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Martijn Jonker: 'Feeling like a kid in a candy store'

Alumnus testimonial

Martijn Jonker, graduated in Human Geography and Urban and Regional Planning in 1988.

Martijn Jonker
Martijn Jonker Photo by: Astrid Zwart

When I enrolled in Human Geography at the UvA in 1980, the programme was incredibly popular. The lecture room was packed with over 100 other students. Apparently, interest in spatial planning issues was peaking at the time. I didn't choose Human Geography with any specific career in mind. However, the Netherlands went through a major recession in the early 1980s, and I became increasingly worried about my labour market prospects as my graduation date drew nearer. By the time I was free to choose a new direction after completing my Kandidaats examination, I decided to specialise in Demographics, a relatively technical specialisation within Geography that interested me and offered better career perspectives. 

I started my career at the Ministry of Education, where I was charged with assessing the student prognoses required for education investment applications. My background in demographics proved useful in that position. I then moved on to ICS adviseurs (School Accommodation Information & Consultancy Centre), a consultancy firm that supervised a large number of municipalities in the process of developing their new responsibilities for school accommodation. The next few years were varied and enjoyable, as I completed a broad range of consultancy and interim assignments throughout the Netherlands. Working for a private sector employer broadened my horizons, while the project-based approach gave me insight into the various aspects of effective project management.

Loving it all

When our consultancy firm was eventually taken over by a major accountancy firm, I decided it was time to move on again. One of my colleagues suggested me to apply for a job at the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce, which proved to be a great idea. I really felt like a kid in a candy store those first few years. I loved it all: my job, the breadth of the issues we dealt with, the large-scale networks and the lack of commercial pressure. It's still a really varied and challenging prospect: contributing to a strong economic region. The organisation has since shifted its focus from providing advice on the regional business climate to a more motivational role, where we work to link small and medium-sized enterprises to knowledge partners from the worlds of education, science and international business.

Plenty of opportunities

In retrospect, my Human Geography and – subsequently – Urban and Regional Planning and Demographics programmes were extremely broadly-oriented and fascinating studies. Thanks to the favourable economic climate, almost everyone in my year managed to find a job. The Human Geography programme is a mark of your interests and cognitive skills, and thus your general competence. These days, though, that's not enough for employers. If you think knowledge is the key to get the job you want, you have to specialise. As an interdisciplinary study programme, Geography offers plenty of opportunities to do just that.

The New Chamber of Commerce is the result of a merger between 12 old Chambers of Commerce and Syntens, the government's innovation consultancy.