Category: Career Education

Stories about Career Education seminars and events.

Having fun while learning!

Throughout my life, I’ve been to many museums and exhibits.  I’ve spent hours reading descriptions and plaques about what happened on a certain spot or on a certain date.  My ability to remember these events is enhanced with some sort of visual que or a hands-on exhibit.  When I take my family to a Science Museum or a Children’s museum, I’m usually “that guy” who is taking the time to press every button and try every experiment.  Usually, my kids need to grab me by the hand and drag me out before we get locked in at the end of the day!

The goal with this Fall’s series of Industry Days on Michigan Tech’s campus is to help our students learn what kind of career opportunities they could have.  These experiences will be a combination of hands-on learning and getting viewpoints from a variety of industry personnel.  Throughout the planning and development process, we keep asking the question: “Does that sound like something fun that I would want to do?”

Talking to a complete stranger is a skill that must be learned.  By creating fun, interactive activities, students experience networking by having a shared experience to discuss with recruiters.  The ability to network is one that students find hardest to learn and difficult to practice.

Another, perhaps unintended, benefit of this Fall’s “Industry Days” is giving students a safe place to learn yet another skill for their Career search and their lifelong learning.


Going Back to School to Retire

In 1971 Marty Knowlton filled a backpack full of clothes and began a 4-year walking tour through Europe. Using the youth hostel system of staying in low cost housing, a cheap railroad pass, and his feet, he experienced the informal education experience of a lifetime. When he returned to the states he meet up with David Bianco, who at that time was the director of residential life at the University of New Hampshire, and shared his experience.

David wanted to find a way to use the campus facilities during the summer and Marty wanted to find a way to create low cost, less formal educational experiences for people. In the summer of 1975 over 220 participants descended upon the University of New Hampshire campus and the Elderhostel was born. By 1980, Elderhostel’s had expanded to all 50 states, with over 20,000 participants. Today this systems of informal learning has expanded to 150 countries. These experiences combine travel with education, creating an educational experience driven by the idea learning by doing, we now call experiential learning.

The value of lifelong learning, both through social and intellectual engagement, can be found in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. Today, every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s with over 5.3 million Americans of all ages currently suffering from it. At a cost of $226 billion annually this expense is expected to rise to $1.1 trillion by 2050. Research has shown that a balance of healthy foods, exercise, and living with less stress are key components of preventing the occurrence of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This same research identifies the high value of consistent brain stimulation through social and intellectual action.

Elderhostel’s were created on a university campus as a way to provide unique hands-on learning experiences for participants of all ages. University campuses, recognizing the needs of our aging baby boomers, are now piloting campus retirement communities. They have set up full functioning villas on campus for retirees. Residents have access to campus facilities such as libraries, fitness facilities, while also getting discounted tickets to sporting events and campus food services. Some campuses are also offering reduced tuition to take courses while others are offering free instruction.

The pioneers of these campus retirement communities are Penn State, University of Florida, and University of Texas at Austin. Others have created unique living experiences adjacent to their campuses such as the University Commons in Ann Arbor, allowing aging adults to have all the services available on campus, yet allowing for a bit more serenity than what you would experience on campus.

Our society places a very high value on knowledge and expertise. Often when individuals retire, they take this acquired knowledge with them, ceasing to share it with others for mutual benefit. Dementia occurs when an individual ceases to stay active intellectually, socially, and physically. Campus retirement communities bring the ideas learned in Elderhostel’s to future generations. Interaction with young students through these adjacent communities is a unique way to pass on this valued acquired knowledge, while still enjoying the activity of the mind and soul in retirement.  


Embracing the Unknown

“Strange about learning; the farther I go the more I see that I never knew even existed.” -Daniel Keyes

As I read the current installment of reflection and discussion responses from students who are currently on co-op for the summer, Keyes’ quote is more true than ever, but I am not surprised. Our group of four career advisors here on campus share a lot of sayings, but one of our favorites sounds oddly familiar to Keyes, though far less poetic.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

We are constantly reminding our students of the unknown, because they are struggling to make career-related decisions without really knowing what’s out there. Those on co-ops are learning more about what is out there and some of those things they “never knew even existed.” When these students return to campus, they will come knowing a little more, worrying a little less, and working even harder, because they experienced, they learned, and their path became a little less winding.

If you are on the other side, as a supervisor or co-worker to a co-op student, I will leave you with some of their words. Nearly all of them credited those around them as to why their experiences were so englightening and valuable. While the work was part of their experience, a common theme was their appreciation for how they were treated while on site. Here’s what they said worked:

  • Surround them with people with whom they can trust, especially when asking questions
  • Provide honest feedback, because they want to learn and they want to learn to do it right
  • Make them feel valued – their work, their ideas, and their contributions
  • Take the time to get to know them and their lives outside of the workplace

The students on co-op are very aware of how much they don’t know and use every opportunity to learn something new each and every day, but those of us who have been doing our work for a while may be less observant. As you finish your day, think back and try to identify something new – what did you see that you never knew even existed?  We may be surprised.


India – the Movement from Skills to Competency

India is a country of roughly 1.2 billion people, 600 million below the age of 25. Its K-12 educational programming is called a 10+2+3 system. The first 10 years is divided into 5 years of primary education, next 3 years is upper primary, and the final 2 years are high school. The “+2” stage is called the higher secondary stage which leads to “+3”, their University system. Today India has over 460+ central and state Universities, 190+ private universities, and 34,000+ colleges, of which 1,800+ serve women only.

The education system in India is now facing the challenge of moving from producing graduates with skills in each field of study to producing young professionals who are competent, or possess the ability to immediately apply those skills in industry. This challenge is coming from industry in India that has been expanding on average between 6% – 10% annually (the U.S. has been 3% or less since 2008). They need talent that can contribute immediately, the day they are hired. Currently, they have training programs lasting 12 to 18 months to get new graduates up to speed and productive.

The Indian education system is one that relies on testing of basic knowledge to advance academically. Like many education systems it focuses on memorizing academic content. Testing measures the level which this base knowledge is attained. The measurement is not on the ability to apply this knowledge to solve real world problems. India’s challenge; alter the system to produce young graduates that not only possess the knowledge (skill) but also ones that can easily and broadly apply that knowledge in a job situation (competence).

How can this be done? The educational system in India believes the approach to addressing this is broad based. First, there must be more interaction between industry and their educational institutions in the areas of research and student based problem solving of industry problems while they are still students. Second, alter the curriculum to include more project-based learning involving immediate application of the skills or knowledge they are acquiring.

Next is more internship experiences in industry as they are fulfilling their course work. Again, allowing students to apply their knowledge in a real world setting. Industry leaders in India such as Honeywell, Thermax, and Tata Consulting Services all continue to advance extensive internship programs to support the development of competent students who they expect to convert to full-time employees when they graduate.

A change that will be slower to transition is altering the established culture of testing which is strictly focused on the skills. There has been much controversy internationally on how to measure acquisition of skills and competencies in a way that can be both time-efficient and cost-effective. Those that find the answer will be closer to the goal of mass production of competent talent.

Intellectual talent is the most valuable renewable resource on earth. Industry sees this value and rewards talent with high salaries, while aggressively recruiting at the educational institutions that can produce competent students. In today’s global marketplace, we must ensure our educational efforts exceed our not-so-distant neighbors, allowing us to produce competent graduates that will attract both industry and valued careers.


The Value of Summer Jobs for Youth

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the labor participation rate, defined as those seeking employment or employed, is 17 percentage points below its peak in 1989. According to a J.P. Morgan Chase study, only 46% of teenagers that apply for a job this summer will actually become employed. A survey of official in 14 major cities estimates that tens of thousands of youths from economically disadvantaged families will not be able to find employment this summer in their urban centers. So what is the value of a summer job to teenagers in the short and long term?

My first summer job was at Arby’s restaurant in my hometown of Midland. My parents let me know it was time to begin earning money for college and spending on my social experiences. Up to that time I had done odd jobs here and there, but was never obligated to show up for work for scheduled shifts for a longer period of time. My friends made me aware of the job at Arby’s and I applied using them as a reference. After a 20 minute interview I was awarded the job, a uniform, a paper hat, and my first schedule including training sessions. I tuned up my bike for the 12 block ride to work 4 to 6 days a week. So what was the value of that job to me?

Working at Arby’s paid me minimum wage which was around $3.45 per hour. It didn’t make me rich. But that jobs value was more than the wage. It taught me time management. I learned how to step out of my comfort zone and learn new skills. It taught me that with consistent and creative effort comes more responsibility, respect, and increased compensation. I found that doing more than what was expected increased my value in the eyes of my employer, while seeing those around me that did less than expected were rewarded with termination of employment.

At Arby’s each employee was part of a team whose mission was great customer service. My manager, Dave, didn’t play favorites but reward those that exceeded his expectations. The rewards may have been in the form of a free meal but often was just a moment of conversation and praise for specific actions we took that he appreciated. These conversations always concluded with statements of how it benefited others on the team and the customer.

So why are summer jobs so important to teenagers? Teenagers are in what experts call formative years. They are looking for purpose and direction that allow them to establish and endorse core values which will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Numerous studies have shown the value of employment. Success as an employee is like a self-confidence drug, once you get a taste of it you yearn for more. Lessons learned by a teenager during a summer job can help establish a strong work ethic, develop an understanding of how to contribute in a team environment, help prioritize tasks and much more. And the hidden take-away from a summer job? The never-ending yearning of each student to pursue a job where they can be successful in attaining the self-confidence drug is where the true value lies.


Putting the “Experience” into Experiential Education

Michigan Tech students were able to experience the inner workings of the Nucor factory in Crawfordsville, IN a few weeks ago.  This experience was made possible due to the hard work of AIST, Nucor, and Michigan Tech.

Because a bus full of 50 students were traveling, the trip logistics were carefully planned and accommodations for a group this size were considered.  The planned portion of the trip included a factory tour, dinners, and classroom training about leadership.

There are many adages about the “best laid plans” and Murphy’s law.  All of them apply here!

While the bus was en-route on this 12 hour journey, a combination of weather patterns forced the electrical utility to schedule the Electric Arc Furnace to be shut down during the tour.  Quick thinking at the factory resulted in a re-adjustment of both dinner and tour plans.  The Nucor team was able to rally to provide tours late in the evening and everyone ended up staying up later than planned.

Our students learned even more lessons than we had originally planned!  They got an excellent lesson in planning, resilience, and adjusting to changing conditions.  The key part of “Experiential Education” is that the experience will always be unique.

You can view photos of the event on our flickr page

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How do you decide on a Career?

Everyone has an option on where you should work and what you should do.  In many cases, these opinions are offered as “advice” based upon this person’s life experiences and biases.

The single biggest decision that a high school student makes is their choice of a College, University, or Trade School.  Throughout their years in Higher Education, a student has a world of opportunities and choices to make.  A significant decision is a choice of industry to begin a career path.

The job search process (Internet research, applying for jobs, formal interviews, etc.) helps companies identify employees that might fit with their company, but it doesn’t help students decide what career is right for them.  In the absence of any formal program, students often make their decision based upon information from their informal network of friends and family acquaintances.  While this helps students feel comfortable with the decision, these criteria may not be the facts that the company wants to highlight.

As the Career Fair has grown, students are seeing an increase in not only the number of companies recruiting, but also the diversity of industries represented.  This adds to the challenge of making an informed choice.

At Michigan Tech, we have decided to make this process a bit more informal and exploratory while allowing students to get data directly from the companies.  Our solution?  Campus-wide “Industry Days”.

Companies are invited to participate in an informal “expo” style event filled with hands-on, interactive events.  Students and corporate representatives are much more relaxed in this setting.  The Industry focused events help students get a “30,000 foot” explanation of the career opportunities within industries, while providing students a glimpse of the future direction of the industry, allowing them to consider where their career path might take them in that industry.  Some students are surprised by different opportunities available in an industry or sector they would not have considered otherwise.

For the Fall of 2014, we had days focused around the Steel Industry, Petroleum Industry, and Railroad Industry.  Response from companies has been extremely positive.  The spring will also include more career explorations and more opportunities to interact and engage with companies.

In the past, students treated their first job as the end of their career search. Today, a career is a journey. Our graduating students from the millennial generation are looking for diverse career options, not wanting to get ‘stuck’ in one career that becomes routine, but treating each career assignment as an opportunity to build their skill set to take on their next challenge. Industry days provides students a chance to map out their career journey.