This is the time of year when high school students from around the country make their decisions on where they will go to college in the fall. The notion of outcomes and a return on investment are central themes of concern for students and their families. Because of this heightened sense of awareness and concern, the spotlight inevitably shines on career services — what are they doing to provide resources and services that allow students to secure desired post-graduation outcomes?
Career Services is traditionally a place of discovery and connection where staff members work with students on identifying interests, preparing application materials, and connecting them to opportunities to interact with industry and alumni. Although this approach has helped in the past, with the growing use of technology and artificial intelligence, liberal arts graduates of tomorrow who have the ability to build additional technical skills will be able to tap into more and better job opportunities. Career Services needs to do more to prepare students — to build on their academic foundation and pivot quickly for the vastly different world of work, but how?
What if we could go beyond preparation and connection and be the conduit for students to develop technical skills? Skills that complement their coursework and make them more dynamic candidates?
The work we began at Muhlenberg College focuses in three central areas.
- On-Demand Learning Opportunities
With the amount of free, quality education resources available through places such as Coursera, Udacity, and LinkedIn Learning, there is an opportunity for Career Services to curate and facilitate new professional growth for students. If a student isn’t exposed to a software such as Google Analytics in their coursework, but they need to know it for an internship, what do they do? We believe that most students aren’t aware of the variety of free tools available to teach themselves necessary technical skills, or how to incorporate this as a selling point to a potential employer. Career Services has the ability to be the driver that increases awareness of these opportunities, motivates students to complete them, and illuminates a pathway of how these tools are a differentiator in an application process. We’ve surveyed hundreds of employers to find out what skills are crucial to their recruiting needs. Armed with this knowledge, we’re able to curate resources to help our students gain those skills through our campus subscription to Lynda.com. We also use this information in the career coaching process to help students explore major, industry, and job function interests and identify where a technical gap may exist prior to applying for an opportunity.
- Intensive Industry Skills Immersion
An alumni- and student-led pilot training program by a campus club (Wall Street Club at Muhlenberg) served as an example for us to start thinking about how we could offer guided skill-based training to students. This club organized training materials that were recommended and funded by an alumni club leader. This training, facilitated over winter break, allowed alumni and students to work together via our Learning Management System.
The result? Students gained new knowledge in their targeted field and a new credential to showcase.
After researching skills needed for entry-level positions in various industries, we created opportunities for students to take advantage of free online training by offering structure and guidance. Using free, company-provided training materials, we’ve made getting exposure and credentials for specific programs like Google Analytics, HubSpot, and Tableau a barrier-free experience for students. All of the training is things students could do on their own, but we believe that doing it as a cohort (and adding in real-world interactions from recruiters or alumni who use the tools) will make it a more enriching learning experience.
- Engagement & Exposure to Industry
As a small liberal arts institution, employer engagement is challenging because we aren’t selected as a target school for most recruiters. In order to provide students access to employers, we’ve turned the tables and bring students to the employers. For the previous two years, we have run a career road trip program traveling to New York City, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia visiting alumni-connected organizations. These events are intended to be informational in nature but as an added benefit, we began to see students make connections leading to internships and full-time positions they would not normally have had access to. This is a win for our institution in terms of outcomes and marketing.
There is a heightened awareness of Career Services today because college is expensive and prospective students and families want to know what outcomes will make them a return on their investment. We believe Career Services is the conduit to bridge the ideals of higher education and the liberal arts philosophy with the demands of the labor market.
Career Services of tomorrow should be the hub that understands employer’s demands for specific skills and creates necessary programming and content for students — giving them an opportunity to meet the demands of the labor force. Participating in these opportunities to develop specific hard skills, and engaging with industry professionals early and often, will allow our students to gain a foot in the door. Their liberal arts’ education will allow them to excel in their careers as critical thinkers and agile problem solvers, prepared to weather the changes that will inevitably continue in the future world of work.