The Challenge of High Quality Career Services for Tens of Thousands

May 1, 2017

So, you've got this fantastic careers program developed. Multiple staff spent many months designing it, checking the literature for guidance on the likely impact on graduate employment outcomes, and testing your ideas with colleagues. You engaged with employers, with faculty and with students.  You promoted the program on social media, handed out flyers to students around campus, put up posters. Two hundred students completed the program in the first semester, and they loved it! You even heard that a couple of students got an interview with an employer. 


Well done! But there's a problem. Your institution has 35,000 students, which means that your program only reached 0.57 per cent of all students.  Ugh!  (BTW - you have 250,000 Alumni that you serve as well, but let's set that aside for now).

 

Of course, there are other programs, workshops, counseling appointments, and online resources. The totals add up after a while. But what do you do if not all students, or even the majority of students are accessing career support? Do you know your overall reach? 

 

Should we be concerned about this?  Yes! 


As the number of graduates making a quick transition from study to work has been declining in many countries over the past decade, it is our job to make sure they are receiving a career education during their time at our institutions.  This may mean boldly acknowledging that we have a problem with our total student reach.  Often, identifying that problem to our staff, faculty, and upper-administration can be the biggest factor in others rallying around it with solutions.
 

Here are some mindsets and practices related to how we can scale-up career services to have a greater impact on tens of thousands of students and keep in-step with high quality services:
 

1. Shift your thinking: From Treatment to Prevention
We help more students when we script the engagement pathways and learning outcomes for them by systemically arranging career interactions throughout the university experience. Career services are too often geared up to treat people by providing services for whomever walks in our door. We shouldn’t stop this, but it should also not be the bulk of our services.  We know preventative medicine and preventative wellness works, so let’s do the hard work of mapping a similar approach to our services.  We need to focus on enhancing employability through integrated programs that train career management skills early. Every graduate should know how to research opportunities, write a compelling CV, have a well-articulated online profile, be developing a network that they can grow and nurture over the next 40 or 50 years, and they should be confident at interviews, telling their story, and asking questions. Identify with your upper-administration what you believe every graduate should know before they leave!

 

2. Change your pedagogy: From Information Provider to Enabler
One of the challenges in scaling up services is personalizing career information. Students want specific information, and you just can't do that to a lecture theatre of 500 students. This might seem totally radical to some of you, but research informs us that providing career information does not result in students enacting proactive career behaviors. What works is developing the ability of students to undertake their own research. The adage, "give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime" amply applies to career development. How much of your services are information providing vs. enabling? 

 

3. Reward Students Online
We know students love these two things: interacting online and getting rewarded for it.  The more we can build mechanisms to recognize and reward students who engage in extra-curricular activities, the more we broaden our reach and systemically integrate. At my institution, we have developed Career Ready Advantage, which incentivizes and rewards students who engage in activities that develop their capabilities, personal attributes and career management. Programs such as these are highly scalable. They achieve this by striking a balance between direct delivery of programs and collecting evidence of student activity. Many students are already highly engaged in volunteering, paid employment, internships, student leadership activities, and more. When you recognize and reward the importance of these activities, students will too, and you will motivate more students to participate. You will need to ensure your program encourages some form of reflection and portfolio building, so that students amass evidence of their activities and how these have contributed to their knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes. 

 

 

4. Get in the curriculum
Students are time poor and often only access services when they need help. Getting into the curriculum is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, you can help students to make connections between academic knowledge and the workplace. Secondly, you can facilitate students' development of career identity, which is an essential precursor to engaging in proactive career behaviors. Thirdly, that's where all the students are. Talk about dramatically reducing your marketing efforts – just go where they are!  Scaling up means getting out to lots of students. Your office is probably not large enough for all of them to come to you, so you need to go to them. At my institution, our focus is on preparing students before undertaking work integrated learning, developing career development teaching and learning resources to embed in courses, and connecting employers with faculty to deliver guest lectures, or sit on course advisory boards. 
Attempting to reach tens of thousands of students is challenging, but achievable and worth it! What innovations have you introduced to engage students to help reach more students?

 

Jason Brown is a career development practitioner with 18 years’ experience specializing in developing and managing employment and career development programs. He has worked in higher education; employment services; and community/ not-for-profit; plus, dabbled in running an e-commerce business for a few years.  As head of the careers service at La Trobe University, Australia, Jason has been actively involved in curriculum design through designing and teaching two career planning undergraduate level subjects; producing online career development modules; and collaborating with academic staff to embed career education into the curriculum. In his spare time, Jason is undertaking a Doctor of Education program where he is developing an employability curriculum framework and evaluating the impact of career interventions on enhancing student employability. Connect via LinkedIn or Twitter
 

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