We now better understand and appreciate the value of strong alumni relations in our school.
Authors: Karmen Torin & Thea Tammeleht (Pärnumaa Kutsehariduskeskus)
When we started this project in 2017 the alumni culture at the Pärnumaa Vocational Education Centre was relatively ad hoc and unstructured. There wasn’t a specific team that dealt with alumni relations and neither was there a solid understanding of how the tracking of alumni should look like or even as to how we could involve them and finally what exactly were the benefits for all concerned. Before 2017, we did have a satisfaction survey for alumni which was arranged by our quality manager. However, the participation percentage stayed at around 20% and it was not as thorough as the one we developed through the TRACKTION Project. After the year 2017, the Ministry of Education and Research centralized the feedback survey system hence there was no internal survey process in place in PKHK anymore.
What did we gain from TRACKTION?
At the beginning of the journey, we thought that we had weak alumni relations. When we started mapping down key actors and alumni actions, we realized that we already had an alumni base that we could rely on. The problem in our school was a lack of structure in terms of alumni relations. Nobody knew who dealt with what. Therefore, from the very onset of this project, we focused on making alumni engagement more organized, visible and understandable for everyone.
We learned that we did have alumni engagement actions, like guest lectures, career talks, mentoring, workplace visits etc, but the problem was that this wasn’t an activity that was happening school-wide. It only took place within some vocational tracks or with certain teachers who maintained a strong rapport with their former students and would invite them to participate in different school activities. The alumni network relied on the initiative of individual teachers to maintain informal contact with former students. We also realized that often many of these communications and relations did not get shared with the school in a structured manner.
We also had the database of our alumni, but it wasn’t actively pursed or updated regularly. Since the data protection law (GDPR) that came into force from 2018, we are not allowed to send information to our database of alumni without their express written consent.
We obtained two profound surveys to continue getting accurate feedback from our alumni. Both surveys – pre-graduation and post-graduation – were very thorough and thus provided us with an opportunity to qualitatively analyze student aspirations, perspective, and feedback. We did have an existing post-graduation survey that was relatively less thorough however the pre-graduation questionnaire was something we newly introduced.
In terms of process, for data collection, we used two different methods. For the pre-graduation survey, we first reached out to the class teachers/ group leader who helped us get in touch with the students. We also visited the students in the classes as much as possible to have first-hand interactions. We now know that May is too late for us to collect the pre-graduation data since the final classes have already finished.
For the post-graduation survey, we used an email and afterwards different social media channels. We did regular follow-ups each week to get as many responses as possible. The key factor that helped us in both the surveys were personal connections. We realized that this is the only way we could reach our goal.
In terms of data analysis, there were a lot of interesting discoveries. One of the most striking one was that our school alumni are not very eager to continue their studies. This is valid for both 2018 and 2019 graduates, only a few of them continued their educational path. The reason behind could be that many of them found a job before graduation and thus they were not eager to pursue further studies. We found out that most of our alumni found the work placement through personal contacts, which is quite common in Estonia`s labour market.
We have shared and introduced the intellectual outputs to our school board, staff and other vocational schools in Estonia. For wider public and the educational landscape, we represent the Estonian version of the How-to-Guide in our school website and also in E-Koolikott which is a digital portal for materials in all levels including vocational education and it is freely accessible to everyone.
What happens next?
The outcome of the Tracktion project is that we have identified our strengths and weaknesses and know how to proceed. We realize that we need to reorganize and revive our alumni relations to get the most out of the connections we have so far. We now better understand and appreciate the value of strong alumni relations in our school.
Currently, we are redesigning our website. The plan is to have a separate section for our alumni and showcase their success in the real world. We want to inspire our future VET school students with the possibilities and opportunities that await them once they become VET school graduates.
Developing and deepening of alumni relations will be added to our school’s new development strategy for the period 2021-2026. With the upcoming school year, we look forward to working towards developing and building an even stronger alumni relationship.