Featured Carousel Features January 2019

Colleges Helping Students Prepare to be More Employable


Written By: Tracy Wright

The job market may be on the upswing, but it is still a challenge for job
seekers to find the right position in an age of digital career searches where it may be more difficult to stand out. Furthermore, many graduates are frustrated in their search for a position with growth potential where they can find the right fit for their degree and skillset. Experts agree that it’s important to educate students early on about which positions and fields are growing and may have the healthiest job outlook.

Both state colleges and four-year universities are ensuring their admissions and advising services are educating students on the current job market and matching their skills and interests to viable careers. The schools are also amping up career services to ensure that students can make themselves more employable, no matter what their field.

Although a vast majority of those seeking postsecondary education do look toward a bachelor or associate degree program in traditional fields such as business, health care and liberal arts, many career seekers, both young and old, are being advised to take a second look at trade or vocational fields.

Santa Fe College provides both associate and bachelor’s degree education as well as training in construction and technical education such as automotive service and management, air conditioning, refrigeration and heating, applied welding and plumbing.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that construction and craftsmen jobs will increase by an average of 13 percent by 2024. The construction industry is in such demand for workers that the shortage is limiting the number of new homes that can be built. Home Depot has announced that it will invest $50 million to train 20,000 people as construction workers, and Lowe’s has a pilot program that is giving $2,500 to employees in four cities to take courses in electrical work and other trades online.

Career landscape and current economic needs have evolved, but career advising hasn’t necessarily evolved with it, said Tom Mason, the advisor for Santa Fe College’s Construction and Technical Program.

“Santa Fe College recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and we were founded with the goal of technical training,” Mason said. “Now we offer so much more, but we are still committed to workforce and trade training.”

Santa Fe College’s Construction and Technical Programs provide education for a career in an occupation such as construction, automotive service, HVAC, welding, electrical, plumbing or carpentry. Courses are also available to workers who wish to enhance their current employment. The Perry Construction Institute provides a laboratory and shop setting to develop hands-on skills. In addition to practical training, classroom work includes technical-related theory, safety, mathematics and science.

“Most of the construction occupational programs are one to two years in length. A high school graduate only has an earning potential of $24,000 per year, but a quick training program like plumbing or HVAC bumps that all the way to $38,000 per year, while the average for university bachelor’s degree graduates is $42,000 per year, which is quite comparable,” Mason said.

Unique to the program is also an apprenticeship program that allows students to “earn while they learn.” Apprenticeships provide individuals working in the field an opportunity to learn the technical aspects of a trade in the classroom while applying this knowledge on the job, which allows them to advance through the trade at an accelerated rate. Apprentices earn a guaranteed wage throughout the training with incremental raises at various stages in the program.

Students attend class two nights a week during the fall and spring terms. Classroom activities in conjunction with on-the-job training prepare the students to perform as tradespersons upon completion. Students not currently employed in the field will be helped in seeking employment with sponsoring contractors. Apprenticeships last between two to four years.

“Apprenticeships are not new and go back thousands of years,” Mason said. “Our program allows a prospective apprentice to land a position from the people who sponsor them and then gain needed skills to move up in the field. This program is a perfect match for those who need to learn a living wage while they educate themselves.”

While many may be suited for more vocational programs, many high school seniors and other young people still opt for a traditional four-year education. University of Florida sophomore and biochemistry major Tyler Reid from Gulf Breeze, Florida, applied to four-year colleges because she eventually wants to work in dermatology by studying medicine in her postgraduate education.

“I knew I wanted to have the four-year experience and go to graduate school for a degree in some part of medicine, so this was the natural first step,” Reid said. “But I also know that I need to have a clear path in building my career.”

While the traditional route to earning a degree is still popular, the path to career readiness has evolved greatly, even in the past 10 years, said Ja’Net Glover, senior director of the UF Career Connections Center. As universities like UF continue to grow and advance, their graduates will be highly recruited as will graduates from other top public and private universities. However, research has shown that at some level, educational quality levels out and experiences and connections become more valuable, Glover said.

“One of the biggest things we emphasize in our work at the Career Connections Center is that experiences in college matter, like work, internships, volunteerism, lab work or studying abroad,” Glover said. “We know that Generation Z does not have a problem seeking or obtaining information for their future careers. But it’s about how they articulate their future needs and how they fit into an organization.

“We are working with students to be able to articulate those experiences with others with confidence. Those kinds of skills will make them more interview- and employment-ready. It’s more than just having a résumé that says you have the skillsets and abilities; you have to be able to discuss them and how it will enhance an organization.”

One of the key ways that Glover hopes to assist UF students in the future is by building and developing a robust mentorship program so that students can learn from the tremendous knowledge and leadership that exists from UF alumni, community business people and other key leaders.

“We want students to begin early in their mentorship experience to gain those valuable connections with mentors,” Glover said. “Within the community, we want a solid, town-grown relationship with our community leaders who can provide such great resources for our students.”

Career Shifts and Opportunities

Gainesville native Jennifer Elder originally received her associate degree from Santa Fe College in dental hygiene and worked in that career until she decided to pursue a more patient-focused role in health care as a nurse. While Elder had two young children at home and was continuing to work as a hygienist, she decided to apply for the nursing program at Santa Fe and received her associate degree in nursing in 2015.

“It was a lot of hard work, but once I was in the program, I absolutely knew it was what I was meant to do,” Elder said. “I knew that becoming a nurse was truly my passion, and I was fortunate to have the program at Santa Fe that allowed me to pursue that dream while balancing family and work.”

As universities like UF continue to grow and advance, their graduates will be highly recruited as will graduates from other top public and private universities. However, research has shown that at some level, educational quality levels out and experiences and connections become more valuable.

Now a nurse in the intensive care unit at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, Elder is pursuing her online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Santa Fe, one of the most popular programs at the college. Course work consists of 30 credit hours addressing topics related to leadership and management, nursing theory, ethics, research, culture, pharmacology and community health. Achieving a BSN allows nurses to be poised to obtain upper management positions in nursing and can be used as a stepping stone for graduate degrees.

Elder is one of many who turn to Santa Fe while pursuing a career change. Terrell Jenkins, a pre-college advisor in the Santa Fe Admissions office, said he sees people who are pursuing mid-life career changes or whose career directions may be influenced due to layoffs or other market disruptions.

“While many people I advise are the traditional first-time college seeker, Santa Fe also does a lot to support people who are looking at career changes or are finding themselves in the workplace after a long hiatus, whether that be for more traditional fields or vocational and trade training,” Jenkins said. “Santa Fe does a lot for these types of students, with advising, testing and placement and tutoring. We also offer coaching for life skills. In addition, our continuing and community education programs allow students to pursue special skills and get used to the classroom setting once again.”

Whether it’s a traditional four-year degree, associate degree or vocational training, it’s clear that parents, families, career counselors or advisors need to be open with students about the varying career paths that they can pursue.

“Career counselors in high school may still be using the same model when advising students, instead of taking into account the growth of job markets in certain areas and how not everyone may be suited for a traditional four-year liberal arts degree,” Mason said. “It’s definitely not a bad idea to counsel high school students to pick up a trade they can fall back on to earn money or to build their career upon. Furthermore, there’s no stopping someone with a vocational degree from going on to obtaining higher degrees that may give them skills to achieve further career ascension. The options are open and flexible and should be presented that way.” 

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