Toxicity in Career Services Offices in 2011

Today read the Washington Post article  covering disparity in worker skills, hiring and corporate growth. According to the article, that surveys firms in the Fresno, California agricultural industry, when skills go lacking, businesses simply can’t growth according to demand. It’s hard to find people rapidly, and often local skills-training doesn’t keep pace with demand, for lack of knowing what jobs will be required. My hero, Stephen Rose was asked to comment on this mismatch, as a researcher at Georgetown’s CEW.

Contrast this labor-search conundrum with the reverse angle: college graduates struggling to find relevant work options. We know of the alternatives to pursuing work on your degree (waitressing, bar tending), but we also know the cost associated with not landing a relevant career position. The NCPA does a good job covering this angle in a December publication, “From Wall Street to Wal-Mart: Why College Graduates Are Not Getting Good Jobs“.

As we near the heating-up point for close to two million seniors and graduate students nearing graduation, these tensions exist, but within a backdrop of easing recession. The MSU CERI, as I have written before, expect an upturn in college recruiting, so I hope to see the traditional system revive itself. However, since I began closely monitoring college recruiting in 2007, I have a few new observations.

Career Services has taken a beating. Career centers used to be hip to services like ours in 2008, but this year they want us to disappear. Even folks at my alma mater do not want to recommend my system to students.They told me that they don’t want to recommend student to use a system that directly competes with them. They denied us entry to a career fair, and asked us not to distribute information about our service on campus. When folks go from liking to despising career networking websites, it’s possible that the rug is getting pulled out from under this department.

We have heard that most colleges have decreased budgeting toward career services offices each year since 2008, so naturally there is no longer job security in this arena. Though researchers have admitted the institution of career services is fundamentally useless (Sullivan), I see the career services as serving a fundamental PR purpose for the college.

If you look at most private universities you will find pages devoted to listing which prominent firms recruited at the college in the past year. For the thinking investor in college education, this should be the only page they read. When a parent learns that Goldman Sachs recruits at a school, it’s immediately viable to spend $250, 000 sending a child there. Who attracts Goldman to career day? Career Services. I would argue that despite the lack of real consultation one can find in these offices, that the vital purpose of the office is to run a healthy career fair.

The problem with career fair in years 2008-2010 is the massive decline in firms coming there. We believe that most career fairs will see a return to some greatness this year, in line with the CERI’s prognosis. However, I feel that the student market has clearly moved on, looking for better ways to reach out to recruiters, and become aware of what skills are needed while they are in school. We contend that the traditional career-fair is a relic that puts undue pressure on students to locate their future career in the space of three hours, while blocking the access of firms that enable direct contact with recruiters all year long, such as ours. We see Career Services in a battle to prove their own relevance, and they will do so by denying students information about progress in technology that could assist them.

I saw this recently at a career college, where in a conversation with the director of career services she bluntly asked me, “If students use your site, when will they ever need to use my office?” I replied that students will need help in learning how to construct resumes, conduct themselves in interviews, and even begin thinking about the career search. She still did not want to recommend my site to students. I figure this is because her resume, interviewing, and other perfunctory services really are just going through the motions in an employment market where student resumes are useless. She said she had to provide direct evidence that her efforts resulted in student employment, and that the administration kept strict records on her.

So long as career services is regulated in such a way, they will restrict services like mine from reaching students, and broadening their options. Currently career services offices are viewed by the administration as the conduit for all student employment, and this is not possible, given the skeletal staff employed there. But more importantly, if CDS offices are expected to earn students jobs, then they will begin to broker student talent much like a talent agency, thereby totally restricting students to locating relevant employment.

When you look at recent, massive student unemployment upon graduation, these facts are clearly a part of the problem.



About stefan bund

Founder of Next Acropolis. MS in Information Systems and Technology, Claremont Graduate University... Background in software engineering and teaching.
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