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Perceptions of the Transferable Skills Development Programme

The study participants highlighted the importance of the university’s role in providing programmes and tools for the acquisition and development of transferable skills, a position which is in accordance with what is found in the literature [60, 61].

In this regard, the participants acknowledged the positive contribution of the Transferable Skills Development Programme, and underlined its “innovative and distinctive profile” in the context of Economics and Management faculties in Portugal, as well as its “sound structure and wide-ranging programme”, “excellent content”, and “enriching lectures”. This positive view seems to be associated with the great correspondence between the skills developed in the programme and those which the study participants consider to be the most relevant, as presented in Table 4.

In addition to this generally positive assessment, the participants highlighted the great usefulness of the Transferable Skills Development Programme for students without working experience. The following comment illustrates this opinion:

Monica (30 years): It's very useful. The Transferable Skills Development Programme allows you to address specific needs which the courses, be they Master's or Honours, are unable to do, namely in the development of transferable skills. It contributes to students feeling more confident in the world of work.

Various suggestions of improvement of the Transferable Skills Development Programme were then presented. These focused on a better adjustment of programme time schedules for employed students, as was explained by the following respondent:

Table 4 The transferable skills developed in the Transferable skills development programme versus the transferable skills valued by the study participants

Transferable skills

Transferable skills development programme

Valued by the study participants

Planning and organization

?

?

Results orientation

?

Problem-solving

?

?

Adaptability

?

Critical thinking

?

Creativity and innovation

?

?

ICT

?

?

Leadership

?

?

Teamwork

?

?

Oral communication

?

?

Interpersonal relationships

?

?

Motivation/personal drive

?

Ethical awareness

?

Teresa (26 years): You should direct the programme to the after-work time period as well. Our choices [from the available content] end up being rather restricted and are made, above all, because of our respective time schedules.

Most of the participants further consider that the Transferable Skills Development Programme should continue to reinforce its commitment to clearly practical activities and contents. The following comment reveals the dissatisfaction ensuing from content evaluated as being more theoretical and abstract:

Julia (29 years): I did the conflict management course. But I can say that, basically, it dealt with theoretical psychological concepts, which were difficult to implement in practice.

A couple of participants also questioned the selection of some of the topics covered in the Transferable Skills Development Programme and considered them to be less suitable for their work objectives, as the following comments reveal:

Angela (24 years): The programme also contemplates skills which are important when carrying out research, contents which are more theoretical and are not so important for companies. But most of us don’t want to do research; we really want to get into the business world.

The conversation then moved to the benefits of a curricular traineeship programme, with several students concluding that the Transferable Skills Development Programme does not act as a replacement for it. Various respondents showed the preference for a traineeship period at a company:

Olivia (29 years): The shortcoming of our Master’s is that there is no traineeship phase.

The Transferable Skills Development Programme is, supposedly, for us to have useful skills in the work context. But wouldn’t a period of traineeship be far more effective and efficient in getting to develop those skills?

Monica (30 years): A [better] way of acquiring these skills would be on the basis of work, on the basis of traineeship, even if it only lasted a month or two.

This perception on the part of the graduate students that contact with the “real-world problems” by means of a traineeship phase is fundamental to the development of transferable skills was also identified on the studies conducted by Andrews and Higson [18] and Crebert el al. [62], namely with regard to leadership, oral communication, and interpersonal relationships skills.

In summary, despite the innovative characteristics of the Transferable Skills Development Programme in the Portuguese university context, and its outstanding contribution to the development of transferable skills among its graduate and undergraduate community, this research points to the need for greater adjustment to students’ requirements and expectations. The graduate students who participated in the study presented several suggestions which may contribute to the improvement of this specific programme, as well as to be taken into consideration by other faculties/universities when designing programmes and tools with similar mission and goals.

 
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