Lessons in 21st century skills

Learning to network at a young age is quite literally a gift for life and a genuine 21th century skill. Especially when you realise that 8 out of 10 jobs are still filled through networking, even if the jobs are advertised.

La Red has a great deal of experience within education, in setting up and providing lessons in strategic networking. On the instructions of the VO-raad (Dutch council for secondary education) we developed the ‘N-factor’ teaching package as part of the Stimulering Loopbaan Oriëntatie Begeleiding project (project to promote career orientation and guidance). The lessons focus on the career competence of ‘networking’ and are suitable for all school years from VMBO (pre-vocational secondary education) to 6 VWO (final year of pre-university education).

The N-factor teaching package

The teaching package had been available in digital form for mentors and teachers since the autumn of 2014. During the ‘N-factor’ lessons, students learn strategic networking with a focus on how they can use other people (friend of a friend) to help find work, a trainee post or further education. People in their network can also help in their choice of subject combination or study, such as by talking with students and parents about the required qualities and motivation.

The seven ‘N-factor’ lesson plans each contain material for at least two hours of teaching and have been developed from the perspective of: the network as an infrastructure; the network as a resource; and networking as a verb. This enables the students to learn both the skill of ‘networking’ and to explore, develop and exploit their strategic network . Each lesson plan includes a student version, a teacher version with the theory and tips, and a ‘library’ of short films and interesting links. We have also provided a networking test for the students: The Network Thermometer. This test helps students to think about their own network and their networking behaviour.

Essential skills for work, study and happiness

Miriam Notten, social-capital management consultant at La Red: “Students know their family and friends as well as colleagues from their part-time job. These people are generally similar to themselves in terms of lifestyle, preferences and interests. As you get older, your network will grow as a matter of course, but it will not automatically become more diverse.

In these lesson plans we teach young people to build a network that also contains people who are different from themselves, and who they know less well. This will provide more opportunities for assistance as well as access to new worlds and people you don’t know.

This is what makes the career competence of ‘networking’ so important. We want to teach this to young people and show them how to use their social capital – the assistance they can expect from their network – to progress from ambition to reality. We will also examine whether their network contains contacts who are able and willing to help them with their study and work career, how they can maintain and expand their network, and whether they can be of assistance to others in their network.”

Career advisers enthusiastic about the teaching package

Career adviser Jeroen Meijer, president of the Vereniging van Schooldecanen en Loopbaanbegeleiders (VvSL: association of career advisers), and other colleagues in the NVS-NVL, received the teaching package from the VO-raad: “It is important for students to develop the courage to expand their network, and in particular with people they would not normally approach. And they won’t be able to avoid it during these lessons! They will discover which people are important for them to befriend.

We will actively promote this teaching package among our career advisers. It is a comprehensive package with plenty of effective exercises. It is also very versatile and I will definitely be taking a close look at how we can use this in our lessons at my school, the Atheneum College Hageveld in Heemstede. With this teaching package we will be able to develop our students’ ‘networking skills’ competence, helped by the practical teacher’s guide for each lesson.”

Networking lesson plans and the contents of the teaching package

The seven lesson plans in this teaching package each contain material for at least two hours of teaching. They have been developed from three perspectives: the network as an infrastructure, the network as a resource and networking as a verb. There is always one lesson plan available for the students and another for the teacher.

Lesson plan 1 ‘A network? Have I got one too?’

In the first lesson, the students will familiarise themselves with the concepts and way of thinking related to the competence of networking. They will realise that they have a network and that it can provide them with assistance.

Lesson plan 2 ‘We are open!’

In this lesson, students will explore and analyse the structure of their network. They can use this knowledge to build their network in a more conscious and targeted manner, and to make use of assistance from their network.

Lesson plan 3 ‘Your teacher is a gold mine’

The students discover that the more different people they know and the more new things they get to hear, the more help there is in their network. They look at the professions present in their network and at the contacts of the people they know.

Lesson plan 4 ‘With a little help from my friends’

The fourth lesson is about the importance of keeping in contact and building trust and reciprocity. Students practice consciously expressing what they are looking for and what they need within the context of their study and career choices.

Lesson plan 5 ‘Out of sight, out of mind’

In this lesson students learn that you need see people on a regular basis to keep them in the forefront of your mind. They practise keeping in contact with people in their network and ensuring other people will remember them.

Lesson plan 6 ‘The course on how to meet new people’

This lesson focuses on ‘the art of shaking hands’ and other practical skills. Students practice meeting people and making the right impression. They learn how to approach new people and introduce themselves to other people via the people they already know.

Lesson plan 7 ‘Network hotspots’

In this final lesson students practise meeting new people in new places and asking new questions to people at locations they already frequent. They will learn to think about where to find the people they want to come into contact with.

The Network Thermometer

Students can use the Network Thermometer to monitor their personal networking development.