In its ongoing quest to prepare students for the evolving workplaces of the 21st Century, Arkansas State University-Mountain Home is offering a new class in the spring semester that aims to take qualified students and make them more employable.
In previous incarnations, the school had offered Ready2Work, a non-credit, three-day free course where students would learn a variety of “soft skills” to better prepare them for the workforce.
For those of us who have been employed for more than half of our lives, these skills are second nature; we know once we get the job, we need to demonstrate that we are dependable and reliable to show up on time and work when we are scheduled, work as a member of a team and treat everyone in our workplace with respect.
Now, through the efforts of Janel Cotter, director of Workforce Development at the ASUMH Technical Center, and Karen Heslep, dean of the School of Business & Technology, the two have worked with human resource directors at a number of major employers in the Twin Lakes Area to put together a curriculum for a semester-long class.
“Employers in every industry need employees with certain fundamental skills,” Heslep said. “These include a strong work ethic, dependability, communication, critical thinking and teamwork,” just to name a few.
“Employers from every field in the School of Business and Technology tell us the most important qualities they are looking for in new hires are these employability skills,” she added.
According to Heslep, at the end of the three-credit hour course, students will have the opportunity to parlay the skills they have learned over the semester to earn a Ready2Work Employability Certificate. Once the students have earned at least an “acceptable” for at least six of the skill topics and a “successful” performance on two of the skill topics, they will go through a mock interview with their instructor or academic adviser to earn the employability certificate.
With the certificate, students can go through the real interview process with participating companies like boat manufacturers BassCat, Ranger Boats, Vexus, White River Marine Group and Triton, ASC Warranty, Baxter Labs, First Security, Vision Amp, Manpower, NEXT and North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, providing the student is qualified for an open position.
Heslep said the technical students’ course will be called “employment strategies” and those in business & technology — with the exception of criminal justice and funeral science students — will take “employment readiness.”
“Janel has served as a liaison to most of these employers,” Heslep explained. “We will want to continue to hear from them after the students have gone through the employment process and once they have been working for a bit. We want to know if they are hitting their milestones at 90 days, up to a year.”
Heslep said she would like to see the class take off and be offered as essential course for every department on campus, or at the very least become an elective option for all students.
Obviously some of the workplace specifics would differ for a student who was looking to work in a bank versus another student who wants to work in a factory, so the course instructor will take those differences into consideration when making recommendations as to what the two students would wear to a job interview.
She concedes that not every student will pursue or necessarily earn the employability certificate at the end of the semester, but Heslep is certain that students will still finish the course with advantages, such as the ability to sell themselves to a potential employer.
The course will start on Monday, Jan. 13., and students enrolling in their final semester can sign up for it now.
Heslep said for those students who receive a Pell Grant, they receive the full grant benefit at 12 hours, so with approval from their adviser, they can take the three-hour course for a total of 15 hours for no additional cost.
Students receiving student loans, or who are self-pay, would pay approximately $432 for the course.
Heslep said she would like to see more area employers support the class and provide input on the skills that are being taught, but said she’d be happy if they were just aware of the class itself.
“We just want them to know it exists and we are hopeful the certificates will make a difference for them,” she said.
She is aware that Ready2Work “is not a silver bullet that will solve all of the issues local employers are facing in hiring new employees,” but Heslep and Cotter are hopeful it will be a start.
“Because these behaviors are learned from a young age on, Mountain Home Public Schools is implementing a similar program beginning with Kindergarten,” she said. “Hopefully, over time, we can make a difference in the employability skills of those seeking employment in our area.”
For companies interested in joining ASUMH as a Ready2Work partner, or students who have questions, can contact Director Cotter at (870) 508-6133 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or Dean Heslep at (870) 508-6185 or email email@example.com.
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