The skills gap is getting wider.
According to the Job Preparedness Indicator research conducted by the Career Advisory Board in late 2011, only 14 percent of hiring managers felt that job candidates had the requisite skills to fill open positions.
At the Career Advisory Board, which is presented by DeVry University, our mission is to help job seekers and careerists advance, so we decided to go to the front lines and assess what career counselors thought about this. This summer, we worked with the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an organization that connects career services professionals with HR professionals, to conduct a series of phone interviews and a formal survey with college career center directors.
In this research initiative, we explored some of the challenges directors face in their mission to help students land and succeed in jobs. These obstacles include working with administrations that don’t understand the value of the career center, being understaffed, and assisting diverse students.
As a result of their current circumstances, career centers have had difficulty ensuring that graduating students are “marketplace ready.” Indeed, less than 25 percent of directors felt that most of their students had the tools and skills necessary to find a job.
Here, we delve deeper into the directors’ most pressing concerns and share topline thoughts on how we can collaborate to narrow the skills gap.
College Administrations Underestimate the Career Center’s Value
Overall, college career centers have a perception problem. Many administrations view them purely as immediate “placement centers” and marginalize their role in shaping America’s future talent pool. Unfortunately, this attitude negatively impacts student perception, and they may not use the career center as expeditiously as a result.
In our conversations, many of the directors claimed that although administrators are generally supportive of their efforts, this support is overshadowed by bureaucratic processes, budget cuts, and a lack of appreciation for the full range of available student services (assessment, employer matching, resume help, interview coaching, job fairs and educational programming – to name a few!). Our formal survey especially echoed directors’ financial concerns: nearly thirty-two percent felt that their administrations were not particularly helpful with respect to funding support for the career center.
Unfortunately, without strong and well-funded career centers, schools’ hard-won and well-educated students will become percentages in the growing nationwide problem of youth unemployment.
Directors must develop a value proposition of “total career preparation” and proactively market the breadth of center activities to school administrators. They should aim to get a seat at the table in discussions around school mission and overall leadership strategy.
Using benchmarking data from the schools who are most successful in transitioning students from college to career, directors must advocate best practices and lobby for an earlier and more forceful introduction to students (for example, implementing a mandatory career services module for freshman orientation and/or making 1-3 career center visits a graduation requirement). Only this type of integration will ensure a solid understand of the essential steps to launch a meaningful career, and sufficiently motivate students to undertake them.
Career Services Centers Are Understaffed
When asked about their greatest need with respect to helping students, 42 percent of the directors said more staff. Several had experienced budget cuts that made it difficult to support existing programs – let alone launch new ones. Extra personnel in the career center would make it possible to provide more one-on-one student counseling and follow-up, expand educational programming, and enhance marketing efforts.
Hopefully, greater visibility within the administration will result in the strengthening of career center ranks. Career centers can also work with third-parties to offer free online and on-campus career readiness bootcamps and mentoring initiatives, and connect with local industry via meet-and-greets with students.
Private sector organizations can use their recruiting dollars to sponsor relevant software licenses for assessments, mock interviews, and other tools. And finally, if career centers must do more with less, they should develop scripts for typical conversations like the initial student consultation and handouts for frequently requested information such as occupational research resources.
Meeting the Career Needs of Diverse Students Is Difficult
An incredible 85 percent of directors feel that they are not as effective in helping diverse populations such as adult students, international students, disabled students, minority students, and veteran students land jobs and prepare for successful careers.
One idea for directors to facilitate the advising and hiring of diverse students is to form programs that pair current students with similar alumni who are currently employed. Such mentorships would provide insights that are unique and expressly relevant to a particular student group.
In order to better customize the approach for each student group, career centers need to create systems that will efficiently track students’ progress through the career center, and the services that are being used. This will provide critical data with respect to what is working – and not working – for each group.
The skills gap is a complex issue, and certainly career center directors and their staff can’t solve it by themselves, or overnight. Nevertheless, they are a critical piece of the puzzle, and with some targeted effort, improving student career readiness is absolutely within reach.