Findings and Recommendations
The Career Task Force found common themes emerged from their research which form the basis of the findings and recommendations below.
Colleges and other University units consistently report very good working relationships with Career Services staff. As is to be expected at a university of Illinois State's size and complexity, the specific interactions, programming and coordination of activities vary widely among colleges as well as within colleges by department or school. Depending on major, students experience varying levels of access to career development and readiness tools, resources, and people (e.g., staff, faculty, alumni, and employers).
Not all students are offered or required to enroll in an intake or capstone course for their major. Preparing students for professional and career-related pursuits is not systematic across departments and schools. Exemplary courses do exist and can be used as best practices.
There is mixed opinion on the part of faculty members as to whether career development or readiness should be part of their role or curriculum with students.
Illinois State does well to engage employers with students, but engagement is not systematic across campus. The term "partnership" has varying definitions and benefits. Employer partnerships are most prevalent in Career Services, College of Business, and the College of Applied Science and Technology. Opportunities exist to examine and create institutional partnerships.
Career Services is currently structured in two broad areas: employer relations and services to students and alumni. In services to the university community, staff are primarily assigned to colleges (including University College for undeclared majors). This approach works well for most colleges, but also has certain limitations since career opportunities do not fully align with the college structure.
Career Services generated nearly 24,000 touch points over the past academic year through the variety of programs and services provided. However, many students view career-related services as transactional; they obtain them "just in time" when seeking a job, internship, and/or career. Thirty percent of students served by Career Services are freshman and sophomores and fewer than five percent are graduate students.
Current career advisors play multiple roles including counseling, advising, and coaching with students. Opportunities exist to examine a learning-centered approach that provides students with access to staff who provide building blocks throughout their collegiate experience. Clearly articulated position responsibilities to clarify roles will be essential.
A four-year guide for career planning was established and served as a guide and best practice when developing the four-year advising syllabus. Even though the plan is available to students, it is not currently utilized widely or fully by students, faculty, or staff. Collaboration with various campus constituents is needed to revise the career planner to provide a more holistic and institutional view of career development and readiness. Increased integration and collaboration with University College, Departments/Schools, Graduate School, and departments within Student Affairs will provide increased support for students as they transition throughout the plan.
Hire-A-Redbird, the University's interactive job vacancy tool for students, alumni, and employers, is a useful resource and is increasingly used by all constituencies. It does not collect and inventory all of the activities that occur, however, particularly in non-credit bearing internships.
There is a need generally to inventory the full range of activities occurring in Career Services, colleges, student organizations, and through social media.
Majors that have a close correlation to career industries are a best practice for providing career-based events and alumni/employer engagement.
Featuring distinguished alums to speak and present about their experiences occurs in all colleges and is highly desirable. These presentations are often done in conjunction with RSOs, which means they generate a good audience and simultaneously serve as networking opportunities between students in general, students in the RSO, faculty and staff from the given department, the alum and the respective entity for which they work.
Career-related programming for graduate students has increased in recent years, but opportunities to develop more programming and interaction is warranted.
Alumni approach University Advancement staff about becoming involved and engaged with current students on career development and readiness, including interest in hiring students for internships and career positions; providing mentorship and job shadowing; and speaking to students about their own experiences. This information is shared through established relationships with departments, but no formal process is in place for the collection of the information or documenting engagement.
A culture of assessment and continuous improvement is growing but should be encouraged. The paucity of data on career outcomes for alumni continues to be an issue that needs to be addressed across the University.
- I. Shift from a college-based model to an industry-career cluster approach.
While the current model is familiar, it does not always serve students equally well as they explore different options, change their majors, and make decisions about various and often related career paths. Taking a cluster approach allows Career Services and other university staff to gain expertise in related careers and to take specific actions:
- a. Broaden the range of majors that may be interested in and eligible for various internship, co-op, and career positions.
- b. Host employer panels focused on employability skills and industry trends.
- c. Create advisory councils and panels to cross-collaborate and communicate.
- d. Diversify, strengthen, and expand our employer portfolio, including employer development and engagement (including internships and co-ops).
- e. Enhance faculty and staff knowledge of professional development and employment opportunities and trends.
- f. Develop liaison relationship between career advisor/coach with industry-specific employers.
- g. Develop more short-term opportunities for students through networks (e.g., job shadowing (in- person or virtually), mentorship, internships, projects).
- II. Build a more standard, integrated, four-year developmental approach that will serve to link the efforts of Career Services, University College, colleges, schools, and departments.
While the task force advocates an overall structure, we are mindful of the many different populations of students we serve and for the need for segmented approaches within an overall structure.
In place are both a four-year advising curriculum as well as a four-year career planning guide, but these resources are not sufficiently coordinated or broadly applied. Academic units engage in many career development activities with their majors, but these vary greatly in format, time and place of programming, and level of participation. The task force advocates a student-centered approach where all students have access to a similar set of resources and opportunities across time and developmental stages. To be most effective, an integrated career development curriculum must involve both Academic and Student Affairs units in a coordinated approach. Specific action steps would include:
- a. Adopt an integrated four-year development plan campus-wide to include assessment, exploration, engagement/experience, evaluation, readiness and execution.
- b. Engage prospective students and their families early in the enrollment cycle to help define perceptions and set expectations.
- c. Develop shared resources, outcomes, and systems that integrate programs over a student's time at the university and provide the student with a coherent career development curriculum.
- d. Incorporate professional and career development as part of University College, Honors, and department/school advisement (include in position responsibilities and provide with specialized training).
- e. Create options to identify strengths through self-assessment and guidance for all students.
- f. Develop strategies and templates that can serve as easily adopted modules in appropriately identified courses. LinC and Success 101 would be early career examples, but to reach all students, courses in General Education and in the majors would need to integrate content at various levels. There are many existing courses that feature career exploration that can serve as models of best practice. IDS 106, Career Choice, may benefit from additional segmentation to students early or late in their time at the university, or it may be advantageous to integrate course content into other, more widely available courses.
- g. Enhance faculty awareness of the importance of soft-skills, transferrable skills, and employer expectations so they can make more explicit reference to how the curriculum is helping students prepare for life in and after college.
- h. Explore options for graduate students and alumni that build on the four-year program, but also serve their more focused needs.
- i. Develop segmented approaches for specific populations within the overall structure. Specific populations would include transfer students, non-traditional students, first-generation students, University Studies and IDS majors, among others.
- III. Develop a comprehensive and integrated marketing and branding strategy.
Create an overall marketing message that can translate to various constituencies from prospective students to alumni and employers as well as current students, faculty, and staff. Specific actions would include:
- a. Consider renaming Career Services to reflect new approaches and new directions.
- b. Create consistent content, branding, and formatting campus-wide (regardless of college; one access point with many paths – show alignment across campus).
- c. Create customized messaging that speaks to individual constituencies.
- d. Create and distribute tool kits for faculty and departments.
- e. Develop and deliver faculty-focused communication by creating individualized outreach based on cluster.
- f. Educate and equip students with the knowledge of how to obtain meaningful experiences with a focus on career clusters, not majors.
- g. Enhance employer-focused communication by creating an intentional engagement plan.
- h. Showcase alumni success by engaging alumni in videos and promotional materials.
- IV. The increasing role of well-chosen technology is critical to reaching all constituencies, particularly students and employers, in a time when on-demand services are expected 24/7.
Specific actions would include:
- a. Continue to develop Hire-A-Redbird as a central portal for internships, job search, employer posting, including for-credit and not-for-credit professional practice.
- b. Develop standard forms in Hire-A-Redbird to gather information required centrally such as site supervisor (emergency) contact and paid-unpaid status that are important for risk management.
- c. Deploy technology to improve quality, accessibility, and delivery of services.
- d. Continue to develop and rebrand Career Services website, ensuring that it is mobile-friendly and uses a content management system that allows for frequent and user-friendly updates.
- e. Expand the use of social media as appropriate for and desired by students and other constituencies.
- f. Increase the use of LinkedIn and other tools to encourage networking.
- g. Consider tools such as badging to assist students in tracking their activities, experiences, and skills that should be communicated to future employer.
- h. Analyze data that will become available through the Human Capital Initiative.
- V. Continue to emphasize tracking and assessment to ensure ongoing improvement of services.
Assessment must be a coordinated shared responsibility across campus, especially as it relates to tracking student outcomes across time. Specific actions would include:
- a. Make available structured opportunities for students to reflect on professional and career development – with advisors, coaches/consultants, online, on panels, at symposia, etc.
- b. Develop an integrated system for warehousing and mining data to report out on achievement of outcomes.
- c. Conduct ongoing needs assessment of students, employers, faculty, and alumni.
- d. Track alumni and employer engagement across departments
- e. Engage stakeholders through the dissemination of data (BOT, university administration, deans, students, prospective students, employers, family members, etc.).
- f. Inventory and analyze course descriptions and/or courses with professional and career development assignments/activities (including tool kits and resources.
- g. Track first and lifelong destination data of graduating students and alumni.
The recommendations in this report build on the university's existing strengths, identify opportunities for integration across campus, and develop intentional transitions for students. The task force recommends that a cross-divisional standing council be established. The council provides a structured organization for collaboration and professional development among key stakeholders on campus. The council meets regularly to facilitate communication and partnership internally between divisions and externally with university partners and employers. The council provides leadership to the university regarding career-related programs, policies, and procedures. It is further recommended that the committee's first charge be to prepare and implement action steps in support of a fully-integrated model of professional and career development which prepares students for life in and after college. The following structure is recommended: co-chairs should include the Director of Career Services and a Provost designee, representation from:
- Each College (at least one of the six college representatives should be a faculty member)
- University College
- University Advancement – Alumni Engagement
- Graduate School
- Student Counseling Services
- Dean of Students Office
- University Assessment Services