What skills those who hire Applied Plant Scientists would like their future staff members to have?

In the framework of the Erasmus+ ESCAPAdE project, gathering expertise and views from both professionals and academics, 163 European organizations (companies, research centres, universities, administrations, NGO) potentially hiring new employees trained in applied plant sciences were consulted through an online survey on their knowledge of academic curricula and preferred 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 show the interests and perspectives of organizations from both the private and public sector from seven European countries in relation with the plant sciences area. Knowledge of the university’s curricula in applied plant science 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 the organizations, 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.

The results of this survey were discussed in a webinar on May 11, 2021 and should be published soon. They are very 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 to count with highly qualified and skilled professionals.

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

The focus group discussions were organized during the webinar (see table 1). The participants were divided into 3 main target groups (representatives of students, academics, professional sector) and the discussions were led by the facilitators. Following key aspects were discussed:

  1. How to share information on curricula, job needs, and their continuous evolution (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 of APS 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.