Tallinn University of Technology

From October to December 2021, four employees of the School of Business and Governance (SBG) - Dr. Laivi Laidroo, SBG Vice-Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Kristi Joamets, Senior Lecturer in Law and the Programme Director, Dr. Tarmo Kadak, Associate Professor and the Manager of Studies and Eliis Salm, a Lecturer in Marketing carried out an internship at Swedbank as a pilot project. We have interviewed the project leader, Entrepreneurship Cooperation Coordinator Dr. Helena Rozeik, the teaching staff involved, and Kristiin Koppel, Swedbank External Succession Area Manager to find out their impressions and thoughts about the internship.

Eliis Salm, dr Kristi Joamets, dr Tarmo Kadak ja dr Laivi Laidroo
From left: Eliis Salm, Dr. Kristi Joamets, Dr. Tarmo Kadak and Dr. Laivi Laidroo.

Helena, where did the idea to launch the internship programme come from?

The project to offer internships to the teaching staff grew out of the long-term cooperation between Swedbank and the university. One of the most common forms of industry-university collaboration is to involve business representatives in teaching as guest lecturers to diversify traditional lecture format with real-life examples. We wondered whether it could work the other way around, where the lecturer goes to the company instead, thus becoming a part of the day-to-day operations of a business. The internship benefits both the students to whom the acquired knowledge is later passed on, and the company that brings in academic knowledge, experience and an outside perspective.

The teaching staff of the School of Business Governance did their internship in the Communication and Sustainability, Corporate Banking, Finance and Legal divisions. The internship fields were selected based on the staff member’s intentions and interests to improve their knowledge. In each unit, the staff member had a personal mentor and the opportunity to meet field experts. The internship was carried out over a two-month period at a time and in a format agreed between the intern and the mentor.

Dear faculty members, what made you decide to participate in the programme?

Kristi: “The programmes I manage are related to economic law, banking law and international companies. I wanted to make sure that the knowledge provided in my programmes applies to both banks and companies that engage in cross-border operations on a day-to-day basis. In addition, to learn whether there was anything that we should teach more or should be included in the law programme.”

Laivi: "I was interested to see how the bank operates in the era of strengthened regulations and what has changed in the last ten years."

Eliis: “I strongly believe that teaching staff should keep studying and be aware to which extent theory is used or not used in business. As one of the largest companies in the field, Swedbank is the right place to see the implementation of good practices.”

Were your expectations met?

Laivi: “I wanted to have a fresher insight into what is going on in banking to help me put the topics I teach into context, and in the context of research allow me to better assess the challenges that banks daily face. The programme provided me with a bigger picture of what is happening in corporate banking and its effect on Estonian companies’ day-to-day operations.”

Kristi: “I wanted to see the everyday work of a bank lawyer. I could attend meetings on a wide range of topics, and had a conversation with the Legal Department about their expectations to a lawyer who would like to work for them.”

Eliis: “I expected to learn more about how Swedbank plans and implements sustainability and responsibility-related activities. Thanks to the Sustainability Area Manager, these expectations were met.”

What did you learn during your internship?

Tarmo: “Above all, I learned that cooperation is indispensable in creating the results of the organization, but also supporting and motivating people in a human-centred organization - a lot is contributed to this. It is not hard to predict the relationship between motivation and results. In terms of my field, I will remember the fact that a combination of good professional and teamwork skills and continuous interest in self-development leads to good results at work.”

Kristi: “I was assured that TalTech BA and MA law programmes taught in English are very much needed in the labour market. An employee of an international organization has to be fluent in English to discuss, challenge or formulate standards.”

What was your vow-moment during the internship?

Tarmo: “I experienced a great overlap of my professional vision with the bank's one. I saw that the values of the organization have a strong impact on the results. The bank's values were perceptible, not declarative. Great openness, for instance - it was not just a value stated in the strategy document, but it really 'worked'. I saw it as a (main) factor to promote business in such a large organization. For example, bottlenecks were clearly and analytically presented at the meeting, which created a solid ground for dealing with and overcoming the bottlenecks. Without openness, i.e. presenting them through a "filter", they would not be so obvious, and it would greatly reduce the likelihood of solving them.”

Kristi: “The people made a deep impression on me. They were so open, friendly, 100% committed to their work. They did enjoy working at the bank.”

Would you recommend other faculty members to participate in such a programme?

Laivi: “I would strongly recommend it because the internship allows you to step out of the academic world for a moment and see what is going on in reality. Regarding the application of the acquired knowledge, preliminary agreements were reached on cooperating with the bank to deliver some field-related lectures."

Tarmo: “Of course, I would recommend it. If you come up with your wishes and expectations first and present them, the bank will find a suitable contact person for the topic.”

Eliis: “Yes, for sure! I consider cooperation with companies very important. This way, knowledge is transferred in both directions and it is easier for the university to involve practitioners in the teaching and learning process. I also look forward to future collaboration on ethics, responsibility, and sustainability.”

Kristi: “I would recommend it because it broadened my horizons as a programme director. I saw the challenges my students face after graduation. It gave me confidence in curriculum development. I would be happy to do that kind of internship with other employers.”

As a bank, we need to contribute to the succession of the company, and therefore we keep cooperating with universities. Quality education is not the responsibility of the university alone, but also the private sector. Through such a programme, we indirectly contribute to providing our future talents with higher-quality education. Thus, we value the opportunity to offer internships for the teaching staff. Merely the fact that answering questions put by an external counterparty requires thinking out of the box and interpreting our work differently from what we have been used to is beneficial for us. In addition, by comparing the theoretical approach with our daily work, we were assured that we were doing the right thing at the bank. We would like to cooperate with TalTech in the future as well. We see such ventures as an important part of a successful collaboration.

- Kristiin Koppel, Swedbank External Succession Area Manager

Thanks to the positive experience of both the university and Swedbank, the programme will continue in the autumn of 2022.

Author: Heili Sõrmus