To hire more college grads, do we have to fire Career Services?

I recently learned that my students have a much better chance at getting a job upon graduation (yay!)…and that my job may be obsolete (huh?!). Earlier this month, I attended a lecture at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City with Dr. Phil Gardner, Director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, who spoke about his research on 2015-16 recruitment trends. There were several positive trends he highlighted, including:

  • Hiring is up for graduates of four year degrees in computer science/IT and business
  • Hiring is also up for Master degree candidates in accounting or health professions
  • Paid internships are being offered at a record high of 71% of employers
  • 79% of employers who do offer internship programs will hire

Pretty encouraging for a higher ed professional like me who helps oversee our institution’s internship program, right? Well… Dr. Gardner pointed out that career services departments do not make the hiring process efficient for employers (the crowd of career professionals went silent). Though recruiters continue to rely on college career fairs to identify their talent pool, the process is expensive, time intensive, and doesn’t always yield a high ROI. In an economy that rewards replacing the traditional (i.e. taxis) with the new and “improved” (i.e. Uber) – employers are eager to find ways to recruit new hires that are the right organizational fit, without having to duplicate efforts at multiple universities. One such method that Dr. Gardner demonstrated briefly was Knack (www.knack.it), a series of games developed by Stanford and MIT masterminds that can assess potential candidates’ organizational fit – at a very low cost to employers. Brilliant for employers and college grads (the games test innate qualities, thereby potentially evening the playing field for non-Ivy Leaguers) but not so much for us career services folk.

Where I did see the ultimate silver lining is that employers are looking for students with experience (hello, internships!), multicultural perspective/experience (i.e. alternative spring break and study abroad programs, or local opportunities researching or working with diverse cultures), and professionalism. These opportunities and skill sets can’t be automated – and that’s where career services professionals come back into the picture:

  • Career Fair models can be updated, reorganized or deconstructed to better fit the needs of employers
  • Professional etiquette can be taught online to meet students where they are
  • Internships can be coordinated so students are learning and growing, while employers identify and shape their talent pipeline

My takeaway from Dr. Gardner’s research is that our field isn’t irrelevant, but it is evolving. It’s important for us to be knowledgeable about what’s ahead but also recognize our value in higher ed and in society – we prepare students not only for the world of work, but to learn how to advocate for themselves, continue learning and growing in their chosen fields, and achieve financial independence and professional satisfaction. All of which makes me believe that our future is pretty bright.

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