to negotiate, give advice and write policy notes. Boevée subsequently organised a 'master challenge' for these students of the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs as the Labour Market Preparation project leader. The faculty managed to get the Ministry of the Interior on board (see banner photo) for a 'master challenge' at the department. There they worked on a tough case pertaining to the housing market and had to negotiate, submit recommendations and write a memorandum. And suddenly an unexpected request arrived from the minister, because the working day of a civil servant should be simulated as realistically as possible.

What if I dont

The day at the ministry was also a success because a lecturer from the study programme made the challenge part of his lecture series, Boevée stated. Students are much less motivated to participate if a labour market activity is not compulsory, as various attendees observed. Activities should therefore not be entirely optional. They also need to match students’ concerns, Ilke Jeeninga, LUMC education adviser, remarked. In the Medicine programme, the student association M.F.L.S. recently organised the information evening ‘What if I do not become a doctor’ with inspiring medical practitioners who had not become doctors, but had landed other interesting jobs. In no time, more than a thousand interested posts on Facebook and the room was jam-packed.

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