What skills for future staff members in Applied Plant Sciences?

In the framework of the Erasmus+ ESCAPAdE project, for gathering expertise and views from both professionals and academics, 163 European organizations (companies, research centers, universities, administrations, NGO) potentially hiring new employees trained in applied plant sciences were consulted through an online survey. The questionnaire was dealing with their knowledge on academic curricula and expected skills for their employees.

The purpose of this survey, consisting of 18 questions, was to gather information about key aspects contributing to the improvement of the curricula offered in Plant Sciences for graduate and postgraduate students, and facilitation of student’s mobility in the area of Applied Plant Sciences.

The results of this survey show the interests and perspectives of future employers from both private and public sectors from seven European countries in relation with the plant sciences area. Their knowledge of university’s curricula in Applied Plant Sciences is rather low, and the number of future employees requiring training in this field is limited. However, English is the most important second language for future employers, opening employment perspectives at the European level. Although most of the companies work in Plant Breeding, the most required areas are plant protection and plant production. Additionally, the most important personal skills for the future employees are teamwork, motivation, ability for problem solving and responsibility.

We hope that the results of this survey are valuable not only for the educational organizations, but also for both the private and public sector related to the applied plant sciences area, which are always looking for highly qualified and skilled professionals. We also think that such a survey has made the organizations investigated more aware of academic curricula and student ‘s skills.

The results of this survey were discussed as an extension event through a webinar organized by CULS on May 11, 2021, recording 70 registered participants.

Here are some results of the professional survey, presented by Petra Chaloupkova as an introduction to the webinar organized by CUL on May 11, 2021.

Focus group discussions were organized during the webinar. The participants were divided into three main target groups (students, academics, professionals) and the discussions were led by facilitators. The following key aspects were discussed:

  1. How to share information on curricula, job needs, and their continuous evolution (in a context of agricultural transition)?
  2. What kind of teaching methods can be used to transfer knowledge and train for transversal skills required by the professional sector?
  3. How to design curricula in Applied Plant Sciences to meet the future needs of the professional sector?
  4. How to increase interest in international student mobility and its attractiveness for professionals?

The main recommendations from this discussion are:

Share information: More connection is needed, including international cooperation between companies, cooperation between universities and professional sector through specific projects. Connection could also be done by organizing job fairs and supporting grant writing experience by the students

Teaching methods: New methods are required (but not only online!), providing more interaction (asking some basic questions, for example by using polls or padlet). Teachers should listen more to the students and include problem-based teaching, virtual labs in their teaching.

Design curricula: Curricula should align to the world outside academia.  Real-life/research holistic projects should be developed with students and professionals. Testimonies from employers may be included. Curricula should also include transversal skill training, through real-life scenarios.

Increase mobility: Universities should promote advantages of academic mobilities (showing the advantages of study abroad programs, benefits, the skills and attitude of students in terms of knowledge, professionalism and cultural awareness), and include mobility window or mobility as mandatory course. Mentoring of Erasmus students by teachers or fellows could help.