March 2018

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The Careers, Co-Curricular and Community Engagement (C3) Department helps students make the transition into the work environment by providing services and a suite of non-academic programmes aimed at students’ professional, personal and skill development.

One of the tools we use is the Graduate Tracer Survey which helps us to measure the effectiveness of some of our workshops and services.

A popular myth about the Careers section of the Department is that we are a job placement office. Though we facilitate job placement for graduates, this is only a small part of our work. The Graduate Tracer Survey (2015) for example, investigated students’ participation in one of our flagship programmes, The UWI-Republic Bank World of Work (WOW) Programme. This is an initiative geared towards equipping final-year UWI students with tools for today’s working world.

Started by The UWI Alumni Association as small lunchtime sessions, it has expanded into a year-long programme, which addresses seven different competency and skill areas. Though the programme provides the opportunity for students to gain employment at the end, it focuses on teaching students developmental skills to prepare them for leaving the campus.

The results of the GTS showed that 75% of the graduates surveyed were employed one year after graduation. Of the graduates employed, 66% indicated that they had participated in the WOW programme; 41% indicated that their field of study was not directly applicable to their current jobs. This finding bears a direct relationship to the career language and mind-set that we practice on a daily basis: your major is not your master; your degree is a stepping-stone on your career journey. An important accomplishment, degrees provide leverage for access into the world of work, but not necessarily placement in a desired career; 59% of our respondents can attest to this. This however does not necessarily lead to a future of job dissatisfaction and overall career malaise. We teach students that career fulfilment can come outside of their degree major with adequate planning and research, and proactively seeking relevant experiences. This drives home the fact that students must focus on the development of a wide range of knowledge, skills, and abilities.

One way of providing opportunities for competency development is the provision of internships and other job-related opportunities. Ideally, this is a journey that should begin long before thoughts of graduation begin to provide momentum for exiting the university system. The GTS results show that graduates felt opportunities for practical experiences and internships were inadequate in preparing them to enter the world of work. This is not, however, because of the absence of such experiences, as various opportunities are available to students from the first year of enrolment. The Careers Section facilitates opportunities for paid and unpaid internships and semester and vacation employment opportunities. Additionally, we provide opportunities for mentorship, job shadowing and informational sessions for students. These opportunities do not exist in a vacuum, but are closely tied to stakeholder perception and needs.

Our career office is a place where strategic alliances are facilitated between our students and our stakeholders. From our very first career intervention, which traditionally targets our first-year students, we facilitate stakeholder partnerships and collaborations. We provide access to our stakeholders to begin career conversations with our students, and provide an insight into the world of work. This is not an attempt to prepare our students for a job, but to expose students very early in their career journey, to activities and experiences geared toward their development as individuals. Our students learn to identify their strengths through career assessments, and are then introduced to a range of possible careers they can pursue based on their strengths, interests, values, skills and their degrees of choice. This sends the message very early that it is their major, in addition to a unique combination of skills that will provide the most leverage in their career development and transitions. Our students see this happening in an environment that shows partnerships between the campus and the world to which they will soon transition. This also provides an avenue for budding entrepreneurs, researchers or students interested in public advocacy to begin aligning strengths, and identifying niches for further exploration.

But let us assume, for the purposes of this article, a student (Uwista) does come to us in her final year of enrolment. The office caters for this type of intervention as well; as our three sections careers, co-curricular and community engagement, support a wide range of professional and skill development opportunities. In Uwista’s first semester, she will be encouraged to develop skills through one or more of our many co-curricular programmes. These range from first aid courses, public speaking and voice training, to ethics and integrity and Microsoft Project to name a few. Alternatively or simultaneously, students are encouraged to become involved in one of our many community engagement initiatives.

This then, is our opportunity to introduce Uwista to the World of Work programme. As part of the programme, Uwista will participate in employer-facilitated resume-writing workshops, one-on-one resume critique sessions, local and regional in person and virtual company presentations, interview preparation techniques, networking skills theory and practical sessions, and stakeholder facilitated mock interviews. Finally, Uwista will attend our annual recruitment fair; a highly interactive hub where students and employers exchange handshakes, information, goals, vacancies and internship information, smiles and of course, resumes

Our external stakeholders support our belief that it is a degree, supplemented by a unique combination of skills, which affects hiring decisions. A survey of the employers at our 2017 Republic Bank World of Work programme revealed that just over 60% of our stakeholders believe our students are very competitive compared to new hires locally, regionally and internationally. Two thirds of attendees consider our students highly competitive when ranked with the average selection pool. 79% indicated that they thought our students were well prepared for assimilation into the workplace. Employers still believe though that more of our students should engage in internships prior to graduation, and some of our students still showed a lack of out of classroom experiences.

This survey is of course, based on the students who would have completed our WOW programme – which, according to the GTS 2015 accounts for roughly 60% of our 2015 graduates. Students attending WOW 2017 would have benefitted from programme interventions put in place as a result of the feedback from the graduate tracer survey.

Kathy-Ann Lewis is Manager, Careers, Co-Curricular and Community Engagement, Division of Student Services and Development, The UWI St. Augustine.