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Training exercises

This setion contains exercises created especially for students and student representatives to stimulate discussions on employability with different stakeholders.

Exercise 1: What is employability?

Objective: define employability
As you might have seen by now, defining employability is a hard thing to do. Depends on who you ask, definitions can vary widely. Some think of employability as being something static. Others simply link the concept to skills. To be able to understand the complexity of the term, it is essential to tackle it from the perspectives of various people and come to an understanding on what employability means to them.
Target groups: all stakeholders
Methodology:
  1. To start, get everyone to write on a piece of paper their own definition of employability. Make every participant think about what that word means for them. (This should take around 5 mins. Once finished, collect the papers.)
  2. As a group, make a list of all the stakeholders which the participants think are involved in »employability«. Write the answers where everyone can see them, such as on a whiteboard. (This should take around 5 mins.)
  3. Divide the people in as many groups as there are stakeholders listed and assign one stakeholder per group.
  4. Make each group write the definition of employability from the perspective of the stakeholder they were assigned. (This should take around 5 mins.)
  5. Change roles and assign the groups a different stakeholder. (In this point, you can plan the activity in different ways. If you want, you can arrange it so that every group gets to define from the perspective of every stakeholder or just assign a few.)
  6. Regroup everyone and share each definition. At this point, you should com6 pile all the definitions proposed and conclude in one definition per stakeholder. (This may take 10–15 minutes).
  7. Finally, go back to the proposed definitions for »employability« and conclude in one unique definition which the whole group can identify and agree with. (This may take another 10–15 minutes).
Conclusion: Most of you won’t probably be able to agree on just one definition for employability. If you do, you will find that »employability« is not a concept that can be defined immediately, as it does not exist as a standard definition understood similarly by everyone.

Exercise 2: Skills expected by the labour market?

Objective: To acknowledge that no specific set of skills exists that graduates should all possess.
When a student starts searching for a first job, he or she discovers that the skills that are requested never match completely the skills expected or required. Employers’ demands as many skills as possible but they actually select specific skills that they believe adapt better to their demands.
Target groups: students
Methodology:
  1. Divide the participants in three groups.
  2. Group 1 will make a prioritised list of 5 characteristics they would look for in an ideal partner and give it to Group 2 which will take those characteristics and connect each characteristic to a famous person. Group 3 will have to take just the famous persons and prioritize them in the order they would choose them as their »perfect partner«.
  3. The facilitator will explain that not always what you want to have is what you actually decide to have. With a very high probability, the first group’s prioritized list of characteristics will not match with the third group’s list of people.
Conclusion: Employers always ask for many and varied skills suitable for a specific job description. However, in the end. it is not about a pre-determined set of skills but more about general and transversal skills that are not field specific.

Exercise 3: Knowing what you want

Objective: In order to find the right job that matches the candidates’ qualification and interests, graduates must know them quite well, be aware of their strengths and areas they would like to improve, find the basic values that guide their life decisions and be able to identify specific skills required for the given area they are looking for work in. They also need to be well versed in job interviews, CV assembling, building and representing their personal strengths etc.
Below you will find a few ways that can be applied in order to address the specific skills, wishes and motivation of an individual. Some of them can be done as individual work but some other would require another person to answer to or receive support from. The examples are provided by the Professional Coaching Association Hungary.
Target group: students and graduates
Methodologies:
  1. A swot analysis or a skills assessment exercise helps to define one’s strengths and weaknesses, main passion in life, the skills that one has and what they would like to develop.
  2. With the help of effective questioning, reflecting and paraphrasing, the person gets a glimpse at their personality, characteristics, major limiting beliefs that frequently govern their behaviour and the emotions and thought processes they often are unaware of.
  3. By using the wheel of life—exercise we can pinpoint areas in the individual’s life that need more attention, whereas a value definition exercise helps to define the core values that determine how the individual will feel, behave and make decisions in a certain work environment. At this point coaches/mentors like to use the career option exploration and career decision making processes to explore all possibilities and come to certain decisions. An action planning session usually follows, at which point the individual must begin the actual job application process, together with CV writing, interviews.
  4. An option for continuous reflection is working out a plan for the individual’s ongoing development, which is called an individual development plan. This can be helpful in order to stay on track and continue the never ending road of life long learning.

Conclusion: Experienced coaches or mentors can help the students in a safe, independent environment during every step in a personalised way, including putting together a resume, collecting references, writing a motivational letter, enhancing communication skills, developing an entrepreneurial mindset and getting ready for an interview.
Dealing with rejection is also an important part of the process, which goes hand in hand with developing resilience. The emotional pressure, various high expectations, negative experiences during interviews may discourage young graduates and require professional assistance in order to keep their positive, healthy attitude and adjust their aims if necessary.
Of course it can also happen that the graduate finds a job but it does not match with the desired working culture, or after some months or years, they experience a burn out, lose their interest, cannot accommodate with their work environment. It requires courage to change and realise specifically what needs to be changed, what is the new direction. Free floating is a common illusion but no wind helps the ship that does not set a direction. Regardless of age, gender, educational background, we are responsible for setting goals.
There are associations that specialise in coaching as well as programmes that people can sign up for. Optimally such services would be provided through employment offices or other public authorities and available to the general public.

Exercise 5: It's time to debate!

Objective: This exercise utilises debating techniques to help students to develop their critical thinking, expand their understanding and knowledge of arguments related to employability and consider how to respond to arguments that contradict their own perspectives.
Target group: student representatives and anyone involved in the work advocating for education as having multiple purposes.
Time: A minimum of 1 hour 20 minutes, preferably more.
Participants: minimum of eight participants, ideally no more than sixteen.
Methodology: Split the group into two smaller groups of at least four people. Place them into separate rooms so they cannot hear each other if possible. Tell one of the groups that they will be arguing for the motion (i.e. ›education’s primary task is prepare students for the labour market‹) and the other group that they will be arguing against the motion (i.e. ›education’s main responsibility is to raise active and critical thinkers‹).
Explain the format of the debate. There will be four speeches on each side and each speech will last for two minutes. It is up to the group how they use each of these speeches, but the last person should probably try to sum up the debate. Make it clear that the debating style is not important and that the participants do not need to be good debaters. The exercise is about the content of the arguments made.
Now give the groups some time to prepare their arguments, structure them appropriately and decide what they are going to say. You should give them as much time as possible, but at least thirty minutes. During this preparation time, your role is to challenge their arguments, point out any assumptions they have made and keep them on the right track.
For the debate, set the room up in such a way that the speakers face each other and that any extra members of their group sit behind them. Invite each speaker to speak in turn, alternating between those in favour and those against the motion. This should take a maximum of twenty minutes.
For the remaining time, but for at least twenty minutes, lead a discussion in which the groups identify the most persuasive arguments from each side. Here additional arguments can still be brought up. Make sure the discussion covers the following points:

Why placing too much emphasis on labour market related needs is dangegerous
Employers often reflect on the needs of today, and of a specific job description/working field. It is difficult to predict the demand for skills in the future. Employers cannot predict the future needs any more than ministries and basing the design of curriculas on today’s needs will not therefore answer to the changing needs of tomorrow. It is known that a set of transversal and generic skills are applicable and needed across the labour market, and this is where the focus should be.

How and who should define the way cooperation with the labour market is done within higher education institutions?
It is of great importance how the labour market is consulted, as to have a wide and transparent representation of inputs instead of a narrow outlook based on a few companies’ needs only. Having open, innovative ways to explore the current and future needs together with students would serve everyone’s interests in a successful way. It is crucial that the content of programmes is not to the benefit of a certain company only, as in the long run this leaves people without the necessary competences for other type of work. It must be ensured that the students' expectations are answered to with regards to the competences they would like to gain.

Why is this argument relevant?
Due to the current economic crisis, as well as neoliberal policies, emphasis is placed on the economic development and competency of societies. This affects the way education is viewed as its function is then reduced to serve the economy and hence produce labour force that will contribute to the goal of economic growth instead of emancipation of individuals and the society.
Here is a list of other topics that often stir up a debate and are worth exploring:
  • Internships should be paid vs. internships should not be paid.
  • Internships should be made compulsory vs. internships should have to be conqqducted only if the student wishes to.
  • Students alone are responsible for finding employment vs. higher education inqqstitutions should play a role in preparing students for the labour market.
  • Employability should not be discussed in relation to education vs. employabilqqity is something that higher education institutions should pay more attention to.

Exercise 5: Job interview

Objective: this exercise focuses on finding out what skills are required in the real life when applying for a job.
Target group: students, student representatives, graduates, the participation of employers would be a plus.
Time: at least half an hour, it’s recommended that each student plays both roles in the exercise.
Participants: minimum two
Methodology:
  1. Split the group into small groups, between 2 and 5 people per group.
  2. Give one person the role of interviewee and the rest would play as employers.
  3. Employers will be given the name of the company, characteristics, values and definition of the job they are looking for candidates.
  4. They will have to define which skill they prefer/require for these candidates and write them down in a first step.
  5. At the same time interviewees will go through their role, defined by: studies (degree, vocational training), personal skills, abilities, languages etc.
  6. Employers interview candidates for 10 minutes.
  7. If real employers can take part, they would play also both roles.
Conclusion: By making this exercise, the participants will think about what is really needed in real jobs and how difficult it is to define specific skills or qualifications for a candidate. Moreover, they will realise that the content of the studies can’t be adapted to every job position. In addition, the exercise serves as a way to rehearse an interview situation. If the participants wish, they can give each other feedback on how well they performed during the interview.