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NACAC Takeaway: Building Better Career Services

Bill Stamats

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Held in Seattle at the Washington State Convention Center, NACAC 2021 was a hybrid event. More than 3200 higher education professionals from across the nation attended in-person and virtually.

With such a robust turnout, I had the opportunity to meet casually with several VPs of enrollment and education enrollment consultants. Over the course of the event, and during one particular informal breakfast meeting, attendees kept returning to the same subject. Too many traditional and non-traditional students aren’t making strong career connections during their college years.

As with most things, the cause of this career-readiness shortfall is multifaceted. Many colleges and universities are strapped for resources, faculty and staff are pulling double duty, and subsequently, career services are often viewed as peripheral to the educational experience.

So, in the face of these challenges, how can schools respond? How can public and private institutions build career services programs that are accessible, effective, and beneficial to both students and employers?

I touched on a related topic ― strategies for creating more successful internship programs ― in my post earlier this month. Let’s expand that topic by exploring ways in which schools can design and deliver a more effective career services program.

Get Familiar with Handshake

A few months ago, Stamats joined Handshake, a service that connects college students and recent graduates with employers. By eliminating the barrier between job-seekers, schools, and businesses, Handshake helps employers extend their geographic reach and recruit remote employees and interns who have specific skill sets.

As you can imagine, tools like Handshake are particularly valuable to schools in rural areas or regions with limited employment opportunities. Through their college or university, students can explore available positions in their fields of study anywhere in the nation.

Prioritize Partnerships

Forging strong partnerships with regional and national employers is the first step toward building an effective career services program. Work study and internship opportunities help students establish the habits, the experience, and the professional network needed to land that important first job after college.

Secondly, look for partners that value experiential learning and are willing to compensate students for their time in each phase of the relationship. While still valuable, unpaid internships and work study programs often eliminate a wide swath of otherwise willing students (e.g., those who simply cannot afford to forgo income for a semester or longer).

Rally Faculty and Staff

Additionally, inspire every faculty and staff member to become a career services “scout”. Engaging these broader networks makes it easier to learn about new employers coming to the area, businesses that are planning to hire, and the scores of local professionals who work remotely and have connections to national and international employers.

Be Flexible and Solicit Feedback

In our fast-moving world, every college or university program must be adaptable. Encourage open dialogue between students, career services staff, employers, and instructors. Answers to the following questions can help refine programmatic offerings:

  • What’s happening in the marketplace? Is there a shortage in a particular field?
  • What skill sets are in high demand by employers?
  • What services are used most often by students? Which ones can be retired or retooled?
  • How can we better prepare students for remote or hybrid work arrangements?
  • Are adult learners getting the support they need? What additional resources would provide the biggest benefit?

Finally, understand that every student service is a work in progress. Embrace the mantra of Regroup, Review, and Revise to keep your career services department relevant, vital, and constantly improving.

Today’s students are discerning consumers. At Stamats, we help colleges and universities meet the needs of a new generation of learners, adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace, and build more sustainable futures. Email us today to schedule a free consultation.

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