When sixty students walk into a parliament, you’ve got to be a good communicator.

Our visit to European Parliament, March 2017

First year students in the European Parliament in Brussels, image via EP_Technology

I think Mr. Bondeson-Eggert was right when he stated that a part of any job at the European Parliament (EP) is talking about the Parliament with other citizens. “When you work here, you’ll get questions from your neighbours. You’ll need to be a good communicator.” The European Union and its Parliament are still an abstract (and sometimes considered irrelevant) institution to most Europeans. So a conversation about what happens there is necessary.

We took part in this conversation when we visited the Parliament last March. We are a group of first year students from the Erasmus Hogeschool Brussels, myself being an exception to the average age between 18 and 20 years old. We joke around and get shy around teachers. I guess we never cared what was going on in the large metal and glass building near the Luxembourg station in Brussels. Before entering, we hang out around on the central square and discuss the office workers’ looks as they pass by.

After a security check and a walk through the large hallways, we’re welcomed by the EP officials, in a smaller conference room. Every table is equipped with a microphone and a voting machine. The chairs are large and comfortable. This morning, the officials explain some of the work at the Parliament. Briefly, the work of the MEPs was described to us, but the lectures mostly focused on the ITEC department. They provide anything and everything digital to the Parliament, from newsletters to phones. With approximately 700 ITEC-employees they serve the European Parliament, which consist of more than 14.000 people. But are these numbers and organigrams the best way to include 18 to 20 year olds in your organisation? In a conversation, it’s crucial who you are talking to. And I think this crowd needs a different approach.

Show them!

Take another look at these slides. You’re not trying to impress business men here, you’re showing your work to students. So, when you talk about a piece of software you’re building, or the trouble of programming a text editor to include all the languages spoken in the Parliament, show them! It’s the practical side of work that could engage young people who love problem solving and new digital developments. Software demos or videos about the work your departments do, could be a nice addition to the lectures.

A government for everyone

Secondly, make your lecture relatable. Ask a young, female or coloured colleague to join you in your lecture, and ask them to speak to the students. Demonstrate that working for the European government is not only interesting for white, middle aged men, but there’s also jobs for young, tech savvy kids from Brussels. In the lectures, the officials were aware of themselves being white and from a certain age group, but just recognizing this might not be enough to convince students. Here, you have a chance to set an example to a large group of teenagers about being a divers government, please take it!

Connect using stories

And don’t forget — a lecture is a story. It’s stories that connect people. A story is what we remember about a conversation and when it is good, it will become something we later share with others. Since getting the conversation going about the European Parliament is a part of your job, take us with you on a journey involving the best and the worst moments in the ITEC-offices. Provide a story for the students to spread, and let’s continue the European conversation.

Kitty Bons, 2017