Which way to the world of work?

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Originalsprache dieses Artikels ist Deutsch

In association with the national qualification program BNF, our Foundation helps scientists in Switzerland to enter the professional world. We asked some of those involved about the advantages, challenges and experiences with the program.

In Switzerland, higher academic qualifications usually provide a good chance of finding an attractive job. Friends and relatives often expect success! However, for many graduates the reality is different. The step from (for example) a university laboratory into the “real” employment market is sometimes difficult. After years of research work, candidates often lack access to the necessary networks to find interesting jobs. Despite high levels of education and specialization, some graduates remain unemployed.

To help such job-seekers, the University of Berne* runs the BNF program, which is also open to other institutions. It includes several companies and other organizations to which candidates can apply for a six-month position. This allows graduates to avoid a gap in their CV, and to gain initial professional experience. Participants must apply for permanent positions during the six months, with the objective of establishing a foothold on the career ladder as soon as possible.

A definite Win-Win

The Syngenta Foundation signed up to BNF five years ago. R&D manager Dominik Klauser has supervised most of our participants. He sees a great opportunity for both sides: "The program allows young people to gain work experience, and to help them take part in projects which will enhance their CVs. The foundation has a wide selection of interesting international projects, in which participants can show their abilities and aptitude.

Dominik Klauser is responsible for ensuring that BNF participants do meaningful work. He has set his own goals: "I want them to acquire truly relevant skills – in project management, for example – and to broaden their financial knowledge." Career management is also important. He adds: "Amongst other things, participants should understand how they are perceived within a large company."

The Foundation also benefits from the program. "So far, we have always had strongly motivated participants who can work highly independently," says Klauser. They often provide valuable input from their own experience.

Dominik Klauser is aware that BNF program could theoretically be abused. There is a risk that organizations might exploit highly-qualified scientists as cheap labor. "That is not the idea at all," says Klauser. It is the responsibility of the workplace to assign participants to exciting projects and provide support. "We take this task very seriously," Klauser emphasizes. Participants are not employees in the conventional sense: They are registered with the regional employment centre. 

Smallholders and international partners

J.G.** is one of the graduates who have benefited from this opportunity. He is involved in various projects at our Foundation. With a PhD in Molecular Biology, J. learned about BNF from a friend and applied directly to us. "It was always my dream to work in the plant science sector, for example at Syngenta," he says. J.G. works on R&D strategies to help smallholders adapt to changing climatic conditions, and to slow the process of climate change. "It is a great opportunity to learn how smallholders' quality of life can be improved," he says. During his time with us, J.G. has also expanded his network of contacts. At the same time, he is keen to emphasize how much the Foundation benefits from what is, in a sense, highly-qualified volunteering work. 

Our Agriservices and R&D Program Manager Andrea Balmer is another example. After her doctorate, she had been looking for work for some time. Through acquaintances, she found the Syngenta Foundation. Her agricultural background was a good fit. "[Dominik Klauser and the team] were very flexible and offered me a choice of interesting projects," says Balmer. It’s not only the job content that is exciting, she adds. Balmer also mentions our international connections. "It's great to make contact with people from all over the world," she finds. 

At first, however, Balmer had to adjust to the differences between working in the academic world or a corporate foundation. "One big difference is that results and efficiency are both important here!" she now knows. In addition, our Foundation has many partners and other stakeholders, who must always be involved.

Overcoming challenges

For the Syngenta Foundation, a difficulty with BNF is its short duration. "As participants are only here for a limited time, projects often remain unfinished," explains Dominik Klauser. "After all, they want to find a permanent job as quickly as possible: that's the whole idea!"

For participants, the challenges are twofold. On the one hand, they often experience intense outside pressure to submit as many applications as possible. On the other hand, it’s not always easy to access the program. There are many academics looking for work, but only a few are aware of BNF. "That's unfortunate," says Andrea Balmer, as looking for a job often creates stress, and the program can also help emotionally. "Here at the Foundation, it was good for me to work actively on my own future," Balmer continues.

Balmer was successful, as she found a permanent position directly in our team. "The program was like a shortcut for me," she smiles. That is not the norm, but the Foundation also recommends BNF participants to external partners and Syngenta staff. The participants benefit not only from exciting projects, new experiences and knowledge, but also from building a contact network. Together, those repeatedly provide a firm basis for successful entry to the world of work.

This text is based on work by Jorina Kessler during her communications internship at Syngenta.

*We also work with the University of Berne on tef improvement.

** (Real name withheld)