Student employability is one of the focus areas in the current strategic renewal process; as a result, Simon Beausaert has recently become SBE’s first coordinator of employability, a role that has been created to support employability within our faculty. He spoke with us about this new position and the employability project as a whole.
What does your role as SBE employability coordinator entail, and why did it attract you?
In my research, I focus on supporting formal and informal learning at the workplace and on the consequences for employees’ employability and innovative work behaviour. Similarly, I study teaching practices and their effects on students’ performance and employability.
Besides problem-based learning and internationalisation, we at UM have the ambition to make student employability one of our unique selling points. Additionally, employability is defined as one of the core elements in the strategic plan of our school. Finally, student associations as well as rankings put it on top of the agenda.
Every faculty selected an employability coordinator. In my role with SBE, I’m going to support staff in mapping and improving teaching practices that support students’ employability. I will also be the link between the school and the other faculties. Finally, I’m going to coordinate different research and educational innovation projects on supporting and improving students’ employability.
What are the goals for the employability project, and how will it work across faculties?
The UM decided it wanted to invest in a strategy that puts students’ employability on top of its agenda. Ellen Bastiaens was asked to set up and coordinate an employability task force, with representatives from every faculty. By bringing together people from different faculties, it will be possible to set up projects across faculties, or knowledge that was developed in one faculty can easily be transferred to others. One of my roles is to be a bridge across different faculties, to translate what is done from one faculty to another.
Last year the employability task force was discussing priorities and potential employability-related subprojects. Based on that discussion, thirteen projects were put forward. With every subproject, another faculty will take the lead.
Are there projects that will be conducted by SBE?
SBE is taking the lead on a mentoring programme in which tutors mentor groups of incoming students. By giving a first-year student a mentor, they should feel more easily part of a learning community, part of SBE. Integration with the SBE faculty should be easier. Mentors are also making the bridge with the academic advisors. When a student is having problems, mentor can detect them quicker and inform the academic advising office. SBE is going to design the project in such a way that it is transferable to other faculties.
And how will you assess the outcomes of the projects? What will be the measure of success?
It really depends on your definition of employability. You can define it as labour economy would: Are you able to find and keep a job? But you can also define it more broadly, as Human Resource Development would define it, as the acquirement of competencies. Do you have the competencies necessary to have a job, or find a job? These competencies have been defined by Van der Heijde and Van der Heijden as 1) you need to have expertise in your field as well as related fields, 2) you need to be flexible, when for example new tasks are given to you, 3) you need to be able to actively anticipate changes, because we are living in a very dynamic society, 4) you need to be able to achieve a balance between personal and professional life and 5) you need to have a certain corporate sense: are you involved in your company, are you working well with your team. If you are scoring high on these five competencies, then you are very employable.
The subprojects will be effective in case students find a job more easily and if the competencies discussed above are well developed.
Do the definitions of these competencies—what is a corporate sense, for example, or what is work/life balance—change generationally?
The definition of employability in itself won’t change, and your score on the employability competencies might be different, but that won’t depend on age, but on other determinants of employability competencies, such as motivation. It’s not that you are less employable if you are 50, but the goals that you pursue are different.
Together with Maike Gerken, Dominik Froehlich and Mien Segers, we conducted research that studied antecedents of workplace learning and employability of employees. It was found that not age, but other determinants–such as motivation, future time perspective, learning climate–determine if an employee undertakes learning activities and is in turn employable. In other words, age doesn’t matter, but the objectives an employee has for themselves, their motivations, the way they learn and keep on learning—we find that’s what determines your employability.
How can these competencies be incorporated in UM’s academic programmes?
The University College Maastricht (UCM) is doing a project that is called ‘Making the implicit explicit’. As the name already indicates, we want it to be made more explicit that students’ employability is being developed in the programme of study. Too often teachers are working on students’ employability, without being aware of it. If they are aware of when and how they develop students’ employability, teachers and students might get more out of it.
SBE will be an important part of this project because, although it will be developed at UCM, it will be tested at SBE. If you want programmes to ensure students’ employability, the staff involved need to have a good idea of the competencies that are developed in the programme, but also what the employability competencies are. For this project, we are translating the employability competencies, as defined by business to higher education and together with program and block coordinators we want to detect where they are developed and support the development of these competencies even more. In other words, the first step is helping program and block coordinators to detect how they already develop certain employability competencies the second step is findings ways to develop the employability competencies even more.