Alumni are not tools to gather data, they are important stakeholders of our organization and they will be even more important in the future than they are now.
Author: Tim van der Ploeg (Alfa College)
Alumni in VET are a hot topic in the Netherlands, since we have to measure ‘follow-up success’ of our alumni. Coming in the project, we were mostly focused on findings ways to measure ‘follow-up success’ of our alumni. There have been a lot of initiatives to develop sustainable alumni policy within our organization and to fulfill this goal, but these policies tend to be a lot of goals which didn’t really land in our organization. We thought contacting our alumni via mail would work and get a lot of responses on our survey. This way, we could gather enough data to have a clear understanding where our student go after they graduate. After our first pilot we saw that not a lot of students participated in the survey and the answers were not as valuable as we hoped. At that moment, we decided to go in a different direction and go for the personal approach.
Building sustainable relations with our students
We contacted more than 120 students that were about to graduate and we had a talk with all of them while we were filling in the survey together. Our most important lesson came at this time: every story matters, it’s all about the quality of our alumni relations and not so much about the quantity of alumni. Although it took many hours to do these talks, we learned so much about the needs of our students and the importance of career guidance. Alumni are not tools to gather data, they are important stakeholders of our organization and they will be even more important in the future than they are now.
Continue building sustainable relations with our alumni
About six months after graduation we contacted our alumni via phone. Since we spoke with each one of them individually before, they were very enthusiastic that we called and showed interest in their career path. Often, during our phone calls we also discussed other matters than just the questions of our survey. The response rate is much better by contacting alumni individually than by sending (another) survey. It also gives a lot more input and provides context to the received data.
Survey data yielded some unexpected findings for our school. For instance we learned from a marketing perspective that we should look at ways to stimulate word-to-mouth marketing as opposed to using social media as the most important tool. The data analysis also shows that in some of our clusters (for instance, nursing jobs) we should focus more on communicational skills. We’re also seeing that most students that have a job after graduation stay in the same region as they did their training. It would be interesting to see if this would change when more students do their internships abroad. Lastly, the data analysis shows we should focus more on career guidance. We need to start looking at our students in a different way: they are ‘alummi to be’ the moment they walk through our school doors the first time.
Alumni in the future: strategic goals
Alfa-college now has a separate chapter about alumni in the school strategic action plan (2019-2023): ’We will maintain more contact with our alumni. We would like them to play an active role in developing content and organizing our training courses. After all, they are experts with experience within the VET-programs in our school. On the basis of the experience they have gained after their program within Alfa-college, they are pre-eminently able to indicate how we organize our training to further improve what they have missed and where we have to set accents. They can also play a role in conducting our training. For example by giving guest lessons or activities in professional practice to guide. In addition, they are also a potential target group in the context of lifelong development and they can provide their input for the content of the short-cycle courses.’
We want to thank everyone involved in this project for the amazing cooperation and insights we received. It truly was a pleasure to work with everyone. For us, this was also one of the reasons why this project is perceived as a great success. We are very happy that our organization now see alumni as partners of our school and hope this inspired other VET institutions to do the same.