Economic and Management Sciences (EMS) faculty member Melissa Siegelaar has praised a recent job shadowing initiative at Lund University (LU) which she said significantly enhanced her skills as a Learning and Teaching Support Officer within the Dean’s Office.
Siegelaar was part of a group of nine Stellenbosch University (SU) staff members who recently visited the Swedish university on the blended mobility programme for professional administrative support services (PASS). This exchange programme, a collaboration between SU and LU, aims to increase global engagement and professional development by getting staff to compare, evaluate and develop work processes and tools.
“The visit to LU was a great learning experience,” said Siegelaar, who was job shadowing LU colleagues who perform similar duties. “The lessons that I learnt were not necessarily unique to my role in the EMS faculty but they will help me do my job better and more efficiently.”
She highlighted the following three “valuable” lessons:
- The importance of direct communication. “I saw this in practice in the way my LU colleagues communicated in-person, via email and even on notices posted on notice boards. While the tone of the communication could be perceived as blunt, I understood that they saw their work as a reflection of their institutional values and their commitment to their role as a public servant. This was clear in their methods of communication and their efficiency.”
- Consistently following procedures and guidelines set out by the university. “A colleague from LU summed it up perfectly, ‘If you follow the rules, it is easy to make a decision on a matter and no one can say that you are unfair because the rules apply to everyone’. However, this is only true if you maintain consistency in your work processes and decision-making.”
- Collaborate between environments to promote efficiency. “At LU, they apply the principle of collegiality (companionship and cooperation between colleagues who share responsibility). They understand that they are all working as a part of a larger system and their cooperation is required to ensure everything works well. They also have a good work-life balance, which is promoted by their HR structures.”
“I believe I can apply these skills to my role as Learning and Teaching Support Officer because direct communication, procedures and collaboration form an integral part of my job,” she said.
During her visit to LU, Sieglaar also participated in an intercultural communication programme which focused on the different communication methods of, among others, Asian, Middle Eastern, African and European cultures. She also participated in a session on gender equality and equal opportunities both important strategic objectives for LU.
But it wasn’t all work and no play for the EMS staffer.
“I managed to build good relationships with some of my Lund colleagues and we were able to connect over shared experiences and mutual interests. The networking was also valuable because it opens up the possibility of future collaboration.
“We also experienced the Swedish culture of Fika, which is when Swedes take a coffee break during the day with their colleagues in the office and catch up on work and life. This fosters good relations and does wonders for office morale.
“A highlight and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me was when we visited the Uppåkra Archaeological Centre, the largest Iron Age settlement in the Nordic region.”
In November, the SU staff will get an opportunity to return the favour when they host their LU colleagues as part of the exchange programme. Siegelaar believes that the Lund staff would be able to learn a lot from job shadowing their SU peers.
“I think they will especially benefit from seeing SU’s approach to learning technologies as Lund does not have such a well-developed framework when it comes to the use of learning technologies in Teaching, Learning and Assessment. The use of learning technologies in learning and teaching has become increasingly important in the globalisation of higher education. We live in a digital world and giving students exposure to digital technologies arms them with critical skills that they can use in the workplace. Digital technologies can also make the transition easier when applying for jobs in countries where digital technologies are an integral part of the workplace.”
She concluded: “I would like to encourage SU PASS staff to apply for this programme or similar programmes since it is great exposure to other cultures and institutions. There are plenty of opportunities for self-development and professional development available at SU and it is a shame that not enough PASS staff know about these opportunities or choose not to apply for them.”