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Carving out a Journey to Open the Curriculum Door

Over a decade ago, “Learning Reconsidered” boldly redefined learning to be an integration of academic learning and student development (Keeling, 2004). Putting this integration into practice and moving career education from a reactive service offering to a proactive and critical part of a student’s academic experience, has long been gaining momentum.

The process to getting there however, is never a straightforward route. Like many PSEs today, Ryerson was grappling with how to respond to the increasing call for career education to reflect the needs of today’s ‘talent economy’. Following three years of consultation with students, alumni, faculty, and employers, the feedback was not unique but resoundingly clear: We serve those who come to us very well, but our entire student populations was vastly underserved.

To successfully combat this reality, postsecondary career education cannot be delivered by the Career Centre alone, it needs to build on Keeling’s vision of integration if we want to move towards the balance of our efforts being focused on proactive programming to equip students for the world of work, versus reactive services such as the proverbial first advisor appointment occurring in a student’s final year of study.

At Ryerson, we began with evolving our working model into a ‘hub and spoke’ approach, commonly found both in business schools and across PSEs in the UK. Here, each career professional is aligned to a specific Faculty or program, giving academic leadership a dedicated career education professional to tap into. To ensure both Careers and Faculty are on the same page, ahead of each academic year, the Career Consultant agrees with Faculty leadership on the strategic goals and meets with Program Directors and Chairs to understand specific, on-the-ground needs. The result is a Faculty Career Development Program (CDP), with tailored sessions delivered alongside each program and year of study.

The ability to reach each dedicated program population is of course dependent on resource, we began with one individual per Faculty, others may have further resources to hand. Over a two year period, the dedicated Faculty link expanded to also include a dedicated employer engagement counterpart, who was steeped in the knowledge of the labour markets most commonly associated with the respective programs of study. Now weaving a campus recruitment strategy into career advisory, the Career Centre had evolved to a ‘Faculty Labour Market’ (FLM) team for each Faculty.

Taking the approach that each Faculty is a client, and the Career Centre its consultant, has over a four year period, enabled us to begin moving into the curriculum with credit and non-credit bearing pilots being launched across the full STEAM spectrum of academic programming. Indeed, as we achieved more in-class time to deliver Career Education, it became more apparent to our team that we needed to enhance and expand our offerings for greater student success. To this end, we developed a Career Education Curriculum.

Converting Workshop Content to Curriculum

In our diversified and globalized workforce, digital literacy, communication, adaptability, emotional intelligence and teamwork are consistently touted as some of the key competencies students need to succeed. What, then, is the responsibility of Career Centres in informing and developing curriculum to ensure our students are ready and able to navigate their professional journeys?

Our response to the research as well as feedback from employers, alumni, students and faculty, has been to develop a comprehensive Career Education Curriculum. The purpose and aim is to develop students’ competencies and agency to not only obtain employment but to thrive in their career. To do this, we developed a research-based framework that includes 10 core competencies and a career cycle. Having reviewed current research regarding which competencies are in highest demand, we chose 10 that most consistently appeared across the literature. Additionally, reviewing student development theory, career development theory and critical theory, we developed a career cycle that outlines 4 core phases that an individual might engage in throughout their lifetime. Together, the core competencies and the career cycle informed the development of lessons. These lessons include the core learning needed for gaining employment such as Interview, Job Search, and Resume, as well, lessons that foster success in both academic and professional spaces with content focused on teamwork, emotional intelligence, professionalism, etc.

Of course, it’s not just about relevant content, but how do we ensure that students are engaging in deep learning? How do we know if students are leaving our sessions with the knowledge, skills and attitudes we are seeking to instill?

The answers to these questions are not ground breaking. We did what educators have been doing for a very long time. We developed learning outcomes, participatory learning strategies and assessments. Essentially, we are moving away from lecture-style, information banking, to fostering active learning. This includes engaging students in case studies, problem solving, discussion, creation, etc. The idea here is to measure students learning through the assessment of artifacts they create as well as self-reported learning to inform and improve content.

Building a Career Readiness Program Pilot

As we embarked upon this journey a year ago, we presented our work to our colleagues within the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science. The Dean’s Office requested to engage in a collaborative pilot project to deliver the curriculum to students and evaluate students’ progress every year for 5 years after its completion.

Over 6 months we worked together to build the NEXT Career Readiness Program which launched in September 2018. This non-credit course of 10 lessons delivered via online modules and in-person classes is open to 625 students who are enrolled in their second year within the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science. The core aim of the program is to increase students’ self-reflection and efficacy towards determining and achieving their personal and professional goals. The Faculty and the Ryerson Career & Co-op Centre are looking to utilize the data we gather from this program towards a long-term goal of embedding career education into academic curriculum. Indeed, the only way to achieve this is through partnership and collaboration with faculty and this pilot is a step in that direction.

Outlined below are the principles which guided Ryerson’s journey from a bricks and mortar, stand alone centre, to one department composed of individual Faculty teams now building curriculum offerings.

The advantages of this approach for core stakeholders are listed, together with an overview of tools for consideration to assist in integrating career education into the academic lifecycle. Finally, like all pathways, this is one of lessons learned along the way in what is now a journey of four years and counting.

Guiding Principles to Faculty: Career Centre Integration

  1. Don’t be shy: Using data as your grounding, outline the areas of student need and what is required for a Faculty-Career partnership to produce game changing results.

  2. Client based approach: To truly support our students, view each of the student, employer and Faculty as the core client.

  3. Empathy: what is the challenge the client is seeking to solve and how can we assist?

  4. Outside the box: To manage resources, have a menu of options outlining what can be delivered in Faculties, but enable flexibility to create programming within here which responds to the unique culture of each Faculty.

  5. Be Up Front: Don’t shy away from outlining challenges faced in reaching students or in addressing their particular needs. Just be sure to complement this with proposed solutions.

  6. Find your cheerleader(s): Not all campus colleagues will come on board in stage one or even stage two. Work with your early adopters and build momentum from here.

  7. Storytelling with Data: Proactively provide details at least annually on Faculty career activity, combining qualitative with quantitative insights.

Advantages to a Formalized Faculty Consultancy Approach

Supporting the Student

  1. Delivering career sessions by Faculty area provides students with a direct connection to their studies.

  2. When Faculty are introducing their dedicated career team to students, Career Services gain significantly further legitimacy.

  3. When career programming is adapted to each Faculty and level of study, it creates a drip-feed approach throughout a student’s degree, reducing the reactive, first time advisor appointments occurring in final year.

Supporting the Faculty

  1. Gaining a key understanding of Faculty challenges, restrictions and ambitions enables more appropriate programming to be designed.

  2. Faculty benefit from the creation of career programming which meets their strategic mandate.

  3. Providing up-to-date knowledge and expertise regarding labour market trends and competencies to inform programming and embed career education into curriculum.

Supporting Campus Recruiters

  1. Ability for recruiters to easily reach targeted student cohorts by program and year of study.

  2. Recruiters’ distinct challenges are better addressed and resolved.

  3. Employers retain a central campus presence through the Career Centre while also having a dedicated career professional steeped in their industry sector.

Tools for Consideration - Irrespective of Resource Provision

The tools outlined are intended to support building trust and legitimacy as one either embarks on or strengthens an existing Faculty relationship, as part of the journey to embedding programming into the curriculum experience.

  1. Career Development Program Guidelines - aka, your on-boarding toolkit for new academic colleagues, outlining what is on offer, any boundaries to bear in mind and the Faculty’s expected role.

  2. Annual Activity Summary - High level overview in the form of for instance, a slide deck, outlining at a glance, the activity undertaken, its quantitative and qualitative impact on students and a look at your intended programming goals for the year ahead.

  3. Annual Student Survey - Enabling each Faculty’s students to critique the Career team programming, voice their professional goals, their satisfaction with career offerings and the learning outcomes gained.

Using a faculty-based model has enabled our Career Consultants to more deeply understand the career development needs of their students, to build strong relationships with faculty members, and to nurture meaningful connections with employers in related job sectors.

Caroline Konrad is the Director of the Career & Co-op Centre, Ryerson University, Toronto, where she and her team are implementing a three pillar model of career education. Since moving to this model in 2014, the team have received five national awards for their work. As part of supporting the evolution of career education, she is co-leading the Canadian Association of Career Educators & Employers (CACEE)'s creation of national competencies for employer and educational professionals involved in developing tomorrow's talent. Previously, as Head of Careers at University of Southampton, England, she integrated a university-wide careers offering across three campuses and developed the University’s first student work experience program. Connect via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Fenella Amarasinghe is the Curriculum Lead at the Ryerson University’s Career & Co-op Centre, bringing an extensive background in education including instructional design, teaching, counselling and teacher coaching and development. She has worked in primary through to secondary, at schools and colleges in Toronto, New York, London, Seoul and Melbourne. Currently, Fenella is completing her Master Degree in Social Justice Education at the University of Toronto. At Ryerson, she is leading the development of the Career Education Curriculum and is the instructor and designer of the NEXT Career Readiness Program. Connect via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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