A get together with a Belgian green school

A Good Practice by Sophie van Kasteren

In november 2021 I initiated a first time meeting with a deputy director from a green school 10 kilometers away from where I live. I work as a marketer for Yuverta in The Netherlands, but I live just accross the border in the north of Belgium. We have no Belgian participants in our project and I was curious to find out how the Belgians promoted their green schools and whether sustainability is something they promote.

I was welcomed by Peter Ceusters, the deputy director who was in charge of the Agro and Biotechnology department of the school. I introduced myself and Yuverta and told him about our program PROGRESS and our goals. The educational system in Belgium differs from the one in the Netherlands. But we both educate young people from 12 till 20+ years old. Sint Josef offers secondary and vocational education, just like Yuverta does. The organisation Sint Jozef belongs to, consists of 6 schools of which 5 are located in Geel and 1 in the neighbouring village of Kasterlee. Next to secondary and vocational education they offer kindergarten and primary schools too.

What about marketing?

Before our meeting I studied the website of Sint Josef (https://kogeka.be/sintjozef/ ). And the content did not differ very much from what we do at Yuverta. It was informative, showed some videos with students and they organise a open house now and then. You were able to download any brochure you like and you did not need to give any information about yourself. No marketing cookies where given. I had the impression that marketing tools were not such a big deal for them.

Peter was interested but also a bit shocked when I told him that we at Yuverta have a marketing department of 50 people for our 53 schools. Marketing is not a big issue at his school, nor at other schools in the region. They do not need a marketing department like we need in The Netherlands. We talked about attracting new students. In The Netherlands we compete with other schools to promote the education for our green industry. Young students need to make a decision about what occupation they want and what school to go to. The schools for vocational education compete to attract them to their events and information sessions. Many industries promote choosing for education that prepares students for a job in their field of expertise. E.g. the Dutch technology industry invests heavily in campaining for schools. Our green industry is relatively small so we do not have that kind of money to spend in order to attract our students. But we need to get heard.

Peter told me that for Sint Josef their reputation as a school for Agro and Biotechnology is most important. They are situated in a rural area with many farms and many families with sons and daughters who decide to go to the same school family members go to or went to. So endorsement is the most important way to get the students they need. But he told me that they did not invest heavily in helping people to tell their story for them, nor in marketing. It was more like “we send out information via our website or via other schools and we will wait and see. People who have a good experience during their time at Sint Josef will tell others”. In Belgium there are several green schools but the specialisms differ. At Sint Josef they offer education about animals, about farming and about biotechnology. At another green school 20 kilometres away from Geel they offer specialisms about plants and horticulture. People in the area know that for animals or farming you need to go to Geel and for horticulture you need to go to Hoogstraten. In Belgium there are only 2 schools for vocational education on animals. The students they attract that way are sufficient for them.

Our educational programs in The Netherlands are more differentiated than in Belgium. For example in Belgium you have a broad education on ‘plant, animal and environmental techniques’ first and later on you specialize in plants or animals or farming. When you choose plants you can specialize as a gardener or as a horticulturist. At Yuverta we have over 50 different programs students can choose from. When you choose something with animals we offer studies for pets, farm animals, horse care, equestrian sports and vet assistant (16 different ones) and we offer them at most of our schools. I can understand we need more marketing to help students choose and to help people to attend as an ambassador for us. I do not say that it is better, but it is the way the Dutch vocational studies are specialized. There are 686 different vocational programs in The Netherlands and 61 vocational schools (organizations not branches). Only 9 of them educate for the green industry and Yuverta is one of them.

What about sustainability?

I also studied the website of Sint Josef about their vision. It said:

At Sint Jozef Geel you will learn everything about agro- and biotechnology, food and catering or science and technology (2nd and 3rd grade) in a lifelike, warm and high-quality way.

After your secondary education, you can immediately start working as a craftsman or you can continue studying within these domains in academic and professional higher education.

You will find a lot of options with us. Some directions can be found (almost) nowhere else in Flanders. So be sure to check out our study offer.

We think it is very important that you feel good at our school and that you have a good relationship with everyone who learns, lives and works at our school.

In their vision Sint Josef touches some of the 17 sustainable development goals: 4. quality education and 3. good health and well-being. The typical ‘green’ SDG’s are not something Sint Josef distinguishes themselves with from other schools. There is no need according to Peter.

I talked about the mission and vision of Yuverta. We have 2 main goals: we provide qualitative education and we want to contribute to make the world a better place. At Yuverta we touch many of the SDG’s and we work hard to incorporate the SDG’s in our programs. And we also want to be seen as a school who has incorporated sustainability in all of the programs. We want to contribute to a better world and we want our students to contribute to a better world when they work in a company or start a company of their own. For us it is something we want to claim in the market en want to become known for. The drive to position ourselves as a school which has a lot to do with sustainability comes from the need to stand out from the rest. So it is who we are as an organization but it is also a useful marketing ambition to stand out from the rest by excellence on sustainability.

What a difference 10 kilometers make!

I was surprised to learn that the Belgian vocational education market is so different from ours. It is less complicated and I have the impression that it is less complicated to find the school to go to. There is less competition or they feel less competition. Their most important activity is education and that is what they focus on. For a marketer like me this is not a good thing, but I am sure my colleague Peter has a different opinion after our talk.

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