Volume VI, #6
What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas. While this may be a catchy marketing slogan for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, I haven’t been able to adhere to it. I keep writing about Vegas, from my first visit a quarter century ago, to a more recent critique of the food court at The Flamingo.
One reason is that I find Vegas to be a reservoir of ridiculousness. Like the time I visited with friends from law school and, passing the Border Grill in the Mandalay Bay complex, noticed that I happened to be wearing the exact same outfit as the servers (neon orange T-shirt and khakis). After being mocked, on a dare, I took a few minutes to recapture my glory days as a waiter, clearing plates and refilling waters. (I did not accept gratuities.) On a different visit with the same group, I recall attempting to guess the next ridiculous themed casino to be built on the Strip. My vote: a Dickensian-themed casino named “Bleak House,” featuring horse-drawn carriage rides to the casino through dirty Victorian streets; mind you don’t trod the orphans underfoot!
Many would argue that Sin City’s desert existence is ridiculous – supported only by its proximity to the reservoir of Lake Mead. For me the most ridiculous aspect of Vegas is its ratio of show to substance. Everything tourist-related in Vegas has been designed to optimize this ratio: look as luxurious and expensive as possible while being as cheap as possible. I witnessed the epitome of this on my last visit, ironically involving water: two gleaming water fountains surrounded by what appeared to be marble (although certainly something much cheaper) in a beautiful new festival mall. The problem was when I attempted to drink, the flow was too high and slopped onto the floor. So I tried pushing both at the same time. The result: both jets were far too low to drink. The fountains looked perfect, but were in fact perfectly useless.
Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.
Career Services is the Las Vegas of the University. Not only do career centers look good, they have glitz: the brand-name firms that recruit on campus. But outside of the most elite schools, the commitment of these firms is tenuous at best. Are they actually recruiting on campus? In the unlikely event they are, how many students did they hire last year? (To be sure, career services isn’t all glitz. If you’ve ever visited career services at a community college, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Not the Bellagio. More like the casinos that locals patronize. The one time I visited such a casino, I overheard a patron at a blackjack table asking: “how much longer do I have to play to get free steak & eggs?” You get the idea.)
Regardless, for students, relying on career services is like gambling in Vegas. They may win, but the odds are against them. The lack of substantive career services at colleges and universities is a major reason only 12% of graduating seniors have job offers prior to graduation. Students are gambling and losing, and they’re unhappy about it.
Andy Chan, Wake Forest’s Vice President for Personal and Career Development, got some attention a few years ago for declaring
“Career Services Must Die.” His primary critiques:
1) The very concept of “career services” conveys to students that they aren’t expected to think about employment until senior year, and also that it’s merely one office of dozens that performs a specific service (when in students’ minds it’s probably the most important question they have when they enroll).
2) The classic career services model is 6-12 overbooked counselors sitting in an office, advising seniors who show up to get help. Lots don’t.
To these, I would add two more:
3) Most of the counselors who work in career services are higher education lifers rather than professionals with relevant experience in the fields students are seeking to enter; and
4) With increasing data on job opportunities and requirements as well as on student competencies available online, even fewer employers feel a need to recruit on campus.
When we think about how dramatically the world of work has changed,
it is remarkable that the methods utilized to prepare students to enter it have remained static. - Roadmap for Transforming the College-To-Career Experience
(Edited by Andy Chan)
A less glitzy, more substantive, and certainly more challenging approach to career services is to integrate it into the student lifecycle from freshman year. Students should be thinking about career options every year – not only for part-time or summer work, but also for course and major selection. Of course, this isn’t possible if an institution’s connections with the world of work are monopolized by career services. It requires deep involvement at the departmental and faculty level.
Unfortunately, many career services offices have a bureaucratic reflex, resisting efforts to infuse career services across the university. Because if everyone is responsible for career counseling and employer connections, there may be no need for a central function (and there may be no employers paying on-campus recruitment fees to fund career services budgets). But career service innovators like Kelley Bishop, Assistant VP of Strategic Initiatives at Michigan State, know that “the ‘everything you need is here; come get it’ approach is not going to fly anymore.”
This Career Services 2.0 approach also addresses my other concerns. Departmental involvement increases the likelihood that students will be advised by someone with relevant domain experience. And job listings posted by departments – like the field-specific career networks that approximately 500 universities currently feature on select departmental Web sites – diminish overreliance on on-campus recruitment, particularly given that only a handful of companies have the resources and inclination to recruit on campus.
After Andy Chan and other career services pioneers kill Career Services 1.0, I expect Career Services 2.0 will fulfill two critical roles. First, it should be data-focused. Career Services 2.0 can advocate for university-wide ePortfolios or skills passports or digital badging, providing additional competency data that employers can utilize not only to determine which graduating seniors might be good candidates, but which sophomores and juniors might be good candidates for virtual internships or other engagement.
Second, Career Services 2.0 should engage schools and departments to galvanize a culture of employment focus and connectivity, for example through the aforementioned online departmental career networks, or – more promising – by facilitating the establishment of structured pathways to employment. Structured pathway providers like Revature partner with universities to help: (1) Inform last-mile training curriculum; (2) Match qualified students to employers; and (3) Provide additional pre-hire training, often training that’s employer-specific.
While Career Services 1.0 wants to hobnob with brand-name employers, neither of these new roles require direct employer contact. Rather than spending months coordinating visits from a handful of employers that may hire a few dozen students, Career Services 2.0 can get much more leverage partnering with competency marketplaces like Skillful, the new Markle Foundation – LinkedIn competency marketplace for the State of Colorado that launched yesterday, or partnering with structured pathway intermediaries: firms in the business of understanding the needs of thousands of employers, and that utilize business models incentivizing them to make successful matches and placements. Whereas Career Services 1.0 has 12% placement, Career Services 2.0 has the potential to get close to 12% of graduates not placed.
As Andy Chan says, “If you take the traditional idea of ‘career services’ and throw it out, you can come up with a model where the institution is taking responsibility and being accountable for teaching students how to live meaningful, purposeful, successful lives.” Which sounds like the opposite of Vegas.
In conclusion, at a recent speaking engagement I was taken to task for calling career services a “backwater.” Upon reflection, I take it back. Career services can’t be a backwater because backwaters actually have water. Like Sin City in the Nevada desert, glitzy career services offices with 12% placement rates neither have nor carry any water.
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