In these uncertain times, many institutions of higher education are re-shaping traditional concepts of how they see themselves, to provide their students with not only theoretical but also practical knowledge and skills, useful for their future career prospects, to enhace their possibilities of getting a job after they finish their studies. This is even more challenging given the circumstances derived from the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world. 

With this in mind and within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, a UNAI member institution in the Russian Federation, Far Eastern Federal University, has developed the ASAP program, with the objective of promoting employment of students who can remotely complete assignments for companies in the Russian Far East. The initiative started with the aim of increasing student employment and helping those who have lost their jobs due to the closure of small and medium-sized businesses during the ongoing pandemic.

ASAP is a service for students and enterprises to work together, launched with the support of the Ministry of Science and Education of the Russian Federation. The service is a component of the Student Employment Assistance Program that fosters practice-focused training and vocational guidance for students, by offering them real-life job cases. ASAP serves as an compilation of offers and a link between students and partner companies. The university, once contacted by the latter, facilitates dialogue on terms and deadlines, oversees the process, and helps all parties to reach an agreement.

ASAP makes the selection of students, forms a team, and curates their performance, assisting them for the timely execution of all tasks. Finally, students develop a required solution and receive payment for it. The operational scheme provides all parties with a variety of benefits. Students enrolled in the project gain the opportunity to master their competencies without interrupting their studies. Offers provided by enterprises give them not only a vocational guidance and a real working experience, but also the chance to develop soft skills, utterly important in starting their own careers.

In turn, enterprises that opt to outsource their non-routine tasks that originally require considerable effort to ASAP members, solve a set of problems simultaneously. By tasking students, companies can analyze their performance and offer the most skilled and talented among them, a potential post-university employment. Furthermore, the university enriches both its range of partners and a tool set of youth policy instruments, and contributes to the proficiency and competitiveness of its students. By performing as a customer, it modernizes inner services and processes with the assistance of freelancers from ASAP.

The project got the green light in April 2020, just few months after the beginning of the pandemic. As of today, there are 4 full-fledged branches in ASAP. One of them, ASAP.IT, is primarily dedicated to programming and software development, embracing talented and eager to learn minds in computer science, creating IT-solutions for clients and various services for students’ daily routine, including through new apps. Another branch is ASAP.Architects, responsible for carrying out projects for improving campus, the embankment of lake Khanka, and courtyard spaces in residential areas of the city of Vladivostok.

ASAP.Games is a game development training studio where students independently study current trends in the gaming industry and create their own products. The applications developed by ASAP’s gamedev residents pursue not only recreational, but educational purposes as well. And, ASAP.Projects, a collective definition for various initiatives implemented under the auspices of ASAP, such as a phone support service to promote the integration of virtual conferencing software into the university curriculum, a program of smart bins for separate garbage collection, and a set of animated videos on legal literacy for school-children, to name a few.

“It is always difficult to take the first step towards building your career trajectory, and our project serves as a starting point, helping students to begin, with confidence in their own abilities and higher career expectations,” explained Yulia Mosenzova, curator of the ASAP project. “The project has gathered active folks united by a single goal – to grow professionally and develop in their field. Most importantly, they succeed, and the team of project creators helps to develop such an atmosphere of excellence,” mentioned Ruslan Polynskiy, from the ASAP.architects branch.

Since its emergence, ASAP has attracted more than 350 students, which is roughly a quarter of all students engaged in the Employment Assistance Program. Up to 12 companies became partners of the service, and more than 30 projects have been completed by students. After more than a year of existence, the project has turned into a multifunctional platform offering students diverse opportunities for professional development. Project curators conduct educational activities, help students develop their own initiatives and create new student organizations focused on professional skills, while offering opportunities for hands-on experiences.