Congratulations to Students completing the Professional Competency Spring Session at An Najah University!

Student Islam is presented with her certificate by intern Laura It's daunting thinking about the real world when you are at university.  It is easier to put your head in the sand, enjoy your studies and only worry about work when graduation is complete. However, students in Palestine have it tougher than the average student after graduation, as youth unemployment can be as high as 70%.  In the face of such challenges, actively thinking about work post-university is critical.

This week, over 70 proactive An Najah students were awarded a certificate for completing nine weeks of the Professional Competency class. In this session they have been educated on the realities of youth unemployment, supported in searching for jobs, encouraged to volunteer to gain valuable work experience, taught how to write a CV and cover letter, exposed to professional behavior in the workplace, and prepared for what to expect in an interview. All the while, their English comprehension and conversation has improved through their engagement in interactive discussions, small group and pair work, information sharing and simulations of real-world professional situations.

When initially tasked with preparing a curriculum outline for the classes, nine weeks sounded like forever.  In the event, the time flew. It was natural to make assumptions based on our own norms, which invariably meant overestimating what students might already know about the professional world.  Whereas each UK university has its own in-house careers service, providing a gamut of well-resourced support, TYO's international interns are themselves performing substantive aspects of this function.  As such, we have often needed to introduce a concept for the very first time, which involves answering questions like ‘what’ and ‘why’, and not merely dealing with the ‘how’.

It can be difficult to fully quantify the success of this sort of endeavor.  Students may not apply what they have learned for some time yet.  Even so, in the space of just nine weeks, one student has attended her very first interview and secured a job.  She explained that a class spent exploring the idea of the ‘elevator pitch’, and the opportunity to practice this type of self-introduction in front of the group, conveyed the importance of positive body language, eye contact and a smile, which she felt were key to her success.  Another student has wanted to compile a CV for three years, but only felt able to do so during this session.  When comparing pre self-assessments with post self-assessments, students clearly appreciated the value of the professional course.  Every student reported increased confidence in their ability to write a CV and cover letter, and improved awareness of what to do both before and during an interview.

Perhaps more difficult for students to identify are their own evolving perceptions of themselves and their skills, but as facilitators, we view these changes as the linchpin of the session's achievements.  Students have consistently been encouraged to reframe past work or volunteer experiences in terms of specific skills they have used or gained.  In doing so, a number of students revealed astonishing capabilities drawn from experiences they had previously dismissed, surprising both interns and themselves in the process.

As with any class, it’s not just the content that is important.  Forging new relationships is a positive by-product. Most students only knew, on average, one other person in the class, but by the end of the nine weeks the groups were visibly more cohesive. They have been exposed to new people with different perspectives, and even made new friends.  It was touching to see these friends take photos together at the graduation ceremony, testament to the fact that the interns had facilitated classes that contained valuable content but also the opportunity to converse in English, work together in teams and create new relationships - just as one needs to do in the workplace!

Interns were proud to shake the hand of each participant and hand him or her their completion certificate at the graduation ceremony.  We wish them all the best for their future, and are pleased that we have supported their transition from university to the workplace.

-TYO Interns, Celia and Laura

Tomorrow's Youth Organization offers Professional Competency courses in partnership with An Najah National University and through generous support of the Abdel Hameed Shoman Foundation.