Category: Career Education

Stories about Career Education seminars and events.

Career Paths Are Not Linear

As a 3-year-old what they “want to be when they grow up” and they immediately shout out “Astronaut!” or “Ballerina!” or “Fireman!”  These occupations usually include recognizable costumes, books, an animated TV show, and action figures.

Very few of us grow up to become what we wanted to be at such a young age.  We are influenced by friends, family, peers, educators, and managers we encounter throughout our formative years.  There can be external pressure applied throughout the process.  Parents focus on their son or daughter graduating with a job.  Students feel pressure to get out into the “real world.”  Higher Education collects, analyzes, and scrutinizes “first destination” data.

Careers are definitely not straight lines drawn from college graduation to retirement.  

What if you worked tirelessly toward a career with the full knowledge that it would only last a few years?  Last week, I was fortunate enough to meet two extremely humble, hard-working, and honest people.  These athletes had success at the highest level of their sports and now have moved on to more “traditional” jobs.

John Standeford (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Standeford) and Zach McClellan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zach_McClellan) visited the Michigan Tech campus to share the story of their life journey.  John (NFL) and Zach (MLB) spent years on buses, in the weight room, being cut/traded, and sacrificing portions of their bodies and lives to pursue a dream.  They knew full well the dream was difficult to achieve and would have a short duration.

To me, these are the most important things they shared with us:

  • Be Coachable – There are many people along the way that will give you suggestions for improvements.  You must be able to listen to them and incorporate their feedback into your actions.  You may not always agree, but they have your best interests in mind.
  • Attention To Detail – Why does it matter if your jersey is tucked in?  Because every detail matters and being sloppy on lots of small details can result in bigger problems later.
  • Honor your commitments – You are only as good as your reputation or your word.  It is your responsibility to give maximum effort every single play, every single day, and throughout your career.
  • Be Present – Showing up is the easy part.  If the day is long or starts early, be alert, focused and dedicated on the task at hand.

Developing Self-efficacy Is the Key to Student Success

In 1920, a little-known author Arnold Munk wrote a book titled The Little Engine That Could which then began being sold door to door through the My Book House series. The book’s story line centered on a little railroad steam engine who attempted to pull a long train over a high mountain. The little engine agrees to attempt this challenging feat using the mantra “I think I can, I think I can”. It eventually succeeds due to the faith in its abilities to achieve this goal.

Fast-forward to 1971 when a then obscure researcher named Albert Bandura began to study the role that a person’s belief in their ability to achieve any goal, known as self-efficacy. The question is how do we build this belief in our abilities? Bandura identified four significant sources of these efficacy expectations: performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional arousal. These are valuable lessons to use as students transition from college to career and beyond.

Vicarious experience is the idea that if you see someone else completing a job-related challenge, you gain the confidence that you can also accomplish such a challenge. It is the monkey see, monkey can do idea in its most basic form. Verbal persuasion often comes in the way of encouraging words or actions. This is the easiest to implement and as such is often thought to have the least value, but used correctly with sincerity is can play a key role in developing efficacy. Emotional arousal is often associated with anxiety which can debilitate performance. Developing coping skills to deal with stressful situations helps limit this performance detractor.

Bandura found that performance accomplishments were the most impactful in building an individual’s personal efficacy. In my doctoral research with freshmen college students I found this most often manifests itself in earning grades on tests or projects. Students also gained this sense of accomplishment in performing community service or in service learning programs where they aid others while achieving a personal or academic goal.

A student’s participation in internships and co-ops has been shown to have a significant impact on their self-efficacy. This career self-efficacy has been aided by structured company support during these employment opportunities. Companies use of mentors, self-produced seminars that help develop 21st century career skills, weekly performance review sessions, and assigned projects with a series of specific timely outcomes are just a few programs whose product is increased self-efficacy of those involved.

Arnold Monks story of this little engine that could symbolizes the importance that efficacy plays in creating an environment of possibility and a can do attitude in each current and future employee. The belief that a goal can be achieved is the most vital component necessary for achieving success in ones endeavors. As colleges and universities look to retool their curriculums to produce a prepared and engaged intellectual product that can succeed in industry, they should ensure that this process focuses on increasing the level of self-efficacy of each future graduate. Each student must believe they can!


A Time For Reflection

The end of the year brings with it many “Best Of” and “Top 10” lists of the accomplishments of the past twelve months.  Additionally, there are a whole host of “Predictions” for the next year.  These articles and programs seem to fill a void in all of the magazines and media outlets that want to distribute content when everyone would rather be on vacation.

Finding time to reflect upon lessons learned helps our minds and bodies take the various disconnected facts that we have learned and synthesize them to create new memories and patterns in our brain.  There is an on-going conversion back and forth between tacit and explicit knowledge.  

Taking time to unplug or relax or meditate is even harder than ever in today’s connected society.  It is only through reflection and setting objectives that new habits can be created.  If we set an objective to “Climb Mount Everest”, it automatically establishes a theme for all of the smaller steps that must be accomplished to support the primary goal.

As part of our efforts to help build a “Career Culture”, students need to use this same process.  Maybe you did just have “the worst class ever” or “impossible group project”.  What was it about the class that made it so challenging?  Was it hard to stay motivated in a part-time job that you only did to earn some cash?  Throughout your internship or co-op, what did you learn about corporate culture?  What teams were you a part of that made the work go better?  Worse?  Have you been exposed to project management systems that made you more confident about your work?

Since there is a never a good time to reflect, relax, and rejuvenate, let’s make this part of our year-end tradition!Relaxing-512


The Secret to Our Success – Developing and Acquiring Talent

In his book America Needs Talent, Jamie Merisotis defines talent as a skill which is the ability to use knowledge to learn more or to solve problems. It is not born or bought, but is made. Jim Compton noted in his book The Coming Jobs War that intellectual talent was the one renewable resource that when increased in a country could build an empire, but when it is not fostered it could topple governments and societies. Developing domestic talent and acquiring global talent will be the key to the prosperity of our society.

A recent study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce found that there will be 55 million jobs created in the next decade. Over 70 percent (40 million) of these jobs will require a college level certificate or degree. The challenge is that less than 40 percent of Americans have earned at least an associate’s degree while another 5 percent have earned some type of professional certificate. Intellectual talent attracts business and America is in short supply of this valuable resource.

Currently our education system is largely based on seat time.States define the number of hours each student must be in school each year from kindergarten through high school graduation. In college, you must earn a specific number of credits to achieve an associate degree and masters degree. Yes, you must pass course requirements but often these requirements center around the regurgitation of knowledge, not the demonstration of the application of this knowledge. Merisotis suggests creating a competency-based education system, designed for students to be awarded mastery of application of defined skills. Institutions would need to define the expected learning outcomes and the criteria that must be demonstrated by each student to show mastery of these skills.

The value of global talent to America can be found in the success of immigrants such as Jan Vilcek who came to the U.S. in the 1960’s from Czechoslovakia. After becoming a professor at New York University his research led to the development of the drug Remicade which helps treat patients suffering from Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases. He also uses a portion of his wealth to support other scientists migrating to the U.S.

Australia has developed an immigration system that matches the needs of industry with the talents of immigrants. This talent-based system gives preference to those that possess the unique skills the needed by their society. Though Australia has a population of only 23 million people, fewer than the population of Texas, immigrants have added $3.4 billion to their government budgets from taxes they pay. The U.S. has experienced similar prosperity from American companies founded by immigrants which include: Google, AT&T, Ebay, Kohl’s, Big Lot’s, Pfizer, and Kraft.

Since 1983 the demand for college educated workers has grown 3 percent annually, while the supply of these graduates increased at a 2 percent rate. Companies are looking for a workforce with a depth of specific content knowledge, critical thinking skills, creativity, and ability to embrace change. It is estimated that our economy is losing in excess of $500 billion a year in Gross Domestic Product due to this lack of talent. Our investment in the development and acquisition of talent domestically and globally offers a proven opportunity to improve the lives of us all.


Your Career “Comfort Zone”

wordleIt seems like every magazine, newspaper, or journal is discussing topics like: Big Data, Information Overload, and Consumer Choice.  The general theme relates to the exponentially increasing amount of information and choices available everywhere.

Every business or industry has its own “shorthand” language, terminology, and nuances. In academia, we sometimes get trapped in discussing “Learning Outcomes”.  In business, the focus is on the quarterly results, ROI and EBITDA.  In politics, the overnight poll results lead the evening news after every debate with qualifiers about response rate, accuracy, and confidence.

Recently, I attended an event at our Forestry Building where a variety of Forestry and Natural Resources companies had gathered to meet with students.  Just like any other networking event, companies and students were trying to get to know one another.  As I joined conversations, some portions of of the discussions were like a foreign language to me!  I was amazed by how many abbreviations, jargon, and “Three Letter Abbreviations” (TLA’s) we use to be efficient in our communications.  I am sure I’ve had conversations with my peers that were confusing to others throughout my career.

In January 2015, Michigan Tech had our first ever “Medical Careers Week” on campus.  This year, in January 2016, Career Services has again partnered with different departments across campus for another week designed to help students understand all of the different aspects of careers in Medicine, Allied Health, Informatics, and Biomedical Engineering.  These days are structured with both afternoon and evening components to allow students to fit these topics around their busy class schedules.

Many Michigan Tech students assume that their degree in Engineering will lead to a job in manufacturing or design.  However, as trained problem solvers, an Engineering degree can be an excellent starting point for a career in medicine.

As we continue to build a Career Culture on campus, the depth and breadth of these career explorations are great learning opportunities.  At a minimum, participants become aware of the complexities of something beyond their specific field of study.  Ideally, these events help everyone expand their career “comfort zone” to have a better understanding of the world we live in.


Passion + Purpose = An Engaged Workforce

Gallup conducted a workplace poll 2014 and found less than a third of employees were engaged in their jobs. Gallup defined an engaged employee as one who is enthusiastic about performing their job and committed to being successful at it.

Imperative inc. sought to identify those in the workforces that approached their job as a source of personal fulfillment and a way for them to help others. The Imperative survey found 28 percent of the workforce qualified as these purpose-oriented workers, and these individuals produced a highly positive impact on their organizations.

Purpose oriented workers in comparison to their peers are:

  • 50 percent more likely to be in leadership positions
  • 47 percent more likely to be promoted by their employers
  • Expected to stick with their jobs 20 percent longer
  • 64 percent more likely to have higher levels of fulfillment from their work

The value of purpose-oriented workers are they are self-motivated role models who see their work as making a difference in the world. They want to grow both personally and professionally to support this goal. These workers are often described as dynamic and curious, embracing changing dynamics in the workplace as an opportunity for improvement.

I have had the honor to work with purpose-oriented workers on Michigan Tech’s campus, which include: Mike Meyer, Ed Laitila, Glen Archer, and Susan Liebau, just to name a few. Mike heads up the William G. Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning. A successful high school teacher and Physics lab supervisor and instructor, he now leads a team whose mission is to work with faculty to develop transformational learning experiences in the classrooms and labs across campus. Ed brings his contagious passion for learning to each materials science lab he enters. Glen develops and executes lessons in electrical engineering that bring clarity and understanding to complex engineering concepts. Susan leads a team at the Waino Wahtera Center for Student Success that helps students discover their talents and interests, in the midst of personal and academic challenges. Each of these purpose-oriented workers also share another trait, modesty and gratitude for the support of their teams and peers.

The Imperative study found the workforce of each industry contains at least 16 percent purpose-oriented workers. These workers tend to be educated beyond high school and increase in numbers with age. Researchers have also found that these unique workers had parents that spoke favorably about their careers.

The millennial generation is filling the workforce. Known for being confident, self-expressive, liberal, open to change and upbeat, they also have the nickname of Generation Me! As the begin having children of their own, a recent study found their top priorities are: being a good parent and having a successful marriage. This is an opportunity for them to develop themselves as purpose-oriented workers through their actions as a parent. Generation Z is the next to enter college and the workforce. Known for being conscientious, hard-working and concerned about the future, this digital generation has the foundation to become the first purpose-oriented generation.

Corporate America and American society at large will benefit from developing more purpose-oriented workers. The cited role models illustrate that passion and purpose can help students build their careers around the three sources of fulfillment: developing meaningful relationships, impacting the lives of others, and personal and professional growth. The opportunity lies in the other 72 percent!


College to Career: adapting career services for students on the spectrum

This Fall, Career Services, in collaboration with Student Disability Services, launched a new pilot program, College to Career, which provides specialized career development programming to students with unique needs. Those needs are students on the spectrum who may need specialized instruction in their career development.

Now half-way into the semester, this program is already making great strides, with plans to continue into the spring, and then provide an even more extensive program starting Fall 2016. The agenda for this past fall’s career fair season has been similar to what all students have been focusing on (personal introductions, resumes, career fair prep, and interviews), but each with a twist. After just four weeks together, the College to Career group attended the career fair, handed out their resumes and introduced themselves to the company representatives. For students who may have difficulty with social situations, the Michigan Tech Career Fair can be one of the most challenging situations ever encountered, but they did it. And we could not be prouder.

When we plan for this group, there are no assumptions about what a student should know or should do, rather each topic is approached and presented with a keen sense of the individual needs that are represented in the group. To be on the spectrum may mean there is a need for a different focus, but the needs represented even in a small group can be vastly different. Some students need the opportunity to talk through all of their thinking while others remain silent. There are students who require additional coaching in their mannerisms and gestures while for others it is something they just instinctively know to do. All of this has caused us to rethink our plans, every week. You cannot generalize the teaching methods for this type of group., because what is natural for one may be very unnatural for another.

As we navigate with our group and work to strengthen this new program, we pride ourselves on our awareness, and it is only through this awareness and the goal to learn more about our students that we can offer career preparation that accounts for all students’ needs. Career prep is not a one size fits all, and we are thrilled to be able to offer other sizes.

Want to learn more?
Contacts:  JR Repp jrrepp@mtu.edu or Kirsti Arko karko@mtu.edu


Information Sessions – Know your audience!

What is important to you at age 3 is different than what is important to you at age 30.  Similarly, when students are 20 years old, their priority is to get that first paycheck.  Up until graduation, their largest decision was which college to attend.  Now, after studying for countless hours, they are transitioning from being a student to joining the “real world” that they have longed for since becoming a teen.

I remember my first paycheck after I graduated.  I couldn’t wait to get that check.  In fact, I bought a stereo that was bigger than my car and just financed it because I knew I would have cash in my checkbook soon enough.  (I should have read the details on the financing arrangements, but that is a different story!)

In many Informational Sessions, companies talk about their rank in the Fortune 500, their medical benefits, the matching percentage of the 401(k) program, etc.  These are all important pieces of information.  They are crucial to an employee who has a mortgage, car payments, a wedding to pay for, and family medical deductibles.  But, we are getting ahead of ourselves.

However, at age 20 or 21 – students are more interested in the projects they will be working on.  They can’t quite imagine retirement because they haven’t even started a job yet!  In your information session, don’t forget to focus on what is front-and-center in the kid’s minds “What will I be doing every day?”

As I listen in to different Informational Sessions and talk to students afterwards, they want to know what they are going to “do”.  Michigan Tech students have a reputation for being practical, hands-on, get-it-done employees.  Help them visualize what that looks like by sharing descriptions of projects that your interns are doing, projects the full time employees are working on.  Share projects that were success and failures.  Put all of this in context so students can understand what it is like to work for your company.  You will find that they are much more engaged and find it easier to ask questions.


The Keys to Mid-Career Success

Michigan Technological University just hosted a record 360+ recruiting organizations at its recent Fall Career Fair. Michigan Tech students engaged with 1,300 corporate recruiters that were looking for unique qualities such as the ability to work in diverse teams, possessing the resilience to learn from failures, and having the ability to clearly communicate their ideas. But what are the skills you need to be successful in your mid-career?
Susan Keihl, Vice President of Product Development at Lockheed Martin offers four cornerstones to live by to advance your career. They include: deliver value, drive innovation, increase efficiency, and develop the talents of others. You need to learn to make decisions and take ownership of those choices. You and you alone are responsible for the quality of each decision, so be thoughtful in choosing each action you take. As you make decisions, follow the process of execute, monitor, and course correct, then begin the process again.
As you build your career you need to continue to add ‘tools’ to your tool box. Lisa Genslak, a leader in Ford’s IT Strategic Services Division, notes that these tools will vary by individual, based on your personal needs and career path. Developing the ability to be emotionally resilient will be of great value. Don’t take criticism personally, but learn from it. A byproduct of this lesson is to make sure you consider the feelings of others in your everyday interactions with peers. This is a process of continuous learning. Each situation offers a learning opportunity so make sure you take time to reflect on them and capture the lesson learned.
If you wish to advance your career, push yourself outside your comfort zone. Take on projects that challenge you both personally and professionally. Gone are the days where you can expect to work at the same job you started when you graduated from school. Today corporate America encourages cross-discipline experiences. Each of us sees the world differently, has been involved in a unique set of experiences, and possesses a unique skill set. Diverse teams are able to visualize a broader set of possible challenges, while identifying a wider set of possible solutions to consider.
Networking is becoming a vital tool for career success. A recent Forbes survey found that over 70 percent of mid-career jobs are fill before they are ever posted publicly. Building this network starts as soon as you hit your college campus. Building relationships with you professors, with recruiters at career fairs and other networking events on campus, and in your industry experience from co-op experiences as a student to full-time jobs are all part of the process. These people become not only friends but resources for you personally and professionally, providing you access to these mid-career job opportunities.
Mid-career success is determined by actions you have taken to increase your value to others. That value must be communicated using the personal and professional network you have built. It is sustained through your efforts as a life-long learner, constantly achieving the challenges you have set for yourself and adding new tools to your tool box!

The Power of “Rule Yourself” offers Lessons

In 2008 Under Armour, producer of athletic apparel and gear, produced 730 million dollars in sales worldwide. In a market dominated by the Nike, many viewed them as a ‘bargain brand’ with little meaning behind their trademark. In Jeff Beers’ article in the recent addition of Fast Company he describes how the journeys of elite that athletes helped develop an impactful marketing campaign, providing lessons that could aid in the academic and career success of our youth.

Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre, stated “Success is not easy and I think everyone should know that hard work and perseverance and being open to give back are so much more powerful than stepping all over people to get to the top.” Misty, Stephen Curry, and Jordan Speith are noted for their successes in ballet, NBA basketball, and PGA golf are part of Under Armour’s marketing effort. Each of these athletes have one thing in common, they have reached the pinnacle of their success due to daily dedication to their sport.

Our younger generations, millennials and Generation Z, are used to getting what they want immediately. They are fluent in the use of smart phones and communicate using Twitter and Pinterest, all which provide instant information and gratification. Under Armour’s new campaign, “Rule Yourself”, uses the messages of these athletes that doesn’t focus on the trophy earned, but the work ethic and tenacity that it took to prepare to earn those victories. Nike’s motto is Just Do It, focusing on the motivation it takes to begin the effort. Under Armour’s athlete driven message focuses on the journey which involves daily training regiments, overcoming injuries and competitive disappointments, and thoroughly preparing for success.

Stephen Curry reinforces this message when he states “If you take time to realize what your dream is and what you really want in life – no matter what it is, whether it is sports or in other fields – you have to realize that there is always work to do, and you want to the hardest working person in whatever you do, and you put yourself in a position to be successful. And you have to have a passion about what you do.”

Today’s college students change majors 3 times on average before graduating. McCrindle & Wilson suggest that those in the Generation Y will have five careers in their lifetime. Today it is estimated that an adult will spend 4.4 years at a company before moving on to another more interesting or better paying position. This suggests individuals will always be consistently looking for new challenges and ways to apply their talents.

The key to educating our youth is to help them discover their interests and aptitudes early in life. Discovering their passion will set the course of their academic and career journeys and help propel them forward. The “Rule Yourself” marketing message is resonating with youth, illustrated by Under Armour sales climbing to $4 billion in the current year, expected to pass $10 billion by 2020. Success does not always come to the most talented, but more often to the ones with the passion to work to achieve it.