Students Work, Health and Career design solutions for current labor market problems

The master’s programme Work, Health and Career (WHC) joined forces with the Dutch initiative ’NL werkt aan werk’ to organise a mini-hackathon. The purpose of the hackathon was to bring students, employers, unemployed people and labor market professionals together to brainstorm about current labor market challenges and solutions. Inge Houkes, programme coordinator of WHC, was one of the organisers and coaches of the hackathon.

Forty participants came together at the campus of the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences to brainstorm about a disturbing labor market problem: there is a nationwide shortage of employees in a variety of sectors, but at the same time many people are looking for a job. Apparently, there is a mismatch between demand and supply at the labor market.

Divided into six teams, the participants designed solutions for this wicked problem. Inge: "the purpose of the hackathon was to combine the experience of senior employers and policy makers with the creativity of students. Of course WHC students participated, but students from the FHML master’s programme Health Education and Promotion and Work and Organisational Psychology (FPN) were welcome as well. Each team was also guided by a coach from WHC staff or a member of ’NL werkt aan werk’ and a supervisor from consultancy agency DOON." DOON created the Design Thinking Method that was applied during the hackathon. Design Thinking is a way of working that facilitates effective brainstorming and developing solutions in a short amount of time.

The organisers defined several challenges for the labor market problem such as incorporating open hiring or closing the gap between research and practice. Inge: "we ended our hackathon with each team pitching their ideas for one of the challenges. I was really happy with the amount of creative ideas and the way they were pitched. One team even performed a short sketch about open hiring."

The initiative ’NL werkt aan werk’ intends to process all of the ideas and pitches and distribute them to their large network of employers. Inge: "although we only invited employers from Limburg, the ideas that we came up with can be applied on a national and even international level."

Work, Health and Career is clearly a hands-on programme. As Inge states: "the programme prepares students for a career in sustainable work and occupational health by working on projects and real-life problems. This was a great opportunity for our students to talk with employers and put their knowledge into practice." The students were very excited to join the hackathon. "They actively participated and already connected with employers and professionals on LinkedIn" Inge noticed.

Because the hackathon was such a success, Inge would like to make it an annual event. "Our students benefit from it, as they can create a real impact on societal issues. Together with ’NL werkt aan werk’ I will give feedback to the students about the actual realisation of their ideas."

Fun fact about the initiative for this hackathon, ’NL werkt aan werk’ and WHC were connected by René, a WHC alumnus. "I’m still in contact with our alumni. Apparently, both ’NL werkt aan werk’ and I talked with René about labor market problems. He connected us and we immediately went to work!"

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