How faculty can help students enter the workforce

A part-time faculty member's perspective on what educators can and should do to support students as they work toward winning their first jobs after graduation.

Finding a job out of college can be a daunting task for students as they navigate their first job searches, but as university faculty members there are many things we can do to help our students enter the job market smoothly.

Most students are being taught to use websites like Indeed and Monster to post their resume and then they sit back and wait to see if someone decides to contact them for an interview. Sitting, waiting and wishing will not get you a job. As faculty members and professors we have a duty to help our students in the classroom but also to help them transition into the workforce after graduation.

Zane Pucylowski, Phoenix Engineering and Kennesaw State University
Zane Pucylowski, Phoenix Engineering and Kennesaw State University

Internet job searches

We don’t look in the newspaper or just search a few websites online to find jobs anymore. Students are going online to search for jobs but they shouldn’t just look online at two or three websites, put their resume out there and hope for a response. Students need to be pragmatic and take the extra steps needed to find their perfect job.

What they need to do is find a connection. They have to decide what they want to do and who does that to figure out who those people are.

When looking online students may find a job or two that might look like it has, let’s say engineering to do with it, and they put their resume out there and say, “Well, I’ve done everything I can to find a job.”

That’s completely ridiculous and the biggest thing we can do as faculty is to push the students to understand that their career is in their hands. They have to make that first step, and they have to make a connection.

What students need to do is find a connection. They have to decide what they want to do, who does that, and then figure out who those people are.

For example, one night in one of the Mechatronic Engineering labs I teach at Kennesaw State University we stopped a little early and I pulled up Indeed and had the students give me a couple of keywords and we found a job that was posted. The job was from a staffing company and there were some keywords on the posting and the company was working on a specific type of robot. From the listing we knew the job was in Ohio and what they were working on. We then went to Google and Google Maps and we were able to zero it down to the company the job could be from. We then went to LinkedIn and we found there were 10 people listed for the company. The next questions were: Do we know any of them? Who can we make a connection with? Hopefully there is someone in our network, our friend’s network and even if we know absolutely no one, then we can reach out directly.

Teach students to go get your job! Don’t sit back and wait and hope.

Build a culture

I have a big thing I have going on at Kennesaw State, where I am a part-time instructor of Mechatronics Engineering, I’m getting the students to start calling out their professors. I’m having them tell their professors, “Hey, you should be helping us,” “Why aren’t you on the discord servers?” “Why aren’t you telling us what’s going on?” “Who do you know who can help us find a job?” These are all things that faculty should already be doing to help students.

I’m also telling the students to come back after they graduate and talk to faculty about how they can help the program after they have been in the workforce. It’s a two-way street.

I’m trying to get everyone involved because as I tell the students, what would this place look like if every time you walk down the hall anyone you met asked, “How are you and what can I do to help you?” What would this place look like if everyone did that?

Extending that idea out into the job search and into the working world, the students can then use the approach to speak to employers. Having the students asking the employers the questions of, what can I do to help you, what can I do to make your company better?”

If the student approaches the job search from this standpoint, then no one is going to turn them away.

I tell my students if they find the place they want to work then provide some value that helps pay for them to be there.

Administrators helping professors

Professors need help from the administration in order to make changes in the classroom.

One of the biggest things administrators can do is to push the professors to connect to the community and to connect them with the students who are graduating.

I see colleges following up with students after they graduate and ask them for money but the department never follows up to see how their jobs are going. The departments need to contact these graduates, ask them how their job is going, and then see if there is something they can send back to the department as a project for the current students coming behind. This will allow that community connection to keep moving forward and will benefit the students and the department in the future.

Tying the real world together with academics is very important and getting the administrators to recognize that what we do in the classroom is being applied in the real world.

The next thing administrators can do to help professors is to give them time and to push them to do projects with local companies. There are some universities that require their professors to take a sabbatical every couple of years and go out to work somewhere in the real world.

The students who are being taught by professors with real-world experience are some of the most successful graduates that we have because their professors are staying in tune with the industry and are bringing that knowledge back to the students.

In the engineering fields the administrators can also push their professors to get their engineering licenses because when they get their principal engineering license (P.E.), it gives additional credibility and clout to the professor and the department. It also helps with training as they are required to do a certain amount of continuing education to keep up their skills for their license.

The key with administrators working with professors is to make sure they are bringing the real-world experiences into the classroom because it is so essential in teaching the students how these industries work and making them successful in the real world.

Real world into the classroom

A lot of professors in academics haven’t worked anywhere else. Maybe they don’t understand what the world is like.

There are a lot of us going back into the universities now that are working as part-time faculty and helping that have the industry experience. We care about the students and want them to do well in the world and we’re trying to bring this real-world experience back in.

The biggest thing any faculty member can do is help students understand they have a degree that is desired and needed and important and they do things that are important and people want them. All the students need to do is let employers know they exist.

Giving real-world examples

Another thing I do in my classroom is to teach the real world aspect of whatever it is we are learning. The great question to teach our students to ask is, “What does this do in the real world?” As a Mechatronic Engineering teacher, I tell my students, “I don’t care if you fill out the checklist tonight. I don’t care if you get a grade on this. I want you to tell me what you can use this for in the real world.”

For example, if we are building a pneumatic circuit with an electrical control system and limit switches, what can we use this for in the real world? Well, we can use this for a stamping machine and that switch can be the one that drops the guard that keeps the guy from getting hurt and that one can tell the machine the part is in place and this one can tell the machine to do the stamping.

The idea behind this is it’s showing these students what they are doing is important and showing them what happens in the real world.

That is one of the things that is often missing in our classrooms. It goes back to, depending on the university, if you have all academics or a mix of people who work in the industry. I highly encourage students to find those industry-experienced professors and to take classes with them so they can begin asking those real-world questions.

As faculty, often we totally miss that. We spend all of our time trying to help kids and push them to get grades. Grades don’t matter in the real world. It’s, what can I do in the real world? This is what we need to be teaching our students in today’s classroom!

Zane Pucylowski is the President and Principal Engineer at Phoenix Engineering in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a part-time faculty member teaching labs in the Mechatronic Engineering department at Kennesaw State University.

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