Up-Skill Your Student Employees

Krystyna Dias .

There have been multiple articles written about the professional deficiencies of recent college graduates entering the workforce. It seems likely that years of online school and remote work haven’t given young people the soft skills needed to easily transition from the classroom to the office. Some specific skills cited are:

  • Written and oral communication
  • Time management
  • Appropriate dress and demeanor

As college administrators we have a unique opportunity to assist the students participating in our student employment programs and help them improve these skills. In an ideal world, we could make workshops on these topics a requirement of participating in campus employment, but since this is an unlikely option for most campuses, let’s look at how you, as a manager, can help your student workers develop these skills.

Written communications in a business setting are much different from any other kind. The author needs to be able to deliver their message clearly and concisely. (See our September blog for a more detailed discussion of effective office communication.) Students don’t have the opportunity to practice this type of writing anywhere but on the job. So, if you have a department email box, you have the perfect opportunity to help your student workers develop this skill. Give them the answers to frequently asked questions and have them draft responses to your inbound emails. Make sure to review or have another full-time staff member review the drafts before they are sent to ensure they meet the department guidelines and contain accurate information.

Don’t forget practice for oral communications too. If you hold regular staff meetings, perhaps you can invite your student workers to attend on a rotating schedule. Of course this is an excellent forum to demonstrate how professionals communicate, but you can make it even more meaningful by asking your students to participate. If, as part of their jobs, students don’t naturally have information to share with the rest of the staff, give an assignment to prepare. Be sure to provide feedback so students can continue to hone this skill.

We often hold our full-time staff members to a higher standard than our students when it comes to timeliness and appropriate office dress and behavior. It is understandable, particularly when you have a hard time recruiting student workers, to feel the need to be flexible when it comes to office decorum. However, offering this flexibility will not prepare students for the real world. As such, make things like attendance requirements, dress requirements, and reporting structure clear at the time of hire. Don’t ignore infractions when students don’t comply. Instead, use it as a mentoring opportunity.

Finally, a valuable experience you can provide to your student workers is the ability to work as a self-directed team that will succeed or fail together. Nothing represents the real-world professional experience better than group work and it may not be an experience students are getting in the classroom. So come up with a project that involves real work to be done — streamlining an administrative process, for example, and let your student workers propose a plan for completing it as a team. Monitor their progress and step in to help them re-group if it seems to be going off the rails, but otherwise let the team complete the task at hand. Many administrative offices on campus rely on student employees to fill in the gaps when the department is short-staffed or otherwise overwhelmed with work. We are lucky to have them and can show our appreciation by taking some time to help make their job a learning experience that will serve them well when they begin their professional careers. As we all know, not all staffing needs can be met with student employment – sometimes you need to find experienced administrators to assist your team. That’s where the Higher Education Assistance Group comes in — visit our website to learn more about our interim staffing solutions or email us at info@heag.us