Most students graduate from college brimming with knowledge about their chosen field of study. But raw knowledge doesn’t always translate into the sort of practical job skills -- interpersonal communication, conflict mediation, writing, interview and presentation skills, critical thinking, leadership, and the ability to prioritize a workload -- that grab employers’ attention and lead to post-graduate employment. Job candidates who have developed these skills in class or through internships have a better chance at landing the right job quickly than do students whose education has remained largely theoretical.
The Indiana University Northwest School of Business and Economics now offers its business students an opportunity to rate their employability and identify skills they need to improve in order to enter the job market at a competitive level. The Student Development Program at the IU Northwest Assessment Center allows students to participate in a series of workshops and evaluations designed to simulate real-world work experiences and then provide feedback from instructors and from local employers and businesspeople in Northwest Indiana.
The goal, according to Jana Szostek, Assessment Center director, is to give students an early heads-up about what skills they need to enhance or develop so that they can incorporate the appropriate classes into their future coursework. Students who take the Assessment Center’s training will go through the program twice, once as freshmen and again as juniors or seniors. This will allow instructors and staff to gauge students’ progress as they move nearer to graduation and evaluate their readiness for the job market. It also provides feedback on the effectiveness of the curricula that is used to teach these skills to IU Northwest students.
“There are a variety of exercises that we have them do,” Szostek said. “In one exercise, we give them an in-basket full of paperwork. Some of it is time-sensitive and some of it is not. They have to work their way through that paperwork, decide what’s important, and take care of it. It sounds simple, but for a lot of students it’s their first time dealing with something like that. They have to learn time-management skills.”
Other exercises include role-playing situations in which students are asked to play the part of employers trying to resolve complaints from unhappy employees or other troubleshooting situations.
One important element of the Assessment Center’s student-development strategy is the participation of volunteer evaluators from the community. Szostek said that having actual employers critique and advise students gives the program an infusion of real-world wisdom that will pay off in greater job preparedness after graduation.
“These are actual employers. These are the people our students will be handing their resumes to when they go out and look for a job,” Szostek said. “When these people tell them they need to work on something, the kids really sit up and listen.”
The Assessment Center currently is seeking additional volunteers to contribute their knowledge to the student development program. She noted that professionals who dedicate their time and expertise to these students’ education can give themselves a competitive recruiting edge when those students graduate from IU Northwest and become job applicants, instead.
“It’s possible that some of these students could apply for jobs with the same people who are doing their evaluations,” Szostek said. “Our volunteers will already know what these students’ strengths are because they will have already evaluated them. They will already have an idea about whether they’re a good fit for the company.”
For now, the Assessment Center program is open only to business students who enroll in particular career-development courses, specifically a career-perspectives class for freshmen and a career-planning class for upperclassmen. If the program proves successful with students and is able to attract sufficient volunteer involvement, Szostek said, its accessibility may expand in future years.
The IU Northwest Assessment Center is just one of many specialized development programs offered by the University’s School of Business and Economics, which is accredited by the prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
For more information on the Assessment Center, or to volunteer as an evaluator, contact Szostek by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (219) 980-6910.