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Professional Opinion

Colleges can build a better pipeline

How to modernize career readiness
University Business, December 2017
Melissa Vito is the senior vice president for student affairs, enrollment management and strategic initiatives at the University of Arizona. 
Melissa Vito is the senior vice president for student affairs, enrollment management and strategic initiatives at the University of Arizona. 

The profile of today’s college student looks much different than it did decades ago, yet the models of career readiness have remained largely the same.

Face-to-face appointments for résumé critiques and interview practice don’t meet the dynamic needs of today’s students. Because of technological advances, job markets are changing rapidly, making it all the more important for students to become flexible, adaptable workers who are prepared to transition throughout multiple careers.

What do successful models of career services look like? Here’s what I’ve learned at The University of Arizona.

One unit, one mission

Many university departments share the same basic goals of setting up students for success so they can complete degree programs that lead to promising careers. The key, however, is to get everyone working toward the same mission.

Recognizing that career exploration, experiential learning, engagement and leadership experiences all play a role in career development, we combined three offices to create the new unit of Student Engagement and Career Development. As a result, students have access to a comprehensive suite of services that houses everything that they need to find career success.

The idea is that students are no longer being bounced around from department to department. Instead, we’re making career services less transactional by helping students design a career plan that will connect them to opportunities earlier.

Incorporate soft-skills training

The ability to lead is the top attribute employers look for on a candidate’s résumé, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. As a result, we created offerings such as Build the Skills-Collaboration, Fast Track-Digital Marketing and Fast Track-Adobe Creative Suite.

These courses allow students to earn bite-size credentials—such as digital badges to place on their LinkedIn profiles—to prove to employers that they have the skills to be successful in the workplace.

In addition, students can gain leadership skills through our Blue Chip Leadership Experience, a foundational engagement program launched by the university in 1999. Blue Chip students participate in case-study competitions, mock interviews, internships, digital storytelling projects and community service to learn how to become inclusive leaders who promote positive change.

It also allows them to incorporate new skills into their portfolio of experiences.

Collaborate with businesses

Today, there exists a disconnect between what employers need and what students know. Only 35 percent of students say they are prepared for a job, according to a recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Companies also report they are unable to grow and compete as they grapple with unfilled job openings, turnover and retention.

Collaboration between career service offices and businesses can ensure students are learning the exact skills employers look for. In addition, it’s an opportunity for universities to help high-impact businesses continue to serve the needs of their states and customers by creating a better-educated workforce that moves students, businesses and states forward financially.

For example, last year we teamed with Six Bricks, a learning platform developed by the digital marketing agency LeadMD, to provide our students with the opportunity to learn and collaborate with real marketing companies. The result is a partnership that allows students to leave with valuable connections to employers in the field.

Today’s students live dynamic, 24/7 lives that have left traditional models of career readiness behind. By infusing experiential learning and engagement into career exploration, by incorporating soft skills training into career development and by collaborating with businesses, we’ve seen our students reach a new level of success in job and graduate school markets.


Melissa Vito is the senior vice president for student affairs, enrollment management and strategic initiatives at the University of Arizona.