In the August 22, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader who works in a college says students need more than academic education. They deserve career education.
Colleges need to do more to teach students how to negotiate, how to dress for success, and other life skills.
I currently work at a community college. To say that the majority of the student body is under-served is putting it mildly. They need a lot of help, much more than we can provide, but we are there to try to help them succeed.
A few years ago, one of the student workers at the library was selected (her name was randomly drawn) to keep the clothes and accessories the Student Success Center and a women’s organization purchased for her as part of a dress-for-success workshop. She also got to have her hair done, and learned how to do her makeup. She was so thrilled and grateful, because she couldn’t afford to go to Kohl’s and spend $350.00 on a few new (professional) outfits for herself.
The problem is that for some jobs (I’m thinking business, not nursing) you have to look like a million bucks even if you can’t afford a designer suit, shoes, and handbag just for the interview. She was 30 and admitted that she didn’t know what was appropriate for interviews and even where to begin. The workshop taught her about interviews, including how to dress for them, and she found the class helpful, as do most of our students.
Do you think part of the purpose of every college is to give people the skills to get better jobs? I think that includes more than academic knowledge and technical skills. Where’s the college course about how to get a job?
New grads are generally very unprepared for the challenge of getting a job. While colleges vie for position in magazines that rank them on the salaries of new graduates, the same schools deliver woefully inadequate career education.
I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. Nothing we learn is ever wasted. The main purpose of a college education is not to get you a job. But I’ve come to believe that there’s no excuse for any college not to prepare every student and graduate for employment.
College just costs too much for most students not to be able to recoup their (or their parents’) investment in education. Colleges have an obligation to address their graduates’ need to work.
The program you’ve described is a great example of how a school adds an important benefit to education. But it also highlights the fact that this young woman essentially won a lottery, because it’s clear not all students at your school get the important benefits she won.
The bigger issue, of course, is why all schools don’t deliver the necessary preparation to all their students.
Bring jobs into every course
My proposal to colleges and universities is this: Dedicate one class meeting in every course a student takes to how the subject matter relates to a profession, a career, and a job. (See Colleges fail How.) Bring in guest speakers to discuss and explore how a course topic applies to their work — or to tell how it has influenced their jobs or careers and how it has contributed to their success.
Sure, many such presentations could be a stretch. How does a course in early American literature play out for a salesperson? How does a financial manager benefit from a course in cognitive psychology?
The challenge is to invite these guests to tell their stories and to draw connections, some of which might be direct (how a course in physics affects an engineer’s job in designing circuits), and some of which might be tenuous (imagine a lawyer talking about how Art History has played into her work.)
The challenge to make these connections is the point. The purpose is to help students see the myriad and often unusual ways a college education contributes to success at work. The ensuing dialogue would give students an enormous head start in understanding the world of work and jobs.
It’s the people, Stupid
There’s another benefit from such guest presentations that I’m shocked colleges have not figured out already — and that students and their parents have not demanded.
If colleges incorporated my suggestion into their curricula, at the end of four years a student who takes the roughly 40 courses to earn 120 semester credits necessary for a degree will have met around 40 people who do 40 different jobs in 40 companies in an enormous number of industries.
It’s of course up to the student to ask these guests questions, to get to know them, to stay in touch with some — and to form mentoring relationships with at least a few.
When the time comes to apply and interview for jobs, every college senior will have a professional network the likes of which is unheard of today. (For more suggestions about how students can start networking effectively, see College Students: Start job search freshman year.)
Make it part of the job of all educators
Would this be such a difficult undertaking for any college? I’ve heard professors argue it’s not their job to relate a course to the world of work, and that they just don’t have the class time to waste on such curriculum content.
Then, whose job is it? (See Your college owes you a job.)
Preparing students for jobs is not a frivolous enterprise for colleges and universities. The ivory-tower cynics in education should consider that the more successful their alumni are and the more they earn, the better they’ll reflect their alma maters, and the more likely they will be to give back. (Where do you think all those guest speakers will come from?)
Being prepared for work and being well-educated go hand in hand.
What are your ideas for colleges to better prepare students for jobs? What incentives (or pressure) would encourage schools to deliver career education that pays off for everyone?
If you’re an educator, do you think my suggestion of an extra class meeting is nuts?
If you’re an employer, what level of readiness for work do you see in new grads? What are your suggestions for colleges?