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Capstone course gives opportunity to put master’s studies into practice

The participating companies praised the course concept and the talented students.
Kaksi opiskelijaa istuu läppäreidensä kanssa Kauppakorkeakoululla. Kuva: Aalto-yliopisto / Unto Rautio
The students in the picture did not attend this Capstone course. Photo: Aalto University / Unto Rautio

The joint Capstone course – part of the spring programme for the School of Business's master’s programmes in management and international business, entrepreneurship and business law – has now reached completion. Located at the end of the master’s studies, this course was and is intended to bring together everything the students have learned over the previous two years. The project-based course lasts 10 weeks and involves the students carrying out a real-life project for a company or organisation. The course is run every autumn and spring.

Course leader and Postdoctoral Researcher Iiris Saittakari, from the Department of Management Studies, says that she endeavours to obtain interesting, topical and interdisciplinary assignments for the students to work on. ‘The aim is also to involve different types of organisations, ranging from growth companies to multinationals and from NGOs to public bodies, in order to offer students as wide a range of assignments as possible.’

‘I am very pleased that, in line with Aalto's strategy, we managed to get the sustainability perspective integrated into almost every assignment. Between 10 and 12 companies take part in the course each time, and this time around the case companies included School of Business partners S Group and Hilti. At the first course meeting, all participating companies briefly present their assignment to the students, and the students then express their own preference for which project they would like to take. My goal is that each student is as happy as possible with the project they are assigned to. Interdisciplinary student teams are formed, with each group having 4 or 5 people. At the end of the project, the company receives a written report on the project and gets to listen to the students' final presentation. The project work is also always facilitated by an academic advisor from Aalto,’ Iiris Saittakari explains.

Hilti project focused on the occupational health and safety needs of construction engineering companies

One of the groups this spring received their project assignment from Hilti, a global construction industry operator. Hilti is well known brand and the company is a sought-after workplace which has also fared well in the Great Place to Work in Finland competition.

‘Our first task was to define the scope of the project. Our discussions led us to focus on responding to the occupational health and safety needs of large Finnish companies in the construction engineering sector. Based on our research findings, we developed innovative approaches to how Hilti could best respond to identified needs while at the same time distinguishing itself from the competition. We also examined how Hilti should sell and market its occupational health and safety offering to the selected customer base,’ explains Anna-Riikka Smolander, one of the students on the team. The other team members were Niina Kivi, Jalmari Lindholm and Heidi Saarikko.

Anna-Riikka explains that their team was able to collaborate with Hilti employees across Europe. The team was also able to interview Finnish experts in occupational safety within the construction sector.

‘These discussions gave an excellent overview of the construction industry network and how legislation and various health and safety restrictions meet the needs of the work site culture and the employees. It was also fascinating to look at how the change towards a safer working environment in the construction sector has been very significant in recent decades, and that this has also brought with it new challenges. In this changing environment, companies aim to keep their business profitable by responding to these challenges and reshaping their business activities.’  

‘At the end of the project, we recommended that Hilti productise their offering for occupational health and safety in order to make it easier to sell and market different products. Hilti’s range already includes, for example, vibration isolation for work equipment, but their customer base should be made more aware of this feature. In addition to the report, our team gave a brief presentation of the results of the project, aiming to ‘sell’ our concept to the Hilti employees. We will also get the chance to give our presentation later in June to Hilti Finland's management team.’

Fabian Listringhaus, Marketing Director at Hilti Finland, is very satisfied with the course. He praised the excellent cooperation with the students and with Aalto University.

‘I most enjoyed the students' fresh and enthusiastic ideas. I also like the Capstone concept itself. This course is short and has the feel of a sprint. The fast timetable requires strict focus from everyone, but at the same time it helps keep the project in mind and ensures its progress. We will certainly benefit in the future from the students’ proposed solutions,’ Listringhaus says.

S Group project focused on promoting diversity and inclusiveness in work orientation practices

The team, consisting of students Maija Hirvo, Meeri Peltola, Gary Pence, Anne-Mari Pulkkanen and Hilla Remes, was commissioned by SOK to examine how diversity and inclusiveness can be promoted in work orientation practices. The focus of the study was on the Digital Development Unit, for which new employees are constantly being recruited. At present, diverse international backgrounds are rare among employees at SOK. 

Meeri Peltola says that she has appreciated the project's focus on building new knowledge and understanding. ‘We were able to develop our ability to draw conclusions and to select suitable procedures for solving the problems that emerged. It was interesting to be able to act as a consultant, and by working together as a team we were able to explore from multiple perspectives the different approaches to carrying out the project.’ 

In Capstone projects, the company receives a report that presents the problem, its background, provides perspectives on the topic based on existing literature and students’ own research, and presents results and recommendations for development ideas.

‘We interviewed the international members of the Digital Development Unit regarding their work orientation experience. We found out that particularly managerial work, the use of ‘work buddies’, and social events could be developed during the orientation phase so that they would better support the new employee's experience of inclusion,’ Meeri explains.

‘Cooperation with the S Group went very smoothly. We had contacts with both the HR and Digital Development units. They provided us with good in-depth information on what was relevant from their perspective in relation to this project as well as the necessary additional information on our research subject and the methods already in use. The S Group members helped us get the interviewees for the interviews required for our project.

Hilla Remes explains that she has learned a lot about inclusiveness through the project and how it can be implemented in organisations as well as possible.

‘I am even more interested in working on these issues in the future. I also learned very practical things in the project: managing a large project, working in teams remotely, carrying out research and interviews and developing processes. The Capstone course helped me combine these different lessons and particularly to put them in the context of working life,’ Hilla concludes.

HR Specialist Ilona Harju from the S Group offers very similar feedback to Hilti’s Fabian Listringhaus.

‘The collaboration went smoothly and the students carried the project forward in a highly coordinated manner. The students made very interesting observations, and we will use these as the basis for taking action. We, the S Group employees involved, all felt that these kinds of projects are great channels for students to get to solve genuine business challenges, which in the best cases also bring enormous tangible benefits to the companies themselves. Hopefully, we will continue to be able to offer interesting projects to students.’

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