Want student success? Modernising your careers centre is vital

Camille Dumont gives advice on how to adapt a university careers centre to better align with the evolving needs of students and the job market

Camille Dumont's avatar
Post University
5 Oct 2023
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Long before the cap and gown, today’s students turn to careers centres for guidance and support as they begin to develop their career plans. Whether a student is pursuing a career in healthcare, law enforcement or corporate business, university careers centres must provide resources and services that serve students’ career goals. 

Yet many careers centres need to catch up to the times. A recent survey revealed that nearly 40 per cent of college graduates expressed concern over their institution’s ability to help them successfully transition into the workplace. Most respondents also admitted to feeling emotionally unprepared to survive the professional work environment. 

While boardrooms embrace flexible and remote environments, welcome emerging industries and dabble in artificial intelligence, careers centres remain the same. A victim of the perception of them as an ad hoc service, careers centres have not been given enough attention or funding to keep up with graduate needs. For decades, institutions approached education as a life juncture: support students for four (or more) years and then release them into the world. Job done.

Until now. 

Many institutions have pivoted to a holistic, lifelong approach to learning. In this new pedagogy, the careers centre plays an essential and cyclical role in the higher education experience.

For Post University, where I work, it took a willingness to change and the creativity of its team to realise true transformation. The university spent an entire year adapting its careers centre to better align with the evolving needs of students and the dynamic job market. Now the centre welcomes online and in-person students and serves as a bustling nexus between academia and careers. 

Below, I share how other institutions can follow Post’s model for modernising careers services.

Conduct an audit of services and visits

If a university notices fewer students using its services, thoroughly evaluate current services and the resources offered. In the case of Post University, the results demonstrated a need to entirely restructure the centre. Immediately, the university set about reorganising the programmes and identifying opportunities for alignment where possible. 

Retire outdated resources and refresh strategies

Put an end to using resources and programmes that are considered outdated in today’s job market. Onboard new technologies and courses such as Handshake and Forage, which cater to today’s digital natives and our significant number of online students, and integrate career services into the curriculum.

Welcome new, energetic staff

More than new services and programmes, expanding a university’s careers centre team is sometimes necessary. Advisers should also be encouraged to bring fresh ideas and expand the centre’s access to industry professionals with local and national contacts. Completing National Career Development Association (NCDA) training to become nationally certified career advisers should also be required if not already. 

Focus on individual student needs

Defining what postgraduation success means on a personal level naturally helps establish professional goals and identify support opportunities. Careers advisers can glean this information through one-on-one coaching sessions where students can engage in meaningful conversations. This approach allows the team to gain deeper insight into career aspirations and develop personalised strategies tailored to the student’s unique path. Whether it is a freshman coming in for their first time, an adult learner scheduling a virtual meeting or an alumnus seeking career advancement, the university careers centre should offer a wide range of career services to support individuals at every stage of their professional journeys.

Launch an engagement strategy focused on flexibility

Paramount to the success of students are frequent professional development experiences. Offering various activities – in-person and virtual careers fairs, professional development events, career coaching, employer spotlights and more – enables students to explore various opportunities. The university careers centre should also recognise that students, especially non-traditional students, might not have situations that allow for much time to network outside the classroom. A careers centre team must develop various specialised workshops and events, virtual careers fairs and flexible scheduling including evening and weekend appointments to support its diverse population.

Remain connected with alumni

It’s important for a university to recognise that some alumni will need continued guidance as they navigate career changes, promotions and new challenges. Be sure to incorporate alumni meetings to understand their needs and develop programmes that will serve alumni long after graduation.

By shedding outdated resources and programmes, a university’s careers centre can become a dynamic hub of innovation where students can access the most current and relevant tools for their career development. Looking forward, plan to home in on industry partnerships and expand networks, not only where the university is geographically located but nationwide, to create a pipeline of diverse and meaningful internship and job opportunities for students. The goal is to provide industry partners with a continuous stream of accomplished and prepared students ready to contribute their skills and expertise to the professional world. 

Moving forward, universities should continuously adapt and modernise careers services to empower future students with the skills, knowledge and resources necessary to navigate their careers with confidence – upon graduation and for a lifetime.

Camille Dumont is director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Post University, US.

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