Collaborative Strategies for Career Services and Local Chamber of Commerce
By Denise Guzzetta and Billie Streufert
Many career service offices navigated recent budget cuts and staffing reductions due to the pandemic (Gray, 2021). Time and financial scarcities may prevent career professionals from delivering excellent support to students-- during a historic period when they likely need it most. Like campus career centers, the changing dynamics created constraints for employers, such as workforce shortage and volatile financial markets. Nearly half of the human resource professionals who responded to a robust national survey administered by the Society for Human Resource Management and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (2020) expressed a desire for work-based learning but were unable to implement such initiatives because they lacked time and financial resources. Unfortunately, the number of internships available to students dropped during the pandemic (NACE, 2021). Reductions in experiential learning negatively impact both students and employers. Work-based learning is vital to the success of organizations given the productivity, innovation, diversity, and future talent students offer employers as a result of these programs.
Through experiential learning, students learn more about themselves and their options (Krumboltz, 2008). They also apply theory to practice and translate the knowledge they acquired to new contexts (Kolb, 1984). Gaining experience also makes the transition to the workforce easier for students at the time of graduation (Lei & Yin, 2019). Internships enable students to confirm their career goals and expand their professional network (Binder & Baguley, 2014). Employers equally benefit from experiential learning. Many companies struggle to recruit and retain employees, which diminished their productivity (Society for Human Resource Management & U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2020). Internships are one avenue for business leaders to engage in immediate and long-term succession planning or talent sourcing. Early leadership programs embedded in college programs also may advance employee retention and new hires’ skill development.
Collaboration between educators, employers, and local Chamber of Commerce or economic development foundations is one solution communities can deploy to solve these complex challenges. Workforce partnerships are a best practice because they can result in transformative learning for students while addressing the future talent needs.
Historically marginalized students may especially benefit from community partnerships. Networking initiatives are quintessential because students’ social capital varies based on income and background (Yosso, 2005). Mentors in the community can help first-generation students identify and tap the hidden job market. Career advisors must advance social justice by introducing students to alumni, hiring managers, and human resource offices through these programs (Chan & Cruzvergara, 2021).
Essential Components of Quality Collaboration
The benefits of community partnerships depend on the quality of their design, particularly overcoming barriers to success. Partnerships are predicated on long-term relationships and continuous communication (Tobenkin, 2021). Career services must validate the important role of companies and community partners, such as economic development foundations or chambers. These organizations focus on the broad vitality of communities and routinely offer resources related to networking, job readiness, labor market trends, and new business development (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 2016).
Career services specialists must judiciously consider diversity, equity, and inclusion. Students often can only access experiential learning if they have information and time to locate and participate in such activities (Chan & Cruzvergara, 2021; Hornak et al., 2010; Strayhorn, 2019; Ziskin et al., 2010). Unpaid internships or credit-requirements may create obstacles for low-income students (Binder & Baguley, 2014; Crain, 2016; Lei & Yin, 2019). Ideally, partnerships will be embedded in existing courses or co-curricular requirements (i.e., experiential learning programs), so students seamlessly connect with such opportunities without additional investments of time or money.
Student participation alone is necessary but not sufficient for high-impact experiential learning (Kuh & Kinzie, 2018). Faculty partnerships are central to student learning and employer satisfaction. Professors are able to evaluate students’ suitability for the specific projects employers identified. Students benefit from clear instructions and ongoing feedback from both employers and faculty about the quality of their work. Assessment and evaluation of student learning drives continuous improvement.
Career services are uniquely positioned to empower students to make their learning during these events relevant and visible, which increases their motivation and persistence in college, and prepares them for post-graduation careers. Use of ePortfolios or LinkedIn is one method institutions could use to enhance students’ collection, construction, and curation of their learning (Collins, 2018; Insalaco-Egan, 2018). Career specialists could introduce the concept of reflection during the beginning of project-based partnerships and then ask students to upload a work sample, supervisor evaluation, or artifact at the conclusion of the program. Post-program follow-up would aid the work of career specialists and students as they prepare for future employment.
Example Collaborative Initiatives
Given the benefits of community collaboration, multiple institutions in South Dakota recently partnered with the Sioux Falls Development Foundation to offer students meaningful learning and networking opportunities. Each of these initiatives are outlined below. Other innovative strategies include case competitions, identity-specific diversity programs, work study partnerships, and formal internship initiatives (SHRM & U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2020; Tobenkin, 2021).
Talent Draft Day: Designed to showcase student leadership and development, students led interactive technology and skill demonstrations during this one-day event to enable potential employers to see the contributions students could make during their experiential learning programs. Next, business and industry leaders hosted speed networking and short discussions that allowed attendees to get to know each other. During the final portion of the schedule, chamber members hosted professional development sessions for students on transitioning into work and success on the job.
Talent Tours: By visiting employers on-site, students gained information about career pathways, job expectations, and industry growth from business leaders. While recruiters often come to campus, it is less common for students to connect directly with hiring managers. On-site visits enable students to imagine themselves within the environment, experience the culture of an organization, assess the suitability of the work setting, and network with diverse employees within the organization. Companies benefit from the collaboration with educational institutions because they are able to showcase their unique work environment and employee diversity directly to potential future workers, which enhances their recruitment. These excursions were also timed around campus job fairs and permitted students to follow-up with specific organizations that interested them.
Project-Based Learning: In these micro-internship, students spent five to eight weeks engaged in a small (25-30 hours) intensive projects that were embedded into a course. Projects focused on data analysis, logistics, business administration, and biotechnology, which allowed students to apply theory to practice and use their knowledge in new contexts. Organizations that hired interns invested in soft skill development, resulting in an increase in current production while cultivating future full-time hires.
Showcasing Community Partnerships
Local campuses in the Sioux Falls area operate with lean career services. Most have only one or two individuals assigned to career engagement. Given the shortage in staff, these three events would not have been a reality but for community partnerships. Despite current time and financial constraints, colleges were able to advance the resources they provided both employers and students by multiplying forces and collaborating. Their examples serve to showcase options and opportunities for similarly constrained campus career centers.
In conclusion, employer and education partnerships offer solutions to the changing landscape of the workforce and campus environment. When employers, educators, and community partners collaborate, transformative learning and equitable campus design occur. Despite a reduction in resources, career specialists can implement innovative strategies that advance students’ career development.
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Collins, J. M. (2018). Structured advisement and career discernment via eportfolio. In B. Eynon & L. M. Gambino (Eds.), Catalyst in action (pp. 57-69). Stylus Publishing.
Crain, A. (2016). Exploring the implications of unpaid internships. NACE: National Association of Colleges & Employers. https://www.naceweb.org/job-market/internships/exploring-the-implications-of-unpaid-internships
Gray, K. (2021). Pandemic impacts career services budgets, staffing. Spotlight for Career Services Professionals: Trends and Predictions. National Association of Colleges and Employers. https://www.naceweb.org/career-development/trends-and-predictions/pandemic-impacts-career-services-budgets-staffing/
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Krumboltz, J. (2008). The happenstance learning theory. The Journal of Career Assessment, 17(2), 135-154. https://doi.org/10.1177/1069072708328861
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National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2021). Internship & co-op report. https://www.naceweb.org/store/2021/internship-and-co-op-report
Society for Human Resource Management & the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. (2020). The training and development landscape report. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/pages/the-training-and-development-landscape-report.aspx
Tobenkin, D. (2021, November 6). Employers partner with community colleges to fill the talent pipeline. Society for Human Resource Management. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/all-things-work/pages/employers-partner-with-community-colleges-.aspx
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. (2016). Connected to careers: Expanding employer leadership in career development. https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/sites/default/files/USCCF_Connected%20to%20Careers_FINAL_0.pdf
Denise M. Guzzetta serves as Vice President of Talent and Workforce Development of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. She is responsible for the strategic design and implementation of workforce programming initiatives designed to achieve the Forward Sioux Falls Strategic Workforce Action Agenda. Before her role as Vice President of Talent and Workforce, Denise served in global leadership roles during her 20-year tenure as a Fortune 50 executive. She may be reached at [email protected]
Billie Streufert, CCC, NCC, is the Assistant Vice Provost of Student Success at Augustana University, SD. With more than 20-years of experience in the field, her research agenda focuses on career advising, first-year seminars, and culturally engaged career pathways. She is the Associate Editor of the Post-Secondary department for Career Convergence. She may be reached at [email protected]