A 2013 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) highlighted the call from employers for enhanced practical skill development of college graduates. Indeed, 75% of employers called for “more emphasis on helping students develop five key learning outcomes, including critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings” (Hart Research Associates, p. 13). The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) considered this research when they developed Skill Seeker, which was designed to provide multiple stakeholders (e.g., students, administrators, internship supervisors) with a framework for examining the ways in which students develop skills that transfer to professional settings. Students are introduced to Skill Seeker through programs, student groups, and campus departments. The purpose of the current project was to test the applicability of Skill Seeker as an evaluative and reflective tool for summer interns in a corporate setting at a summer resort property.
Skill Seeker was created by the Career Center at UNCW in direct response to data collected in The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) Job Outlook 2012, which indicated that employers seek specific qualities in college graduates, including: Communication, Interpersonal, Teamwork, Initiative, Leadership, Analytical, and Technical skills. Data from an employer survey administered by the UNCW Career Center confirmed that these skills were critical for college graduates across all career fields. Year after year, regardless of job market conditions, employers continue to have this wish list for candidates’ skills and qualities (e.g., Adams, 2014; NACE Job Outlook, 2012).
Participants in the study, which included current and former UNCW students, completed pre-, mid-, and post-summer interviews utilizing an online interview tool called InterviewStream. They reflected on questions associated with the Skill Seeker model, which allowed researchers to directly examine the applicability of the Skill Seeker framework for both research and students’ skill development. Resumes were also evaluated by Career Center staff members at two points in the summer (before employment began and following a resume workshop) to determine how well students were able to articulate their development. Findings suggest that Skill Seeker is an effective framework for examining issues related to skill development and point to a need for additional opportunities for student engagement with Skill Seeker inside and outside of traditional academic experiences.
This project confirmed the usefulness of the Skill Seeker framework as participants expressed meaningful development in all skills, demonstrated growth in the ability to discuss and connect development with practical skills, and exhibited enhanced connections between major academic fields and career goals.
Communication – Students identified communication as a critical skill that not only emerged from their experiences as students, but was also viewed as connected to every other skill. Communication as defined in Skill Seeker encompasses both written and oral skill development. As one student stated: “I’m thorough, concise, and clear in my communication.… I like to spell it out: this is exactly what we need, when we need it, and make sure that they understand.… Communication is not only talking, but listening as well.”
Interpersonal – Students with strong interpersonal skills relate well to others, are self-confident, tactful, friendly, and outgoing. Students gained confidence in initiating conversations with guests and relationship development with coworkers. A student stated: “In hospitality we learn that we’re always going to help the guest, so that’s been really great to learn how to do…. If someone asks me something I’m going to figure out how to do it. I’m not going to give up and I’m not going to say I don’t know, so I think that’s a great skill that I’ve gained here.”
Teamwork – Students understood the definition of team and the roles of team members. Strong team members work well with others, are flexible and adaptable. Common phrases mentioned in most responses included “same goal” and “working together.” One student stated: “Together everyone achieves more…everyone is working together in a positive manner towards the same goal.”
Initiative – Students with a strong work ethic who are risk-takers are considered to have initiative. Students were given projects to complete with little specific instruction to allow for creativity and personal ownership, allowing for them to take initiative and think critically. One student said about his experience: “I developed the KidSpree Facebook page and put a presentation together with little to no guidance. It was great to be able to know that I built it from the ground up. It was satisfying at the end.”
Analytical – Analytical skills include creative thinking, strategic planning, and problem solving. Students were able to identify connections between tasks completed across various experiences, analyze what worked best, and apply that to similar experiences. One student said: “I have to set the budget, strategy, and implement the campaign, then get the results they’re asking for, and so it’s definitely neat.… With the Holiday Inn, I think that’s what prepared me for this, is being asked to be in charge of the policies and procedures for social media pages.”
Leadership – Leaders are able to communicate vision, are action oriented, influence others, and are enthusiastic. Leadership was connected to many types of activities and almost always related to another skill. One student reflected on an extracurricular experience: “Being a club soccer officer at UNCW, I…had to motivate kids who were out there but really didn’t want to try hard or really just didn’t take it seriously. …I constantly gave positive feedback and every time someone was to really try hard, we would make sure that person got noticed.”
Technical – Technical skills include utilizing computer software and hardware. Students demonstrated thoughtful and thorough consideration of technical issues. One student said: “If I can’t find anything from what other staff have done, I just go on the Internet and simply search Google…. If I send a guest somewhere new…I listen to what they have to say so I can share that with other guests at any point.”
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE
Skill Seeker proved to be an effective framework for examining growth and development of students’ skills. The findings demonstrate students’ ability to reflect on the experiences that align with each skill as well as how they are interrelated. As the internship supervisor affirmed: “…taking those seven skills to structure a work experience for students to achieve the most out of the experience gives the employer the opportunity to train students to potentially earn a full time position, possibly with them.” We believe career development practitioners would benefit from implementing Skill Seeker in the following ways:
• Resume development: Encourage students to identify and articulate their experiences using the seven Skill Seeker traits;
• Critical reflection: Provide students with opportunities to identify the ways in which they have grown through various co-curricular experiences (e.g., athletics, club membership or leadership);
• Employers and Supervisors: Require external stakeholders to utilize the framework when identifying the skills developed during a professional experience, and as a means for providing feedback to internship participants.
Indeed, Skill Seeker is currently being utilized to frame other programming offered within the UNCW Career Center and across campus. One notable example is the development of the Certified Internship Program (CIP), which provides formalized recognition on official transcripts for students who participate in the program during an unpaid internship. Reflection prompts and other CIP activities were developed to align with Skill Seeker. This is just one example of how Skill Seeker could be used to inform the work of practitioners focused on career development.
Adams, S. (2014). The 10 skills employers most want in 2015 graduates. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/11/12/the-10-skills-employers-most-want-in-2015-graduates/?linkId=10505618
Hart Research Associates. (2013). IT TAKES MORE THAN A MAJOR: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success. Washington, DC: Hart Research Associates.
NACE Job Outlook 2012 (2011, November). Retrieved from http://www.uwsuper.edu/career/students/upload/Job-Outlook-2012-Member-Version-1.pdf
Skill Seeker. Retrieved from: http://uncw.edu/career/documents/beaskillseeker.pdf
Laura Brogdon is the Administrative Assistant at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Laura is currently pursuing her M.Ed. in Higher Education at UNCW and serves as Treasurer for Chi Sigma Alpha Honors Society. Laura co-presented research on Skill Seeker in applied learning at the 2014 ACPA Conference and hopes to work with students in the career services field after completing the program this December. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James M. DeVita, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). James also serves as the Program Coordinator for the M.Ed. in Higher Education and as a Faculty Associate for the Applied Learning and Teaching Community at UNCW. He has presented at various national and international conferences including ACPA, ASHE, and AERA, and currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. He may be contacted at email@example.com.