The Case of the Transferable Skills Development Programme in a Portuguese faculty of Economics and Management
The Bologna Declaration significantly changed the European higher educational system, particularly by placing emphasis on student’s role and favouring active learning based on the development of skills, both of those specific to each academic qualification area and of transferable skills. These changes stimulated the development of a Transferable Skills Development Programme in the faculty of Economics and Management of a public university located in the north of Portugal. The aim of this programme, which was implemented in the academic years of 2012/2013, was to complement the development of the transferable skills already included in the course syllabus through a range of activities and initiatives. It also proposed to enhance students’ awareness of the importance of these skills as a distinguishing factor, which generates opportunities of success in the labour market.
The programme has been groundbreaking in the context of this Portuguese public university, which distinguishes itself from others by of its own regulations, structure, and operation. In its implementation year (2012/2013), the programme was directed to Master’s degree students, a fact which coincided with a curricular revision for these courses. In fifteen of those master courses, a 7.5 ECTS curricular unit was included; this consisted of a Methodology/Project module (4.5 ECTS) and a Transferable Skills module (3 ECTS). The latter was related to participation in activities of the Transferable Skills Development Programme. At present, this programme is also available for Honours and Doctorate degree students, although priority is given to the Master’s degree students due to the integration of these activities into the regular study plan and their corresponding ECTS credits.
The activities and initiatives developed within the framework of this programme specifically aim to promote the acquisition and development of ten skills, which have been deemed to be relevant for students graduating from the Economics and Management area. During the first phase, the identification of these skills resulted from a revision of literature [47, 48], and in the subsequent phase, it ensued from the assessment undertaken by the employers who maintain regular contact with this faculty and collaborate on several of its activities (e.g. workshops, lectures, and field days). The following skills, which are included in the programme, emerged from this analysis: (1) interpersonal relationships, (2) teamwork; (3) leadership, (4) communication, (5) creativity and innovation, (6) ethical awareness and critical thinking, (7) planning and organization, (8) ICT, (9) problem-solving, and (10) results orientation.
The activities developed by the Transferable Skills Development Programme throughout the academic year are based on two typologies, which presuppose different levels of participation by the students: (1) courses and workshops and (2) lectures and events. The “courses” consist of activities developed over various sessions, which are related to useful work tools in the academic context, as well as in professional life, with a maximum duration period of 12 h (e.g. SPSS, Excel,
Stata, and NVivo). The “workshops” comprise single sessions of presentation and discussion of practical content, followed by activities and exercises performed by students. These workshops deal with themes such as job-seeking, career development, leadership, interpersonal relationships, problem-solving, decision-making, organization, self-development, and research techniques. These activities presuppose the active participation of students and are limited to a maximum number of participants (between 20 and 50). In the “lectures”, a guest speaker (e.g. CEOs from reference companies, former students from this faculty in prominent positions in the labour market) presents his life story and that of his professional experience, which lasts from 1 to 3 h. The “events” involve the organization of events around a central theme (e.g. a series of lectures, round-table discussions, and parallel sessions), which can last from a few hours to the entire day. The number of participants in these last activities is higher and is only conditioned by the seating capacity of the auditorium or the premises used. Within this framework, there are also study trips to companies in various sectors of activity, which are an opportunity for students to obtain some knowledge of the everyday running of companies. Included in the programme are also large events such as employability day (the Job fair), research day, and job sessions (days of training provided by companies)
In 2015/2016, this Transferable Skills Development Programme was in its fourth operative year. During this year, there was an increase in student participation, adding up to a sum total of 1476 students (920 participants from the 1st cycle, 487 participants from the 2nd cycle, and 69 participants from the 3rd cycle), which refers to 6424 effective acts of participation in the 129 organized activities. One must emphasize that current programme feedback results from the assessment of each of the activities, which is done on paper by the participating students. The intervening parties who collaborate in the various activities (e.g. speakers and trainers) supply informal feedback about these, and thus, there is no duly recorded written assessment.