Our key takeaways from the first European Careers summit in Leuven.
Learning, sharing and collaboration are some of the great perks of working within higher education. So, when invited to spend two days in Belgium with careers teams from 23 international universities at the Global Careers Services Summit, we jumped at the chance. Here are some highlights and best practices we took away from three of Europe’s successful careers services teams.
Newcastle University, United Kingdom
“There’s a movement from ‘careers’ to ‘student experience’”
Marc Lintern has been in post at Newcastle University for seven years and his title of ‘Director of Student Experience’ reflects how far the careers service has become embedded into university life. Underpinning all courses and extracurricular offers at Newcastle is the Graduate Framework, says Marc. This framework supports students to track their development in a range of competencies, like critical thinking and social responsibility.
As part of the university’s broader strategy, Marc explains that in 2016 they appointed several ‘Academic Leads for Student Employability and Enterprise’. Without serious consideration, says Marc, this type of responsibly can easily become an unwelcome add-on, delegated to the most junior faculty member or colleague nearing retirement! But not at Newcastle. Thanks to the team’s hard work and wider resource investment, the academic lead is seen as a serious, desirable role that comes with the proper workload allocation, training and development.
Newcastle University is justifiably proud of its award-winning careers services. As well as developing an employability community, annual employability conference and some impressive partnerships, every undergraduate now has the opportunity to take part in a placement. This has led to a significant increase in students taking placement years.
Executive level support has played a large part in the team’s success, says Marc, who works closely with the university’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor responsible for teaching and learning. It’s taken hard work and a collective effort to raise awareness of the careers service across all faculties.
Now, careers and faculty colleagues work side-by-side to review existing programmes and co-create new ones. Together, they identify strengths and areas for development. If, for instance, teams decide they need to focus on building student confidence, they can develop this at a course level.
KU Leuven, Belgium
“We wanted to showcase student skills beyond the diploma.”
A university experience is more than just a diploma, says Griet Blieck, Head of Corporate Relations at the Faculty of Economics and Business. Internships, volunteering, student associations, international experiences and entrepreneurial activities all offer added ways to build valuable employability skills outside the curriculum.
Extracurriculars are a big part of student life at KU Leuven and the university launched its popular I-Portfolio in 2016 to help bring this into focus. Students now use their I-Portfolio to reflect on the competencies they’ve developed within a carefully constructed framework and in close collaboration with university teams.
The word ‘reflection’ crops up throughout Griet’s talk and she explains that the final portfolio certificate is really only secondary to the process.
Not only do students find it intrinsically rewarding, says Griet, but it’s a powerful way to stand out from other graduates in the job market. It gives employers a sense of a student’s unique personality and skill set through university accredited experiences and concrete examples of competencies gained. What’s more, many students find that building an I-portfolio is the perfect preparation for applications and interviews.
When asked to “give an example of when you worked in a team” or to “describe a situation where you solved a problem”, students are now equipped to respond with confidence. They can take an example from their I-portfolio and give a detailed response that fits the context. Of course, the strength of a student’s I-portfolio depends upon the effort they put in, which is something the team are careful to stress at the outset!
So far, so good, you might be thinking, but does this involve extra work for university teams? The answer is both yes and no! While quality control is all-important and requires careful attention, students make their I-portfolio submissions through an internal system, which staff can swiftly approve or reject. Griet points out that this moderation system is more efficient than anything requiring paper documentation and signatures. Success also depends on close work with changing cohorts of student associations, which Griet finds “rather time-consuming” and “rewarding” in equal measure.
The result is a system that helps students showcase their skills to employers with structured support from KU Leuven staff.
The University of Groningen, Netherlands
“Our students complete real business assignments for SMEs.”
It’s important to allow space for ideas to develop, says Wijnand Aalderink, Director Career Services and Corporate Relations. At the University of Groningen, this happens through focused communities for social, project-based learning that equip students with relevant, real-world business competencies.
In Wijnand’s Faculty of Economics and Business, students join multi-disciplinary teams to explore different real-world topics facing commercial organisations. Learners might, for instance, investigate applications of blockchain (the record-keeping technology behind bitcoin). Or evaluate ways organisations are using Six Sigma (a method that can improve the capability of their business process). Academics and students work together in these communities to delve more deeply into topics of interest beyond the curriculum. The programme is rewarding for staff and students alike, explains Wijnand, offering team-based learning opportunities grounded in real-world business concepts.
The team also work to nurture industry partnerships and build relationships for the long term. Taking the idea of learning communities, a step further, Wijnand and his colleagues have set up a successful student consultancy service to tackle real-world challenges from the business community. Using this service, businesses from the north of the Netherlands can define the problem they are facing and employ Groningen students to analyse the case.
Business assignments can vary from management to financing, logistics or HR related problems, explains Wijnand. The university then carefully matches students to relevant opportunities, making sure they are supported with guidance from academic staff and professional trainers along the way.
The result? Businesses benefit from a rich pool of student talent, insight and outside perspective. Students pick up work experience, new skill sets and impressive links to a professional industry network.
We hope you enjoyed these stories as much as we did. For details of the next Global Career Services Summit taking place in 2020, please see the GCSS website.
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