September 27, 2017 | By NACE Staff
TAGS: best practices, operations, competencies, program development, nace insights
Spotlight for Career Services Professionals
When Tim Harding introduced the “Spartan Ready” career readiness program to the University of Tampa’s president four years ago, the goal was to become more focused on and deliberate about developing the high-demand competencies that are relevant to succeed in the work force.
“[The development of the Spartan Ready program] came from the recognition that, while we knew intuitively that what happened in the curriculum and co-curriculum at the university was helping to develop these skills in students, there was never any intentionality about development and measurement of those competencies, nor were we trying to identify what they are,” explains Harding, the university’s associate dean of career development and engagement.
Harding and his team conducted research on competencies and what employers are seeking. They worked with the university’s employer advisory board to validate those that were critical to student success, and, from this collaboration, developed a list of competencies for the school.
The Spartan Ready program is based on seven competencies—which act as the program’s pillars—and two foundational, underlying attributes. Harding stresses the importance of infusing these competencies and attributes into both the curriculum and co-curriculum.
The program’s seven competencies are:
Meanwhile, its two foundational attributes are:
“We feel like life skills and professionalism transcend everything,” Harding says. “Our definition is more broad than just student success in the workplace. It’s about life success and being involved in the community.”
One of the most important results of the implementation of this program, Harding says, is that the University of Tampa now has a common language spoken across campus when addressing Spartan readiness.
“We don’t necessarily talk about the word ‘competencies’ with people; we’re talking about ‘Spartan readiness’ now,” Harding says. “That makes a difference. It’s a branding that our students, in particular, can identify with a little bit more than if we were talking about having competencies, which sounds pretty lofty.”
Harding was surprised by how students took to and took ownership of the program. Early conversations with students centered on the activities they’re taking part in, the skills they’re developing, and the desire to find out how they are developing these skills.
“When we began to talk to students about the fact that they can dissect what they’re doing, think about how they’re doing it, and look at the skills they’re using, it was as if a lightbulb went on,” Harding recalls.
It resonated with students so strongly that a group initiated a mapping session for student leaders during which they brought in a speaker to talk about millennials in the workplace and what to expect. They also worked with career development staff to create a mapping exercise, which was a reflective experience with a workbook they created that helped them think about what they do in their individual leadership roles that is mapped back to the competencies.
“They did that on their own,” Harding says. “That’s how much it resonated with the students. Our alternative break students also generated their own reflective exercise that they do any time they go on alternative breaks. They might talk about the social issue they’re looking at, but, beyond that, they’re also considering the skills they’re using that are mapped back to the competencies. I’ve been really impressed with our students and that’s what validates our efforts more than anything.”
Harding has noticed acceptance of the program from other groups as well, most notably faculty and employers. He admits to making presuppositions about the faculty reaction to the Spartan Ready program that have proven to be inaccurate.
“I felt that faculty are not going to embrace this because it’s too akin to vocational training,” Harding says. “What I found is that faculty are saying that they’re already teaching these competencies in the classroom and the program has resonated with them.”
One of the factors that has resulted in acceptance from this group is that Harding kept faculty involved in defining the competencies, and he developed the definition of “Spartan Ready” with the associate provost among others. In addition, the university has created a Spartan Ready steering committee that Harding is co-chairing with a faculty member. The committee composition is both faculty and co-curricular staff who will be looking at curricular infusion.
The faculty also seem to be embracing the program because, as Harding notes, “these are liberal arts competencies.”
Furthermore, Harding has witnessed an awareness of Spartan readiness by a number of employers that regularly recruit at the University of Tampa.
“Their recruiters will initiate interviews, ask questions, and start conversations around our Spartan Ready competencies, and use the program’s language conversationally, which is great,” he reports.
The next step is for employers to write job descriptions that incorporate the language of the Spartan Ready program.
“Some employers started to do it a little bit, but it’s a little more challenging with some of the higher corporate organizations because their job descriptions are so standardized,” Harding says.
While developing and implementing the Spartan Ready program was challenging, finding a way to measure the program’s effectiveness has proven to be elusive at this stage.
“That remains the big challenge,” Harding says. “On an individual, programmatic basis, we do assessment projects. Let’s say our leadership area is doing a program, they will write student-learning outcomes that are associated with that program and map them to the competencies. They will do some type of assessment using rubrics, observation, and reflection, and then write up reports based on that.”
He says that assessment associated with the program is occurring broadly throughout campus. For example, the Spartan Ready competencies are now the learning domains for the entire division of student affairs so every program the division offers is mapped to the competencies and is assessed.
“What we’re looking for—and what we’re lacking at this point—is how do we take all of this assessment that’s going on and aggregate it in such a way that we can see a student’s progress in developing the competency,” Harding says. “I’m doing a lot of reviews of software products to see if something exists.”
He offers several tips for other colleges and universities considering developing their own competencies and career readiness program:
“In terms of your program’s development beyond that, it’s important to understand that our way is not the only way or the best way for other schools,” Harding points out. “While schools can to look to each other to get ideas and advice, there is no single method of doing this because our schools are all so different.”
Percent of employers rating critical thinking as very/extremely important in candidates
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Percent of employers rating students as very/extremely proficient in critical thinking
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Percent of employers rating teamwork as very/extremely important in candidates
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Percent of employers rating students as very/extremely proficient in teamwork
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Competencies in which students were rated most and least proficient by employers
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