By Nadine Verna, Montclair State University
As community college becomes increasingly attractive to cost-conscious high school graduates and nontraditional learners, preparing students for the workforce has become a major priority for career services staff at these institutions. The timing for enhanced community college career development couldn’t be better, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 17.6% growth in jobs that require an associate’s degree by 2022. However, with varying student abilities and limited departmental budgets challenging progress, the selection of career services can vary greatly from institution to institution.
Helen Boyke*, who helped launch the Career Readiness Initiative, a program at Norwalk Community College that promotes NACE’s career readiness competencies, got to see first-hand the impact of customizing career programs to meet community college students’ needs. Below are her suggestions for successfully preparing community college students for the job market:
Share the good news. There is a growing market for professionals at the associate’s degree level, including well-paying positions like Dental Hygienists, Registered Nurses, Legal Assistants, Construction Managers, Physical therapy assistants and Web developers. Meanwhile the average salary for associate’s degree grads is $52,830, as opposed to $36,100 for high school graduates. Students should be exposed to such statistics and provided opportunities to explore career possibilities through educational programs, on-campus employer information sessions, and site visits such as those provided through EACE’s Road Trips to the Real World program to generate excitement about and motivation for professional development.
Meet students where they are. Be sure to connect with students early in their academic careers, sending introductory emails and participating in new student orientation. Message to students that career services provides an opportunity to grow – they need not have their careers figured out before seeking support from the office. Meanwhile, challenge them to take ownership of their career journey.
Keep it simple. Recognizing that anxiety often accompanies career-related discussions and that community college students are a diverse group with different backgrounds and levels of college readiness, develop a plan or design a program that is easy for them to follow and promote self-care along the way. Also, prepare checklists and/or timelines that will keep students on track and allow you to hold them accountable. Free templates for career readiness program materials are available.
Partner with others. Once you assess students and determine areas that need support and development (see EACE’s Assessment Resource Center for tools), identify and refer them to the appropriate offices, academic departments, and organizations. Also, develop relationships with staff at those entities to cross-promote programs and collaborate on new initiatives. Consider partnering with other campuses that have similar missions and populations as well.
*Helen Boyke recently transitioned to a new role at Sacred Heart University
Nadine Verna currently serves as the Director of Career Development for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Montclair State University. She also heads Membership Outreach Campaigns for the EACE PR and Marketing Committee. In addition to career services, Nadine has held posts in admissions, academic advising, and multicultural affairs. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering, journaling and traveling.