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  • Providing Career Services for Multiple Generations

    August 22, 2019 | By NACE Staff

    Trends & Predictions
    A group of Gen Alpha students work together on a project.

    TAGS: best practices, trends and predictions, generations, nace insights, career development

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    When it comes to working with multiple generations, one of the biggest mistakes career centers make is thinking that this generation is vastly different from others, says Cory Werkheiser.

    “If you look at what people complain about related to a current generation—entitlement, laziness, and more—they are the same complaints that my parents had about me and the same ones their parents had about them,” explains Werkheiser, assistant director of career and professional development in the Student Success Center in the College of Charleston School of Business.

    “In reality, if you consider some of the ways that you can work with a current generation, a lot of it focuses on the same solutions as with past generations; this includes getting them involved and trying to understand how technology impacts what they do.”

    That’s not to say there aren’t differences. For one thing, members of Gen Z and Gen Alpha are very entrepreneurial.

    “A lot of what we do in career services is focused on the traditional steps whereby a student selects a major, studies in that major, earns a degree, graduates, and goes to work,” Werkheiser says.

    “This group—Gen Z and Gen Alpha—are looking for ways to be more entrepreneurial and more their own boss. I don’t know that they are particularly going to walk that traditional path. I think they will be looking for more dramatic ways to get involved and change things. It is a big shift.”  

    To see another example of the differences in generations, one needs to look no further than social media, Werkheiser says.

    “We’re now at a point when our students, who had been using Facebook and Twitter previously, have transitioned to using Instagram and even Snapchat,” he notes.

    “We’ve spent countless hours and dollars developing content for our social media channels. Then, we find that students are not using the channels we have developed. So now we have to start over and build another presence on another social media channel. That’s one of the biggest issues we’re dealing with in our efforts to manage generations.”

    Werkheiser adds that career services offices can turn off their audiences very quickly, especially if their students feel like the office doesn’t want to try to understand their expectations. With this in mind, he recommends finding a way to match what students are seeking and work that into your programming.

    “We’ve done this by having groups of students who we use as ambassadors,” Werkheiser explains. “When we’re thinking about rolling out a program or changing a policy, we ask them what they think about it and try to get their input. It’s not going to be the only part of the solution, but having that direct input from the people for whom it’s intended is important.”

    Werkheiser and his colleagues in the Student Success Center have also worked to gain an understanding of the critical skills and abilities needed by students. This work involves soliciting employers to find out what they’re looking for in their new college hires, as well as reviewing course offerings and content to see if they match employers’ needs effectively.

    “Being prepared for these constant changes in expectations from students and being able to respond is important,” Werkheiser says.

    “The key is talking to your students and learning what their expectations are. It’s important to ensure there are a lot of people at the table because, particularly in higher education, it’s difficult to make quick changes to content, curriculum, or delivery. Being able to get people around the same table to talk about issues can help things move faster.”

    Werkheiser recommends creating an advisory group, especially one that can draw on almost a mentor-mentee arrangement so you can involve your current students, your recent alums, and your not-so-recent alums, all of whom can have input into expectations.

    “It gives everyone a chance to talk together and figure out a way to work through some of the issues involved with providing career services to students and alumni from multiple generations,” he explains.

    One of the biggest mistakes we make is looking at things ourselves and thinking something will work well, without focusing on what the employer is going to think or what the current student is going to think. Then, we’re surprised when a new program or idea doesn’t do as well as we thought it would. Having some kind of advisory group through which you could get varied input from different stakeholders is very effective.”

    Also, Werkheiser points out the utility—and challenge—of using the social media channels to communicate.

    “Social media is at its best when we are not just using it to send out information, but when we have followers use it by connecting, following, and commenting,” he explains.

    “We can create an Instagram page, but getting someone to follow it and actively use it is not easy. Finding a way to expand that communication through social media is very important to actually engaging them.”

    Werkheiser says that, just like any other generation, Gen Z and Gen Alpha want to have a positive impact on the world.

    “They are very passionate about what’s going on socially and culturally,” he says. “I don’t think that’s different than anyone else over the years. The biggest change is going to be that Gen Alpha will absolutely have no knowledge of a world without instant, immersive communication. Understanding that, accepting it, and figuring out ways to make that a big part of what we do is going to be absolutely critical to effectively working with these students.”

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