Starfruit Story

A Career Officer, an International Officer & an Entrepreneurship Professor meet in a bar ...

A short story about how to build intra- and inter-institutional cooperation in the international careers service world

Our Goal

Starting Point:

EBC Hochschule (initiator and coordinator of the implementation project for the European Centre for Career Development & Entrepreneurship - ECCE) is a private multi-campus business school in Germany, which has integrated mandatory internships abroad in all management study programmes (ca. 400 to 500 internships abroad per summer to facilitate).

Due to an unclear division of responsibilities between the International Office and Career Service, there was room for improvement regarding the delivery of service. We had a challenge that perhaps some of you also face:

  • One core issue to solve was that whilst the colleagues from the International Office did know a lot about university relations and funding issues, they were not professionally trained to give advice on foreign labour markets, job search strategies, how to match the offer with professional development goals, etc.
  • The colleagues from the Career Service, however, could deal with all those questions on a national level but weren't really equipped to give first-hand advice when it came to international questions.

"There has to a way to bring the two together," I thought.

Aims from EBCs Perspective:

EBC Hochschule wanted to create an Outbound-Mobility oriented service that allowed them to advise their students in-house competently for their core mobility countries and offer them current information, larger networks, and training.

Additionally, they aimed to create synergies between career guidance (often admin) and entrepreneurship (often academic).

To implement and test such a service, instead of trying to cover all the needs through local resources, EBC decided to form a Career Service Consortium. Therefore, they initiated the ECCE-project.  

Our Starfruit

A Career Officer, an International Officer & an Entrepreneurship Professor meet in a bar... Well, it wasn't exactly like this but bars and events certainly played a role!

The aim of this story is to give a truthful account of how one of the coolest projects I have ever worked on came into realisation - the European Centre for Career Development and Entrepreneurship.

The aim of this story is to give a truthful account of how one of the coolest projects I have ever worked on came into realisation.

For a number of years I had been attending Regent's University's annual International Partnership Conference. A small event - perfect for networking. The Regent's team always managed to create a very welcoming atmosphere where people could exchange ideas in a relaxed, informal setting. And yes, they also served a cocktail or two... The point is, that actually all partners involved had been working with Regent's University and through Regent's, they often started cooperating with each other. So they not only impressed and knew me, but they also already knew each other before I approached each one individually asking them if they wanted to work with me on this specific idea of a transnational careers service I had.

Without this forum, the likelihood that this project would have come into realisation would have been close to zero. But let's go back to the actual project background...

The Project Background

From 2011 till 2015, I headed the Career Service at EBC Hochschule's Berlin campus. EBC Hochschule is a small business school but internships abroad are mandatory for all our students - meaning we send 400 to 500 students abroad per year. Yet our team was too small to "really" know in detail all the foreign labour markets, etc. So when students turned to us, we often had to conduct research ourselves in order to be able to give adequate advice. This always bugged me a little because I felt that as an institution, we should be able to provide more truly helpful support.

Another aspect that played into project development was that oftentimes, adjunct lectures turned to the Career Service to ask if we could point out companies where students could do little consulting projects as part of their classes.

I always wondered:

  • "If International Offices manage to build links to universities worldwide, then why shouldn't they cooperate with Career Services too?
  • And how can we enable Career Services to also better cooperate internally with academics in order to create exciting learning opportunities for students?"

In many ways the ECCE-project is a result of these two questions and the attempt to design a solution.

In many ways the ECCE-project is a result of these two questions and the attempt to design a solution.

One thing is to see a need, the other thing is to actually put concept into practise. I don't know if it is the best way to do it, but read on to learn how I approached the whole thing.

Coming Together

The first step I took was to look at the numbers: where in Europe did most of our students do their internships? It turned out that about 80% did them in Spain, France, Italy, or the UK.

Secondly, I was pondering, "Who do I already know in those countries that I would like to work with and where could those institutions fit too?"

The latter question was quite essential for me. In the past, I had seen a number of projects struggling to meet targets because project members weren't as committed as project coordinators wished - especially when it came to the admin stuff. So as the coordinator, you have quite a stressful time when putting the final reports together because everyone else feels they are done and don't deliver the documentation you still need. The amount of shrill emails rises - the stress too. I wanted to avoid that.

For me, it was important that people working with me were strongly and intrinsically motivated by the goal of the project but also that from the beginning, there would be a sense of loyalty towards each other. Here, the Regent's crowd came in handy - all that I needed was already provided in the network: people with the right professional background, people who knew and liked each other, and people who came from institutions which facilitated a lot of internship mobility.

It was important that people working with me were strongly and intrinsically motivated by the goal of the project, but also that from the beginning, there would be a sense of loyalty towards each other.

The Concept

I started designing a concept that would meet the aim of facilitating enhanced inter- and intra-institutional cooperation in the careers field. The leading thoughts were:

  • to share and create resources, so that not every involved institution would have to create and update information themselves;
  • to involve training for staff and for students;
  • to create opportunities so that academics and admin staff could cooperate with each other.

The solution was to form a Transnational Careers Service Consortium that should be quite small, so that the involved people knew each other well and would help each other out on a really operational level.

The challenge with large associations was that you can attend the conferences and exchange best practice, but in the everyday office horrors, you're alone again. I wanted to create something that was helpful for the student-facing careers officer - a sort of international second-level-support that was also always available, not just once a year.

I wrote a small concept paper and got in touch with my international colleagues. They were immediately interested, so together, we wrote an ERASMUS+-KA2 application. The first time we submitted it in 2014, it failed to receive funding. This particularly hurt because the last funded project received 84,5 points and we had received 83,5 - so close! But after some small amendments, we were successful in 2015. 

The first time we submitted the application, it failed to receive funding.

The Kick Off

The project core was the creation of a platform, The ECCE Network, that combined resources already in place at the different institutions and that would support the creation of a community around career and entrepreneurial topics. From our perspective, this fit well together. Entrepreneurship education should foster initiative and a sense of ownership - traits that can also be very well utilised as intrapreneurs and employees.

We also created an internship/job guide for our countries, having international students specifically in mind. We designed two staff weeks where our Career Service staff trained each other and dedicated liaison officers that would help to feed the platform in the future and provide second-level-support (meaning that when a German student wants to intern in Spain, instead of sending the student to the Spanish colleague, if the German colleague needed help with questions, then s/he would reach out to the Spanish colleague).

The results of the staff training weeks were used to create a small European Career Advisors Curriculum, which now can be used to train Career Services staff at other institutions.

The results of the staff training weeks were used to create a small European Career Advisors Curriculum, which now can be used to train Career Services staff at other institutions. We involved academic staff from all institutions to develop a one-week intensive summer school on Entrepreneurship in Europe, which we delivered in Madrid and Paris in 2017 and will be in Berlin in 2018. Watch the video below to hear more from us as well as the students.

Our experience so far is that we should have asked for a lot more money. Other than that, it has been truly great!

We achieved a lot together, for example:

  • There is now a clear sense of an ECCE community. Some colleagues in the consortium sometimes work closer with each other than with people in their own institutions.
  • The Careers Services staff gained a lot of international perspective.
  • The feedback from the students regarding the summer schools has been exceptional.
  • For me personally, it was a great leadership experience - even though we all speak English, communication was not always easy.

We grew from a core group of 5 people to more than 50 colleagues in participating institutions who have contributed to the success of the project.

We grew from a core group of 5 people to more than 50 colleagues who have contributed to the success of the project.

The project duration is not finished yet, but almost all outputs are created and we are planning the further development and institutionalisation of ECCE.

To learn more, I invite you all to watch the video below and to join our Global Connections & International Careers Service Conference in April 2018 in Berlin.

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