When I played baseball back in the day our preparation was multifaceted. We lifted weights to get strong, threw the ball from long distance to gain arm strength, ran bases to get in shape, and took batting practice to get our timing down. But nothing, I mean nothing, prepared us to play better than a good old-fashioned scrimmage.
That’s because you can’t simulate real time situations unless you are… well, in real time. It’s extremely difficult to stage a practice that has the same pressure and intensity as a real game. That’s why a live scrimmage is so important in a player’s development.
The same holds true for students preparing to enter the workforce. Students can break down expected work into small bites and practice but it’s not the same as working “live”. That’s a big reason we created The Space to Consult at Wofford. Students involved in this program engage with real companies to address real challenges and opportunities. It’s our own version of a “scrimmage”.
A consulting engagement is real work compressed into four to six weeks where students test their abilities without a net. One recent consulting engagement saw six Wofford students from various majors working with a Fortune 500 company on a challenging marketing project. The students met with C-level executives, scoped the project based on the needs of the company, created a project plan, worked with company team members to execute the project, and presented recommendations. (By the way, the students’ recommendations caused the company to adjust its approach for a particular product line.)
And it was all live action.
When an approaching deadline was in jeopardy because the students couldn’t get the information they expected to be available, they had to adapt. When the client changed direction and wanted to increase the scope in the middle of the project, they had to diplomatically yet forcefully guide the client back to the objectives and why the changes were not advisable. And they had to do this while solving the complex problems the project presented.
Feedback from clients and student consultants has been excellent. Clients cite the excellent quality of work and students cite the rush of working on a live, real challenge that matters. Graduates who consulted as students say that the engagements prepared them for their first job better than they could have imagined.
We’ve grown from a handful of engagements annually to a waiting list of clients and projects. That’s a lot of live scrimmages for our students.
And there’s no better practice than a live scrimmage.