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You Need to Build a New Career Center, Now What?

There will be a day when you look at your career center space and realize that it’s outgrown in its current footprint and function. Planning for a new career services facility is a job within itself and takes more than the typical 10% that’s allotted for ‘other duties as assigned’ in your job description. For many, facility planning and renovation is not typically an area of expertise that is highlighted on one’s CV; however, it easily parallels the work that is done within a career center. Here are five tips to consider as the first phases of your construction project.

Create the Vision

Any facility construction project (this includes new projects, renovation, and/or expansion) needs to begin with a vision. Just as we establish the overall vision and mission for our career centers, the same planning must go into the facility itself. After all, a good deal of the work that we do actually happens within our physical spaces which makes creating the vision a necessary first step.

Some questions to consider during your visioning process are:

  1. Why is a new career center facility needed?

  2. If there were no limitations, what would the career services facility accomplish?

  3. What are the most important things a new career services center would achieve?

  4. What role does the career center facility currently serve on campus?

  5. How will this role be fulfilled through the new facility many years from now?

These guiding questions, in addition to many others, will frame the facility project to best meet the goals of the career center and larger university ecosystem.

Get Immediate Buy In

In a profession where change is the only thing that’s constant, it’s important to create immediate buy in when considering or executing a facility enhancement. As leadership expert John Kotter explains in Leading Change, it’s important to get others on board and excited about the change for things to move forward smoothly and successfully.

In moving forward with a construction project, it’s critical for key stakeholders to buy into your vision. For example, if you are trying to make the case for a new career center facility, then creating a sense of urgency for approval and budget support would be essential for upper administration. On the other hand, maybe the funding and support for the facility project is in place, but you must convince your staff that re-locating for an entire year during construction will be a good thing in the long run. Be it staff, administration, or employers - immediately explaining the overall need for the project will help in motivating your team, initiating fundraising efforts, and ultimately getting everyone excited for what’s to come.

Take a Risk (or Two)

Taking risks in facility work begins with the vision of building a new center or enhancing your current space. However, the more tangible the risk, the scarier they can become. For example, making the decision to spend a considerable amount of money on architectural drawings in challenging budgetary times to sell and explain your dream visually can be intimidating. How do you know whether the risk will pay off? Furthermore, when it comes to securing the financials, how does one know whether or not to borrow money to fully support the necessary amount to construct a new facility if auxiliary income is not guaranteed? Although there is no way to ultimately predict the outcome of the various “risky” scenarios, and we’re not always guaranteed positive results, it’s still important to take risks. As thought leader, Seth Godin states, “Playing it safe and not taking a risk is probably the most dangerous thing you could do in today’s rapidly changing and highly competitive business environment.” The first step can sometimes be the hardest one, but take the step anyway.

Work that Network

You’ll soon find out like everything else, your construction project is all about relationships. As career services professionals, we know that relationships are the most important aspect of our work, and this rings true for facility construction as well. Having previously established strong relationships on campus helps in making the case for a new or renovated facility. Your network can you help you succeed in the most amazing ways - from securing alternative relocation space to securing resources from campus funding sources, which ultimately garners more excitement externally and internally about the facility.

Forecast the Future

In career services we are constantly thinking about the future and forecasting how our field will change and evolve.

The future of the profession is one of the most important considerations when undergoing facility renovations. Examining forecast models can help you understand how a space can be utilized by students, employers, alumni, campus partners, families and the like. While we cannot always accurately predict and plan for the future, it’s critical to construct our facilities with the future at the forefront of our minds. Just as we have to be nimble in our approach to career development, we also have to be flexible in how we create our physical space given the ever changing nature of our work.

Here are a few questions to consider during your forecasting phase:

  1. Who are my primary audiences now, and what do those audiences look like 5, 10, 20 years down the road?

  2. How will this new space meet the needs for the students of tomorrow?

  3. How will the facility change the work of the office, currently and in the future, in both intentional and unintentional ways?

Answering these questions can help with the visioning process as well as uncover services that may need to adapt or develop in the new space.

With a major construction project, it’s important to have a clear idea of what your intent is, but also know that flexibility will be key throughout the process. Having a solid vision as the cornerstone of the project will ensure that the journey to a better career center facility can be an exciting and fulfilling one.

Dr. Heather White has over 15 years of progressive leadership experience in student affairs, including career services and residential education. She is the director of the University of Florida’s Career Resource Center (CRC), where she leads 29 full-time professionals and manages a comprehensive, centralized center serving approximately 54,000 students. The CRC is currently undergoing a $9 million renovation and expansion project with an estimated completion date of early spring 2018. LinkedIn. Twitter.

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