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Career Services within Student Service Continuum

Article originally published in the WSCA Newsletter, April 2021

There are many services available to Wisconsin’s middle, high school and technical college students as they advance through their education, many of which are conducted by middle and high school counselors. But getting in front of students is a challenge, much less scheduling time and getting students engaged in this pandemic-induced sometimes virtual world. In the spirit of collaboration and cooperation for the students, all education advocates play a part in student success. This is especially true when we consider our work a continuum of valuable and relevant services to students in all stages of their education. In that vein, it’s never too early to refer students to the Career and Employment Services (CES) department at Wisconsin’s technical colleges.

For all types of students

Two women going over a resumeThe CES department does much more than helping graduates find work. Madison College Lead CES Advisor Rochelle Wanner explained. “Students should consider us for all points – starting with middle and high school students in exploring career pathways, to exploring careers specific to the college before becoming a student – to finding a part-time job or internship while a student, to a full-time job after graduating and even as an alumnus – we are here to assist.”  

A common goal: student retention and success

Just as all student influencers – parents, grandparents, school counselors and instructors – want to support young people’s success, a CES team member may be able to advise a student or potential student about all aspects of a potential career selection. They even have services for students in middle and high school that can support the critical work Wisconsin’s middle and high school counselors are doing with students to help explore career pathways specific to the college.

Unique challenges in a unique time

Helping inform students about what to expect from their education – in terms of cost of education, amount of time required, outcomes and other matters is especially important when everything else is uncertain. CES staff advise students when certain programs may require additional steps and/or expenses needed for enrollment. For example, certain public safety or education programs may require a background check. In some cases, the program may require the purchase of certain tools or supplies over and above tuition that could make it cost prohibitive. Advisors can alert students to potential challenges they might face in the job and successful outcomes they could enjoy. This consultation can help build students’ confidence that the time and money they are about to spend is done so efficiently. But for younger students, it also helps them focus on what they can do now to ensure their future success. Wanner views it as a holistic approach. “We serve undecided students and students who have solid, clear career paths, plus anyone in between. We help students overcome barriers to employment such as academic, financial, disability, single parent, ELL (English Language Learners) unemployed and non-traditional employment.”

Student and staff advising momentAdvising through the lens of equity includes understanding potential challenges students may have and navigating ways to overcome them. An example of gender equity from the standpoint of “non-traditional employment” Wanner notes, may be to help women pursue careers they are passionate about. If that means their gender makes them a minority in that program, they can try to prepare for that and seek mentors or other help to overcome any challenges related to that. The same can be said for men who want a career traditionally held by women, so they can also navigate potential challenges. These are just a few reasons why students benefit from seeking advising – including from CES – early on.

For students uncertain what their options are or what career path to take, CES can help them explore potential careers through a series of assessments and interest inventories. The department has a number of tools at their disposal to help focus the student’s search.

Career advising for a virtual age

Additional aspects of advising may include resume writing and interview assistance. As a student progresses in their program, teachers often advise them to seek internships and other relevant opportunities to gain valuable job experience. For postsecondary students, and perhaps even some high school students, the CES staff can often help students locate and apply for internships. CES staff are also a great resource for learning about campus jobs, called Work Study or Student Help, which pay well above median wage and can be very helpful to students who want to work while enrolled in classes.

Wanner says the department is a “hidden gem that students should seek out” even if the student feels prepared for the path they are taking. “We are very interested in meeting the student’s needs by helping them to understand their interests, values, strengths and maybe even shortcomings. Sometimes it is a journey, but one that we can work together on.” Another advantage of the CES is they are linked up with many other student services at the college, so they can make recommendations or referrals for students when appropriate. This dedicated department at all Wisconsin Technical Colleges is important for student retention as much as for student success.

Help evolves with students’ needs

Handshake LogoWanner said the CES department adds tools based on changing student needs. Wanner said CES recently added two new resources one called Focus 2 for career exploration and Handshake, for job searching. Handshake is free to students to seek opportunities online and reach out to potential employers. Its focus includes entry level jobs for new graduates. It also connects employers to students or graduates of particular programs. Handshake also has other valuable tools, including virtual career planning, job fairs, and conferences relevant to job seekers. These tools can help make the difference between a student taking a job and finding a fulfilling and successful career.

If the other end of the spectrum is students, alumni or mid-career people, CES also has a number of services geared to help. For example, the college provides access to a “WorkSmart Network” for individuals who have been laid off or are unemployed seeking new opportunities. Collaborating with the state’s Workforce Development Board, many of the same services available to enrolled students are offered, but these specific advisors work closely with local employers. They may connect students who meet certain qualifications to local companies struggling to hire the staff for certain positions. As many advisors are conducting triage for friends and acquaintances who may be struggling with job or financial pressures, please consider your technical college’s CES department. To secure help for middle, high school, college or potential students at various points in their career, please also consider your local technical college’s Career and Employment Services.