(Guest post by Kelly French, manager of The Space, Wofford’s professional development center. She’s also a career coach in The Space to: Prepare. You can reach Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org)
It’s a common problem: employers complain that college graduates lack basic professional skills and they’re finding it difficult to hire workers who meet their needs. On the student side, many recent graduates who’ve spent four years and thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) transition into the workforce confused about what’s expected and how to succeed.
While many colleges offer professional development programs to give students prepare for the workplace (Wofford was the first to create a Center for Professional Excellence back in 2010), it can be an uphill battle to get students to think ahead to life after graduation and to take the time outside of class and other activities to focus on acquiring practice in business communication, etiquette, project management, time management, and more.
Ironically, many of these students are already working part-time campus jobs. They are gaining work experience, but we have not intentionally focused on making sure these jobs provide workplace-specific translatable skills.
Wofford realized it didn’t make sense to emphasize professional development while neglecting the Student Employment program.
So this year, we’re trying something new: a collaboration between The Space (the new name of Wofford’s Center for Professional Excellence) and all other areas on campus that have a stake in the student employment process. These include our financial aid office which oversees Federal Work Study funds and collects all employment paperwork, our business office which processes payroll, the departmental supervisors, and a co-curricular group on campus devoted to maximizing the student experience outside the classroom.
Our goal is to help students hone and develop necessary employment skills and realize the importance of learning not only in their classrooms, but while they work on campus.
We have between a quarter and a third of our students working on campus at any given time. Campus positions fill quickly and are often held for years by the same student. The job market is highly competitive, but here at Wofford, we’ve made it relatively easy for our student workers to obtain and keep a campus job.
Beginning this fall, our students will now be exposed to what it’s like to compete for a position in the real world. Students hoping to return to a position they have held on campus in the past will find that they will be expected to submit a resume and go through an interview. They’ll receive training that will help them transition their knowledge and acquired skills seamlessly into their personal and professional endeavors. They will be continually challenged to exercise effective communication, critical thinking, rational analysis, and sound judgment, along with job-specific proficiencies.
We’re also implementing a performance evaluation at the end of each semester to allow supervisors to identify and address areas of improvement as well as opportunities for expansion of duties for the student workers. In turn, each student worker will provide feedback regarding their experience with the Student Employment program. Their responses will provide us with information from the employee perspective that will be used to continue to develop and optimize the program.
This is a beginning. A starting point. A springboard. We need to reach out to the large number of students who are employed by the institution and take advantage of this time to prepare them for what lies ahead. We hope to create accountability for students to develop and perfect baseline skills that are necessary in the workplace. Our objective is that they will enter the job market confidently prepared and represent themselves, and Wofford, well.
How is your institution managing the student employment process? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! If you’re a student, how have you benefitted from on-campus employment?