Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
In spring 2017, a strategic planning session facilitated by Metropolitan State University’s vice president of institutional effectiveness yielded a challenge to develop a model that would help people think differently about the career center and the work it does.
“We boiled down to the essence of what we needed to tackle and that is that, as a unit, we needed to redefine ourselves,” says Bill Baldus, director of the Metro State Career Center. “What does the career center do? What is it all about? But we also decided that we needed to put forth a better definition of what career development could look like at Metro State. That was the challenge.”
Baldus had followed the work of the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA), which had developed and implemented a career readiness model that achieved positive results. He and his staff—with help from others such as Ascan Koerner, associate dean for undergraduate education in the University of Minnesota’s CLA—engaged Metro State faculty and developed their own career readiness model.
“The goal would be to launch a career readiness pilot program in our College of Sciences,” Baldus notes. “That would be our opportunity for a pilot. We are trying to infuse career development into the curriculum so that it is built into our students’ college experience rather than tacked on as an optional component.”
Metro State applied for a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Grant and the new dean of the College of Sciences liked the model enough to want to build the grant application around it.
Koerner’s input has been invaluable, Baldus says. His spearheading of a successful career readiness model at the University of Minnesota’s CLA provided clear evidence of the effectiveness of the model and to “what can be” at Metro State.
“Members of our College of Sciences faculty were very interested in what Ascan had to say,” Baldus notes. “The associate dean from our College of Liberal Arts was also at Ascan’s talk and that sparked his interest, in part, because the University of Minnesota’s work has been in the liberal arts.”
And Baldus has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from other colleges at Metro State that are interested in implementing the model. Outreach—such as a YouTube video—has helped the career center “sell” the initiative to a wider audience.
He envisions the model producing a culture of career readiness that could be the hallmark of a Metro State education. Furthermore, ongoing career management could be what keeps the university’s alumni returning to campus and giving back to their professional community. The career center’s new mission—to build a college-to-career community that educates students to develop the professional competencies that will set them on a path to meaningful work using lifelong career management skills—reflects this.
Implementing career readiness in the classroom is an especially crucial aspect for Metro State, where, Baldus explains, the student population is nontraditional in every way.
“It’s a commuter campus so nobody lives here,” he says. “We have four different campuses in the Twin Cities.”
Baldus says the average age of Metro State’s students is in the young 30s. Sixty-one percent are first-generation students. Fifty percent are low income, and nearly all—96 or 97 percent—are transferring in to finish their degrees.
“Our students are trying to juggle multiple things: one, two, or, in some cases, three jobs, or they are unemployed or under-employed, and they have families,” he says. “The fact that most of our students just come to campus for classes and leave—and never really tap into any student services—is a huge challenge. What we’ve been doing is trying to operate like a traditional career center and hope that students somehow engage with us, and attach this to everything else they have going on. That simply doesn’t work here.”
Because Metro State students aren’t on campus and because they don’t engage with the career center, Baldus says that the students who the school focuses on—those who have traditionally been underserved and underrepresented—tend to graduate less prepared for their careers than do graduates of other schools in the area.
“This preparation has to happen in the classroom or [our students] won’t get the career and professional development they need,” Baldus says. “Our career readiness model will give our students every opportunity to meet their end goals, which are more meaningful, higher-paying jobs. In turn, that would help with our goal, which is increased retention, and give Metro State a more robust alumni community that gives back to the university, and has better word of mouth, referrals, and more.”
As a foundational piece of Metro State’s career readiness initiative, Baldus and his team have developed a set of 10 career competencies and 10 career steps that can be woven into each course to create a common language and build career readiness directly into students’ academic work. (See sidebar for information about the competencies and steps.)
“The idea is that, as students work toward their degrees, they can gain clarity and confidence to be able to describe how specific classes—as well as internships and other college experiences—helped develop their palette of skills, personal qualities, and strengths,” Baldus says.
Baldus is happy with both the progress of this initiative and, based in large part on the positive reaction it has received on campus so far, the possibilities for the future.
“After 12 years working in career development at Metropolitan State,” he says, “it is very exciting to see faculty, deans, and career center staff collaborating on a new model that invites a high level of cross-campus synergy. This growing Metro team is working to raise student awareness of the skill sets being developed through coursework and to help students understand the value of those skills in pursuing career paths and broader life goals.”
Metropolitan State University’s Career Competencies and Career Steps
As a foundation of its career readiness initiative, Metropolitan State University has developed sets of 10 career competencies and 10 career steps for students to help prepare its students for their careers. Bill Baldus says that Metro State’s career competencies are based on various resources, including NACE’s Career Readiness Competencies and the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ VALUE rubrics.
Metropolitan State’s Career Competencies are:
- Professional communication
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Ethical decision making
- Innovation and creativity
- Leadership and followership
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Diversity and inclusion
- Community engagement
- Digital literacy
- Continuous learning and career management
In terms of career steps, Metropolitan State recommends its students:
- Log into the online career management system account and use it.
- Take a career assessment.
- Build an online presence through LinkedIn.
- Join a professional association or group.
- Conduct at least four informational interviews.
- Develop a target list of the top 30 places where they would like to work
- Participate in university workshops, seminars, and special events.
- Find a fresh opportunity—internship, part-time job, volunteer, serving on a board or a committee, or other—in their field.
- Get in the habit of networking.
- Have a beautifully crafted, rock solid, dazzling resume and line up your references.