How do we prepare our students for a future labour market in which flexibility, resilience and adaptability are essential?
On this page you can find out how to use the frame of reference for career preparation to integrate a comprehensive programme to prepare students for the labour market into your curriculum and in this way optimally prepare your students to transition from study to work.
About the frame of reference for career preparation
The frame of reference offers study programmes guidance in integrating labour market preparation into their curriculum. The goal of the frame of reference is to help students enter the labour market well prepared and with a sense of confidence.
At Leiden University we have opted to articulate labour market preparation around the idea of enhancing our students’ employability.
Employability is defined as an individual’s capacity to remain sustainably deployable on the labour market even when this market changes.
At Leiden University, we define employability as developing the following features:
- A professional profile based not only on discipline-specific knowledge and skills but also on work experience and transferable skills
- Awareness of and a sense of responsibility for one’s professional development
- An active and inquiring attitude when it comes to the labour market
- Awareness of one’s opportunities in a labour market that requires flexibility, resilience and adaptability, and the career skills required to navigate this market
Students with these features are better equipped to:
- Transition to the labour market, and
- Remain deployable in a dynamic labour market
- In a job or career that matches their personal values, preferences and development.
Employability enhancement involves five interrelated elements. It is important that students continue to develop all of these elements throughout their studies. If one of these elements is missing, this will affect the student’s employability as a whole. This does not mean that every course or block should devote attention to every element, but the programme as a whole should integrate all of them.
The figure below shows the various elements and how they are interrelated.
Deployable profile (in red in the figure)
A deployable profile forms the heart of a student’s employability. Students who possess 1. transferrable skills, and 2. discipline-specific knowledge and skills and who have acquired 3. work experience are more easily deployable on the labour market.
Self-reliance on the labour market (in blue on the figure)
Students develop self-reliance on the labour market around their deployable profile. Students who have become familiar with the labour market thanks to 4. orientation towards the labour market and who are able to reflect on their own profile and development (5. self-reflection) are better equipped to navigate the labour market immediately upon graduation, but also later on as their career progresses.
The frame of reference is intended for heads and coordinators of study programmes who wish to enhance their students’ employability. It provides guidance in developing and offering an integral labour market preparation programme throughout the study programme.
You will find below an explanation of each element and recommendations for putting together an integral preparation for the labour market programme.
About practical experience
Students who gain practical experience during their studies make a better start on the labour market after graduation. A survey among Humanities alumni shows that alumni with internship, work or board activities experience tend to find a job sooner (and at a higher level) than alumni who lack such experience. For employers, students with practical experience are more attractive because they understand better what is expected of them in the workplace. In addition, students with practical experience are better able to assess the practical relevance of an academic training.
Students can gain practical experience not only by doing an internship, but also through work-oriented projects or assignments that are integrated into elective courses, minors or graduation assignments. Any activity that connects an academic study programme to practical activities in a specific professional field can help students prepare for the labour market. To increase the students’ awareness of this, it is important to explicitly refer to their opportunities on the labour market.
- Wherever possible, help students to gain practical experience within the context of the study programme: through internships or work-oriented projects, by addressing societal issues, or through practice-based assignments.
- Identify and draw attention to any activities that link the study programme to a professional field (for example by drawing attention to a relevant job, employer, organisation or alumnus).
- When asking your students to organise, initiate or find a project, assignment or internship, use this process as part of labour market preparation; doing so greatly contributes to employability.
- Facilitate and stimulate students in gaining practical experience within the curriculum (for example if internships and work-related assignments are not included in the standard study programme curriculum, but available as an option).
- Recognise that students can also acquire practical experience outside the study programme through jobs, board activities, volunteer work and involvement in participation bodies.
- Stimulate students to gain practical experience through extra-curricular activities, especially when opportunities to do so within the study programme are limited.
- Emphasise the skills acquired through practical experience, and where possible link them to preparation for the labour market.
About transferable skills
To be able to enter the labour market, all professionals need not only subject-specific knowledge and skills but also transferable skills. These are skills that enable you to work with others (interpersonal), take in and process information from the world around you, solve problems (meta-cognitive) and find your way in the labour market (intrapersonal). Developing these kinds of skills increases students’ employability. Students who are aware of the skills they possess will use them to promote themselves in the labour market, for example at job interviews and in their work. Leiden University has identified and described 13 shared transferable skills.
- Emphasise skill development within discipline-specific courses to make students more aware of this element.
- Help students to understand that they can also develop these skills outside the curriculum (extra-curricular activities, life experience) and stimulate this extra-curricular development where possible.
- Where possible, explicitly link the acquired skills to their relevance for the labour market and labour market preparation.
Discipline-specific knowledge and skills
Discipline-specific knowledge and skills largely determine the deployability of a student’s profile, and yet they are given less attention in this frame of reference than the other four elements. The reason for this is not that the sector-specific aspect is less relevant for developing employability, but that study programmes by definition differ greatly from each other in this respect. Study programmes offer very diverse discipline-specific knowledge and skills and differ greatly in their perspective on the labour market. While some study programmes translate very concretely to the labour market (for example a study programme in medicine in principle prepares students to become physicians), for other study programmes this connection is more diffuse. However, in this frame of reference we do emphasise that employability enhancement always involves all five elements, irrespective of the labour market perspective of the discipline-specific component.
Within this frame of reference, it is more difficult to make recommendations concerning this element. However, some of the best practices listed may also apply to discipline-specific activities or theoretical courses.
Within this frame of reference, self-reflection is the element that links all other elements. Reflecting on their profile and personal and professional development (What do I find interesting? What am I good at?) can help students make choices with respect to their study programmer (Shall I broaden my profile or specialise?) It may also raise questions concerning the labour market (What can I do with my knowledge and skills? What kind of employer is looking for me? Orientation towards the labour market, careers and employers invites self-reflection (Can I do this? Do I want to? Would this kind of job suit me?).
Self-reflection is essential for employability and is also a transferable skill. Effective self-reflection makes the process of labour market preparation more personal. This personal aspect can also bring uncertainty (Can I do it? Am I making the right choice? And am I good enough at this?). This can make self-reflection a complex element of employability enhancement because it taps into the student’s resilience – another transferable skill.
- Invite students to reflect on the choices they have already made (choice of study programme) and those they are making within their studies (minors). This can help them to own their process of employability enhancement.
- Link self-reflection about the students’ personal and professional profiles and their personal development and values to their recent choices within the study programme (minor, master’s, international experience, etc.).
- Where possible, link self-reflection about the students’ profile and personal development to larger assignments within the curriculum (thesis, project, core subject). For example, you can ask them to formulate a professional development plan as part of a research project.
- Invite students to reflect on their development within the study programme and their development as a result of extra-curricular activities and experience.
- Openly discuss the discomfort and uncertainty that accompanies self-reflection.
- Where possible, support self-reflection with guidance and feedback. This can be done within a support structure such as mentoring, or by referring a student to a study career advisor.
Orientation towards the labour market
Orientation towards the labour market is the most recognisable element of labour market preparation. Exploring positions and careers and getting to know employers can inspire students to envision their future. It also makes students aware of the need to career skills such as writing a CV or conducting a job interview. Orientation towards the labour market is therefore about finding out what employers require and offer, and what skills you need to successfully ‘position yourself on the market.’
Leiden University offers a wide range of opportunities for orienting oneself towards the labour market – both within and outside the curriculum. Examples include guest speakers invited to teach a course, gatherings in which alumni share their professional experiences, company visits organised by study associations, and faculty career fairs. However, experience shows that students tend to make little use of these offerings and only become interested in them at a late stage in their studies.
- Facilitate and stimulate timely orientation towards the labour market by announcing activities in a timely fashion and stimulating students to join in.
- Link orientation towards the labour market to choices within the study programme, in line with the study phase students are in. Times when choices have to be made, such as when choosing a minor, invite students to ask themselves: ‘How will this choice affect my future career opportunities?’ Orientation towards a minor can therefore be linked to orientation towards the labour market.
- Facilitate and stimulate a diverse range of orientation activities: a faculty career event is one form of orientation, but so is a network interview with an alumnus or lecturer.
- Where possible, refer to the orientation activities organised by Career Services, the Alumni Office, study associations, alumni networks, sector and professional associations, etc.
- Stimulate and facilitate informal and broad orientation with respect to the choices students make during and after their study programme. Try to keep the information, communication and attitude towards the labour market bias-free.
- Choice moments within a study programme that can be used for labour market preparation include choosing a minor, choosing whether to study abroad, choosing a specialisation, choosing electives with the possibility of an internship, and choosing a graduation project or master’s programme.
- Facilitate a broader orientation towards the choices that students make during their study programme. For example: communicate deadlines for exchange programmes in timely fashion and promote the Study Abroad festival as part of orientation.
How ready do your students feel to enter the labour market?
The Employment Development Profile (EDP) is a tool that allows faculties and study programmes to measure how well prepared students feel to enter the labour market. The tool uses 34 statements to explore how well prepared students feel for the labour market and to which extend the elements of the frame of reference contribute to this. A study programme can use the insights they gain to strengthen its preparation for the labour market programme. For example, if you find out that your students need more reflection concerning their own development, you can explore best practices in this area. If you are interested in applying this tool within your faculty or study programme, please contact Kirsten Ran from ICLON to discuss the options.