March 18, 2021 by Anne Peasley
As part of our partnership with uConnect, this blog post originated as a presentation at the 2021 Career Everywhere virtual conference. For the full presentation, access the conference recordings and resources.
When it comes to careers, students want a clear picture of what they can do with their degree. But at the start of the education-work journey, clarity can be hard to find.
Students may not be aware of the job opportunities that exist in the labor market. Or, they struggle to make sense of their options when faced with swaths of information online. As a result, future plans feel confusing or intimidating.
That’s where data (and career services) can help. At a high level, labor market information makes it possible to understand overarching, long-term tendencies of a regional job market. From there, that data can be brought down to the level of emerging trends and immediate-term changes, which can then be connected to curriculum and training programs.
The challenge for career services is shifting from just “knowing about” these things to applying this information in a way that benefits students. How can career services help learners, along with their teachers and advisors, take meaningful action to prepare for a fulfilling career?
Here are 4 ways to make use of data in the career center.
A common question from students is “How will my college education help me to get a better job?”
To answer this question, it’s helpful to know typical outcomes of different degrees. Labor market data provides a way to see how graduates with different degrees navigate the job market. One of Emsi’s offerings, the Alumni Outcomes study, lets institutions take a close look at their graduates’ employment outcomes.
But this information is also available at a broader level. As part of a study with the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, we sought to uncover the real, long-term labor market outcomes of liberal arts grads. To do so, we charted first, second, and third jobs after graduation, based on online resume and profile analytics.
For example, a common cultural stereotype of liberal arts degrees is “What are you going to do with that? Become a teacher? Or a barista?”
Based on the data, liberal arts grads go into a variety of careers. Some are directly related to liberal arts learning outcomes (such as Journalism, Writing, and Communication), while others might not be (such as the Food Preparation and Services—our baristas).
Over time, however, Sales and Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations occupations are clear winners for liberal arts grads, like there’s a magnetic pull to these types of careers. Much of the content they learned and skills they developed in college are a great fit for these occupations.
(And note: by the third job, Food Prep has completely dropped off the list.)
From a career services perspective, it would be helpful to bring students’ attention onto these career possibilities while they are still taking classes. With information about these magnetic career types, students can make informed decisions about their learning so it doesn’t take as long for them to get to these types of jobs after graduation.
We recently wrote an ebook on the role of skills in clarifying the relationships between your programs and the job market. Ultimately, this means relating what your institution’s programs are teaching to what the market is seeking, in terms of employable skills.
Typically, that process looks something like this:
The goal here is to improve the relevancy of existing or new programs, to ensure that the skills your students are gaining in their course of study are the skills that will benefit them on the job hunt. This language of skills allows educators (and career services professionals) to constantly scan the environment for opportunity in the job market, and find or create alignment within existing programs or curriculum.
Skills are an excellent way for students to position themselves in the job market, so incorporating this language into curricular documentation or career services offerings helps students see that they are developing these skills, and to confidently voice them to employers.
Every student has prior experience and interests that they bring to their college or university education. Data helps us gauge and understand where our students are on an individual level. Oftentimes students are wary to put one-off jobs on their resume (such as their experience waiting tables or mowing lawns, or a previous unrelated career) when really, those experiences helped them gain valuable skills.
Skill data, in particular, helps draw a coherent thread through experiences that may not seem cohesive on the surface, but all contribute to a student’s varied skill set. Combined with their interests and aptitudes, your institution’s educational pathways, and a “world of work” point of view, students now have somewhere to go—and a way to get there.
The opportunity here is to help students connect their individual experiences and educational goals with real-life options. Career services, faculty, and advisors have an opportunity to change the education or career trajectory of their students by helping them to surface skills they already have, and show them how those skills connect to what employers are looking for.
Sometimes, a simple observation from a trusted mentor can have a lasting impact on a student’s perception of their own abilities.
While nothing replaces the human touch, your career services department can leverage technology and data to supplement one-on-one coaching and deliver early advising at scale. To help, Emsi tools package labor market data in accessible, relevant ways to show students the career and skill opportunities that exist for them.
For new students, Career Coach walks them through the process of assessing their career interests and exploring career possibilities based on those interests. Then, Career Coach recommends the academic programs that will help get them the skills they need for those careers.
For adult learners, SkillsMatch provides a way to inventory and take stock of existing skills and interests. From there, learners can explore entirely new career paths, find ways to level up on their current career paths, or connect directly to job openings that fit their experience.
At the institutional level, Widget Builder allows you to create customized displays of real-time career data for your institution’s website. By displaying career outlooks that correspond with your academic programs, you’ll equip prospective and current students to make fully informed decisions about their education and career.
When it comes to students and careers, the problem is often not too little data, but too much. Students need help uncovering and making sense of what’s possible for them. When we get the opportunity to show a student what’s possible, they start to see opportunities.
That’s where career services shines: providing the warm, inviting, insightful, human connection between where students are, and where they want to be.
And that, backed up with hard data, paints a clear picture of the future.