Discover more from The Educationalist
Coaching for employability: Facilitating students’ transition to the workplace
The Educationalist. By Alexandra Mihai
Welcome to a new issue of “The Educationalist”! This week I have the pleasure to have my colleague Niels van der Baan as a guest, as he is sharing some ideas and tips on how to use coaching to facilitate students’ transition to the workplace, based on his research and practical experience. I have previously used this space to explore ways in which we can help students grow as reflective practitioners, by embedding skills in the curriculum and also looked at ways in which we can design for reflection in our courses. Reflection is also a key piece of the puzzle Niels is presenting to us today. Hope you enjoy reading this and find some interesting tips and resources for your practice. Have a nice week!
As the end of the academic year is approaching, many students will graduate and take their first steps into the world of work. However, transitioning to the workplace can be challenging for many recent graduates as they leave behind the relatively stable and known context of higher education and exchange it for a context that is more dynamic, unstable, and sometimes even unknown. In severe cases, an unsuccessful transition to the workplace can lead to early turnover, referring to graduate employees quitting their first job. For example, in the Netherlands, approximately 20% of novice teachers and 14% of graduate nurses leave the entire sector due to feeling ill-prepared for the job. Early turnover is a problem that is not unique to the Netherlands nor to these two sectors.
Coaching for transition: what is it?
Coaching has become an integral part of many higher education curricula and is done with different purposes in many different ways (you can read more here and here). The first step in exploring how coaching can best prepare students for their transition to the workplace is to examine the role and responsibilities of coaches. Or, what are the core competences of a transition coach? To answer this question, I conducted focus groups with expert coaches from higher education and the workplace. Results suggested that coaches who aim to prepare students for their transition to the workplace create several support conditions: competence support, autonomy support, and relatedness support.
In this coaching context, competence support is centred around stimulating students’ reflection. Reflection allows students to analyse their own capabilities and set goals for developing certain competences that are still missing or need improvement. After the development goals are set, the coach helps students to make an action plan, supports the students in their learning activity, and evaluates this activity as you can see below.
The coach assists the student with analysing their capabilities, talents, and challenges, helps them to set development goals, and supports them in making an action plan, but it is the student who decides what to work on, not the coach. That is where autonomy support comes in. Autonomy support refers to stimulating students’ ownership over their own development. The coach can do this by putting the responsibility for their learning on the student and by stimulating proactive behaviour. Lastly, it is crucial that coaching takes place in a safe coaching environment, in which students feel safe sharing their challenges and worries with the coach. By providing relatedness support, a coach can create a safe coaching environment. A coach does this by paying considerable attention to building a good relationship, based on trust, with the student. To do this, it is advisable to dedicate some time at the beginning of each coaching session to small talk with the student. As a coach in higher education, you probably are also a teacher. Whether somebody can simultaneously coach students on their development and as a teacher assess them on their learning outcomes is always fuel for a lively debate. In my opinion and as suggested by my results you can, as long as you are transparent about it towards your students. For example, explicitly mention to a student which hat you are wearing, are you now their coach or teacher?
The effects of coaching
The next step was to investigate the effectiveness of a coaching practice in preparing students for their transition to the workplace. To capture students’ preparedness for their transition to the workplace I look at their employability. Employability refers to students’ potential, or resources, to gain adequate employment after graduation and to become successful in their chosen occupation. To become employable, graduates need certain competences, such as generic competences that are transferable across occupations. Recent research already found that students’ employability helps them to make a successful transition to the workplace.
To explore the relationship between coaching and students’ employability in-depth, I distributed questionnaires to students and conducted interviews with their coaches. Results indicated that only autonomy support was directly related to students’ employability. However, this did not mean that the other support conditions coaches provided were not important. Interviews with the coaches revealed that during these coaching sessions, students learn in different ways and that several coaching support types were mentioned in relation to students’ learning processes during these coaching sessions. For example, competence support was related to students gaining insight and their (self-) reflection. Relatedness support (called emotional and psychosocial support in this study) is related to students’ (self-) reflection and trial and error learning, referring to experimenting and trying out different learning activities. This result suggests that by providing relatedness support the coach creates a safe space to reflect and experiment in and provide students with a safety net; the student can always fall back on the coach when things go wrong.
Taking the first steps into the workplace
To complete the picture of how coaching in higher education facilitates students’ transition to the workplace, I interviewed graduate employees at the workplace and asked them if and how the coaching they received in higher education helped them in their transition. Results of this study revealed that most graduate employees were satisfied with the coaching they received in higher education and believed it helped them in their transition to the workplace, in particular, to adjust to their new context. Coaching in higher education prepares students for the workplace by creating the habit of reflection. Graduate employees were able to ask the same reflective questions the coach had asked them in higher education. By creating the habit of reflection, graduate employees can analyse their own capabilities and set development goals to successfully adjust to their new context.
Reflection is key!
Reflection really forms the red threat throughout the results of the various studies in my dissertation. Reflection allows students to analyse what is needed to increase their employability and allows them to set development goals. Once at the workplace, reflection allows graduate employees to adjust to the workplace and increase their employability further. Even though graduate employees can reflect by themselves, some of my study participants indicate they would like to have a coach at the workplace. To optimally prepare students for their transition to the workplace, higher education should really promote and invest in students’ reflection.
Tips and Tricks
Stimulate reflection of your student by setting development goals and making an action plan;
There are no right or wrong development goals or action plans. Ask why the student has chosen to work on this goal and how they think their plan will help them reach their goal;
Give students sufficient room to try out different things;
Evaluate students learning experiences by asking them open reflective questions. ‘Why’ questions often do the trick;
Dedicate time to get to know your student before diving into the coaching;
Be transparent and explicitly mention what your role is;
Validate the emotions and struggles of your student.
This article of Römgens et al. (2020) on competences needed to become employable: https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1623770
The Implicit-Explicit toolkit for student-employability of Maastricht University: https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/file/sscprojectemployabilityimplicitexplicittoolkit2019-2020pdf
This article and video of the University of Edinburgh on the role of reflection in enhancing your employability: https://www.ed.ac.uk/reflection/reflectors-toolkit/employability
Niels van der Baan, MSc. is a PhD candidate in the Department of Educational Research and Development, School of Business and Economics at Maastricht University. Currently, he is finalising his dissertation about the education-to-work transition, employability, and coaching. Other research interests include students’ competence development and workplace learning. He co-authored a book about coaching based on his research including more tips and tricks, along with concrete coaching examples. This book is in Dutch and is expected to be published in September. He also coordinates and teaches several Bachelor courses. After he finishes his PhD, Niels will stay at Maastricht University as Assistant Professor and member of the Taskforce Programme Evaluation in the Department of Educational Development and Research. If you are interested in knowing more, you can contact Niels via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.