The Importance of Listening to Industry Advisory Boards in Higher Education, Part 2
By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University
There is a disconnect between the quality of graduates produced by higher education institutions and the needs of organizations. One way to stay on top of this dilemma is to meet regularly and get a pulse on the state of the education situation.
The APUS School of Business recently held its annual Industry Advisory Council. It was a success because we listened to each other and came up with a list of action items to address and report on at a future meeting.
Our day started with a panel discussion by representatives from the different programs within the School of Business. They answered questions from their professional perspectives.
When we broke into our program groups, the Management, Retail Management and Hospitality Management groups had a lively discussion. That discussion involved some of the perceived missing components in the academic experience that would better prepare students for entry into their designated fields.
One of the participants asked if we could make sure that our Career Services staff had experience in the industries in which they were attempting to place our graduates. Initially, I thought, “Of course, they have.” But when I did a random search on the open positions posted on higheredjobs.com, the results supported the questioner’s comment.
Counseling Services Professionals Need Experience in Students’ Intended Career Fields
When they seek to hire career development professionals, many institutions want individuals with degrees in counseling and student services. Experience is focused on their years in the career services field.
However, I found only one job requesting industry experience in the area that the career counselor would be assigned, which the successful candidate would be responsible for overseeing. Some of our industry advisory board members believe this experience is critical to successfully preparing and placing students in the right type of position.
After such a lively conversation, I wanted to find out how our Career Services Department deals with this concern. I was fortunate to pique the interest of our Associate Vice President of Career Services, Christine Muncy. She provided me with an overview of how she would have responded to this question, especially as the situation relates to our institution.
She has four staff members who assist her in preparing our students for the workplace. These staff members hold the positions of Career Coach, Career Exploration Specialist, Corporate Recruiter and Data Specialist.
The Career Coach focuses on a group of similar industries. “We want our staff to be more familiar with the job than the degree,” Christine said.
The Career Exploration Specialist helps students who haven’t figured out what they want to do as a career. Once they have an idea, those students are passed on to the Industry Coach for detailed career planning.
Our Corporate Recruiter cultivates relationships with employers and helps them recruit from our student body. The Corporate Recruiter also connects students and employers through information sessions, in-person events and virtual career fairs.
Our Data Specialist monitors the various surveys sent out by the Career Services Department at APUS and bases her answers to queries on that information. A common theme seen in recruiter survey feedback is that some candidates approach recruiters without having any familiarity with their targeted company or its job postings.
What do these counselors see lacking in our students? Most frequently, it is that some of our students do not present themselves well and lack preparation.
Those students look good on paper. However, when it comes to preparedness and communication, some of those students fall short of what recruiters want to see. “Overall, the candidates were expecting us to review their resume and find a position for them to apply for, rather than coming in prepared and asking questions about specific positions they already had researched,” said one recruiter at a recent event.
What Did I Learn from Our Discussion?
- Our Career Services Department recognizes the need to provide first-hand knowledge about industries, rather than only focusing on the degree.
- We have a role in assisting students who still do not know what they want to do even if they are about to graduate.
- The conversations between our Career Services Department and potential employers are the same types of conversations that the School of Business directors had with our Industry Advisory Council members.
- Employers need people who can hit the ground running and be able to apply what they have learned in the classroom. We may have students with 4.00 GPAs, but they need to show how they can solve practical business problems using both technical and soft skills.
- With all of the support provided, we still have some graduates who (1) do not present themselves well and (2) may not have adequately prepared for an interview.
- It’s hoped that the information gained from the IAC members validates some of the feedback that our Career Services Department had in regard to graduates’ readiness when they interview for job positions. It also provides helpful information on what types of additional services are needed to better prepare our students for the realities of the workplace.
About the Author
Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.
Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and strong leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.