We asked Casey, a student at Georgetown University who earned a Catalyst Badge, to share with us her experience with navigating college while building a career path for herself. In this post, she explores her encounter with the skills gap so many college students face and how her learning experiences better prepared her to face a changing workforce. To learn more about the Catalyst Badge and our work on other 21st century skills, visit eddesignlab.org/badgingchallenge/
I have always struggled a bit with applications.
When you think about it, it is a daunting task to try and recreate your entire person in written form. Especially if your interests and involvement are as varied as mine, it can be a struggle to convey a cohesive individual out of seemingly disparate elements. Yet, I have found some relief by focusing on “skills,” not only as an employer buzzword, but as a way to construct a web of experience which most accurately portrays myself and my capabilities.
My career path could take any one of the multiple turns towards my differing loves and pursuits. As a recent graduate of Georgetown University, I am not alone. Many of my peers double-majored, or else double-minored, in addition to doing a plethora of jobs, clubs, and internships which fit their many passions. When you collect these components on a resume, what do they mean? Some have a clearer direction, several students majoring in such fields as Justice and Peace Studies and correspondingly spending their time on social justice pursuits, both in the workplace and in student life. Others, myself included, have a clumsier connection between our in-class and out-of-class activities. How can graduates encapsulate the past four years into a relatively neat and employer-friendly package? Are graduates lacking the skills that employers seek, the supposed source of the “skills gap,” or are our applications lacking the cohesiveness to exhibit our true abilities?
“How can graduates encapsulate the past four years into a relatively neat and employer-friendly package? Are graduates lacking the skills that employers seek, the supposed source of the “skills gap,” or are our applications lacking the cohesiveness to exhibit our true abilities?”
As the working world approached, my classmates and I were often regaled with stories of the “skills gap” and how we should be doing our best to bridge the divide. Still, thoughtful conversation on actually developing skills, showcasing skills that we had already obtained, and how those seeking jobs could make “skills” work for them was overall lacking. I was fortunate enough to attend a university which does explore such innovations as alternative credit structures and skills-tagging as methods of breaching the skills gap. Yet, most significant in my personal entry into the world of “skills” was my decision to participate in the Catalyst digital badging program at Georgetown.
Over an entire school year, this program developed student skills across five different modules: Self-Knowledge/Strengths, Goal Setting, Giving/Receiving Feedback, Reflection, and Failure. We began by identifying strengths and skills that we had already cultivated, including such abilities as “Communication” and “Harmony.” We continued by improving skills that may have been lacking, such as taking the initiative to seek feedback or reflecting upon one’s own successes and shortcomings. Finally, we learned from our failures, in both the program and in our respective lives.
Most importantly, I emerged, not merely with a few more skills to check on my LinkedIn page, but with a new framework through which to market my individual abilities. Now, I can explain how I tapped into the writing skills that I developed in my history major to advocate for animal welfare in my internships, or how I was able to utilize the oral presentation abilities I strengthened in my government classes during my front desk positions on campus. I may not have completed a “Presentation” digital badging program, but I have certainly gained presentation skills that I lacked before my time at Georgetown which could and should be properly represented on my résumés and applications.
“Most importantly, I emerged, not merely with a few more skills to check on my LinkedIn page, but with a new framework through which to market my individual abilities.”
The skills gap is not the only thing separating the expectations of employers and job applicants. Recent graduates may groan in understanding when I describe the paradox of the phrase “entry level job.” Most of such positions actually require one to two years of experience in a relevant field, making it almost impossible for some young adults to find employment. Yet, like the skills gap, this disconnect does not have to be solved through an overhaul of secondary education. Diligent students have already developed many of the skills which employers seek, skills which could also mitigate a lack of direct experience. Yes – universities should invest in skills-based learning for the benefit of their students. In the meantime, students can work to refocus their applications and resumes to reveal the skills which tie them together, as well as the skills which could use further improvement through such programs as the Catalyst badge.
Hopefully, applications become a little less intimidating in the process.
To learn more about the Catalyst Badge and our work on other 21st century skills, visit eddesignlab.org/badgingchallenge/