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  • Better Together: How Industry and Academia Can Co-Support Students’ Career Readiness

    August 22, 2022 | By Kevin Gray

    A group of college students sitting in a row.

    TAGS: best practices, partnerships, faculty, competencies, nace insights, talent acquisition

    When it comes to the development of college students’ career readiness, industry should be complementary to and support career services professionals and faculty, explain Liz Moran and Lynn Letukas of SAS.

    “Our perspective is that academic institutions have been entrusted to serve as subject matter experts on the professional development of their students, and the role of industry is to support them and their students on the journey to career readiness,” says Moran, director of global academic programs and certifications at SAS.

    Moran notes that successful industry supports include, but are not limited to:

    • Offering resources for course projects and capstones;
    • Serving on advisory boards;
    • Providing guest lectures;
    • Conducting collaborative research; and
    • Hosting case competitions.

    “All these activities are mutually beneficial,” explains Letukas, senior director of education and certifications at SAS.

    “They allow industry to get a better sense of the types of programs that best align to their talent and hiring needs and collaborate with educators and career services professionals to inform and shape learning opportunities for students.”

    According to Moran and Letukas, one impediment is that industry often believes it knows the most important skills to develop career readiness because it does the hiring.

    “While industry professionals may be doing the hiring,” Moran says, “they often search for a specific set of skills in a job posting, only later to realize that they need a broader set of skills for the individual to be successful in the role and organization long-term.

    “In that situation, we often hear industry professionals who are frustrated with ‘the talent they acquire.’ Perhaps a more careful curation of skills and competencies might have led to different candidate selection, which often has less to do with education and training than the person doing the hiring in industry.”

    Letukas stresses the importance of recognizing that academic institutions do not just focus on providing candidates for a few Fortune 500 companies or the largest employers in a region.

    “Rather,” she says, “they should provide them for most employers in a region. It is not uncommon for large companies to think that their skills are the most valuable because of their position in a market. Often, however, their positions do not align well with the broad skills and competencies necessary to meet the needs of a profession or region.”

    Therefore, Letukas and Moran say it is important for industry partners to realize that higher education does not exist to provide career readiness for a narrowly tailored set of skills to a few companies.

    “The mission of higher education is broader and that is important to remember when setting your expectations as an industry partner with a college or university,” Moran says.

    There are several ways employers can help students in their career readiness, such as internships, data challenges, and case competitions.

    “In the data science field, we recommend that all opportunities include a hands-on component where students work with ‘messy data’ and tackle interesting challenges for a company,” Letukas says.

    “The most effective opportunities go even further and include a professional presentation to company or divisional leadership. In this model, students not only gain skills in how to communicate complex information, but also build confidence in engaging with key decision makers. The ability to effectively communicate is among the most in-demand social skills, largely irrespective of profession.”

    On the other hand, attending intern presentations is one of the most important activities for company leaders.

    “While it may seem difficult to find time in busy schedules, this is the best opportunity to engage prospective applicants and future company leaders,” Moran points out.

    “Moreover, since social capital is a key benefit to internship experiences, the opportunity to engage with experts and leaders at the company can help students in the job market in the future.”  

    When creating student programming and industry partnerships, using labor market data is one of, if not the most, important aspects of creating student programming and industry partnerships.

    “We recommend using neutral, third-party data to help identify the top skills that are in demand and appear in workforce profiles,” Moran notes, adding that LinkedIn Talent Insights and Lightcast are two options for labor market data.

    Moran and Letukas explain that employers can use labor market data in at least three important ways:

    • Labor market data can provide benchmarks for what others are paying in a field.
    • Employers can glean insights into what skills are in demand. Many people underestimate the change in top skills in a particular field.
    • Employers can find higher education partners that are most closely aligned with the skills that they are hiring for in the coming months. Employers able to hire remotely or conduct a national search can use labor market data to partner with institutions that are well aligned to their needs, regardless of geographic location. They just need to know where to look for talent.

    “Lots of talent exists at highly selective institutions, and the competition for that talent is strong,” Letukas says.

    “However, there is also a lot of great talent that is often overlooked at public state colleges, independent colleges, and two-year institutions, where faculty and career service professionals are eager to help industry partners. We have found the talent at these institutions are more diverse and graduates are just as eager to learn and contribute to their employers.”

    Colleges and universities can also use labor market data to identify gaps in their programs and teach in-demand skills that provide a competitive advantage to their students in the labor market.

    “This data can also be used to provide guidance to students on potential career opportunities, market demand for those skills, average compensation, and geographic locations to target during a career search,” Moran says.    

    She and Letukas offer several suggestions to employers for developing college students’ career readiness:

    • The desire to develop college students must come from a place of partnership—Faculty and career professionals are the subject matter experts in career readiness so industry professionals need to be willing to learn. They should treat this opportunity like a mutually beneficial relationship, which means that industry partners need to take purposeful action to enrich the experience of faculty, career professionals, and most importantly, students.
    • Industry professionals should consider the value of their organization—Each company has a unique history, culture, and set of solutions to offer to the world. Industry professionals should think about how their organization adds value and is different from other organizations approaching prospective talent. There was likely something that attracted these professionals to their role and organization, and it is likely not that different from most early career talent. Competitive benefits, a strong culture, and an excellent product are powerful mechanisms to attract early career talent, but the value the organization offers to its community and the impact it has on the world will go a long way toward nurturing and retaining that talent.    
    • Industry professionals need to find out what is already going on in their community and at local academic institutions—Many communities and states have established workforce development boards and most colleges and universities have active and ongoing initiatives around developing career readiness. Professionals should look for ways to tap into these ongoing activities and initiatives, which will help with building partnerships and provide the structure for enduring relationships.

    “Also, innovate within boundaries,” Moran suggests.

    “We often approach our work by asking, ‘What has never been done before?’ and ‘What has the potential to make significant progress towards closing the analytics talent gap?’ However, before we go and do something completely novel, we first check to make sure it is what our academic partners want and what our customers need.”

    Adds Letukas: “When building long-standing partnerships, it is also important to build trust. Checking in with trusted faculty and career services professionals, as well as industry partners, helps us decide how to best help students on their journey to early career professionals. Those collaborations often lead to better ideas, faster innovation, and most importantly, stronger student outcomes.”