Educators, business leaders, and government representatives recently converged on San Jose, California for a conference on cultivating talent and the emerging workforce.
Much of the time was spent on social media, communication, and learning outcomes. Everyone seems to agree there is a gap between what colleges are teaching and what employers need from recent graduates.
One of the universities leading the charge for academic innovation is Southern New Hampshire University. I interviewed Paul LeBlanc, the president at SNHU, who also presented at the conference.
Beginning the conversation: Historically, students didn’t worry too much about the job market. Today, they don’t have that luxury. We want students to really have a plan and to be purposeful as these conversations should begin at freshman orientation.
Social media presents a multi-faceted and amazing opportunity for networking. We have been linking student portals and going with more web-based portfolios for our students. More and more of our disciplines are adopting E-portfolios that students bring with them to interviews. Included are conventional résumés and electronic materials. Employers, to varying degrees, will look at them, but even the sense they could look at the materials if they wanted to, is powerful.
Improving online and interpersonal communication: Students must have the ability to walk into a room or an interview, use eye contact and offer a firm handshake. Millennials also have to understand that conversation is a two-way back and forth, and two word responses don’t suffice.This new generation lives so much of life in the virtual space, they are less adept at the kinds of interpersonal skills that employers and mature adults look for. Some of this is developmental, immaturity, or lack of self-confidence. In reality, much of that communication continues to outpace our societal ability to make sense of it.
Social media channels are incredibly powerful, and one area we’re addressing is how students convey empathy and understanding online. There’s still that clumsy etiquette. Schools can hire outside trainers but we are supposed to be doing this. It’s our responsibility.
Expanding roles of colleges: Colleges are moving into the world of non-disciplinary skills; the things that employers value a lot. Employers had taken responsibility for these things 20 years ago, but today, organizations want the colleges to do this. We are looking at how students develop leadership skills, how they develop the ability to work with people who are different than they are, how they can work in cross-functional teams, and how they think in terms of systems. These lessons don’t live in courses, they are bigger than that and we have to figure out how to make it happen.
Making the changes: First, SNHU is taking an integrated approach to our career services, alumni outreach, and classroom instructors. We’ve hired new people in career services and are moving the department far beyond résumé services and mock interviews. Second, instead of simply asking alumni to donate money, we are partnering with them to provide internships and mentoring for students who need insight into the real business world. Finally, SNHU is pulling faculty into this holistic approach. We’re getting them more involved with internships and job pipelines, with teaching outcomes that are measureable.
It’s nice to see academia stepping up to face the changes that are needed in business and communication. Let’s hope others follow suit.