October 18, 2017 by Gwen Burrow
By the time they graduate college, students have typically spent at least 16 years in school. They know what to expect in academia. But they have little knowledge of the workforce—especially when it comes to salary.
Fortin Jean-Pierre, program specialist at Broward College (one of the nation’s top five community colleges according to the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence), puts the problem this way: “Too often, the salary that graduates are looking for is just not realistic, given their level of education and experience.”
Nadya Velazquez, HR manager at the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, told Jean-Pierre: “A major gap in our recruitment process is that most college graduates tend to have unrealistic desired salaries. This puts a strain in our recruitment since we normally eliminate a candidate who is asking for way more than our starting salary for the position they are applying for.”
In other words, graduates inadvertently close the doors that their hard-won educations should be opening.
At Broward College, Jean-Pierre has developed an innovative, fact-driven approach to solve this problem. His solution: career ladders that give students practical expectations and guide them into the labor market, bringing graduate and employer together.
Using Emsi data, Jean-Pierre starts by pinpointing the region’s top employers for the occupations relevant to the college’s programs. Then he researches the typical career-paths for those occupations and the average salary ranges for each step of those paths. Using the relationships he has built with the top employers, he reality-checks his research.
Broward College then presents this key workforce information to its students in career ladders that are clear, informative, applicable—but most of all, realistic. The ladders are grouped into eight categories:
When creating a career ladder, Jean-Pierre follows a typical pattern: degree, internship, entry-level positions, mid-level positions, and (for the ambitious) senior- and executive-level positions. These ladders act like maps and not only show students the career trajectories of their degrees, but also allow grant-funders to see the effectivity of their dollars. They make the abstract tangible.
For a college striving to adapt to the changing labor market, a tool that shows the merit of its programs is a boon. Advisors can use these ladders to give students concrete examples of the relationship between the programs the college offers and the careers that await.
“The career ladders show students how the effort they put into their studies today can propel them forward on a clear pathway through which they can achieve their personal and professional goals,” said Ian Ferguson, career and technical education advisor at Broward. “They provide a unique and highly effective visual trajectory for success.”
For senior specialist Suzette Jean-Louis, the career ladders have become her “preferred advising rescue tool” when she’s counseling undecided students.
The ladders are especially helpful in illustrating new, unfamiliar programs, as Jean-Pierre explained. “We can say, ‘This is a new program, these are the occupations you can go into, and these are the salaries for those occupations.’ ”
The career ladder approach also benefits the community by preparing a skilled workforce. “Middle skill jobs require an education beyond high school, but not a bachelor’s degree,” Jean-Pierre said. “That’s where the opportunity is for community colleges. We can help graduates transition to these jobs—some really well-paying jobs. Career ladders bring that to students’ attention. They identify a lot of in-demand jobs that are being overlooked—and help fill them.”
By digging into the data, Jean-Pierre has developed a proactive, rather than a reactive, strategy. He reads the changes in the workforce and stays ahead of the curve. And by making the data approachable, he also makes it effective. Checking students’ expectations allows them to both persevere and succeed. It does not hedge their dreams, but rather shows them the most effective path to accomplish them.
“Our job is to provide students with the right resources to keep them on track and carry them across the finish line,” he said. “Broward College’s career ladders do that.”