Employer involvement in higher education is vital
Preparing work-ready graduates requires collaboration
Current research suggests that most students choose to pursue a college degree to secure a good job and a fulfilling career. However, a recent survey of business leaders suggests that less than half believe higher education is providing graduates adequate training. Not so at Central Michigan University; we are focused on preparing our graduates for professional success in their first jobs and for a lifetime career.
Recently, U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, told the Chronicle of Higher Education he wants to see more opportunities for faculty and staff at universities to engage with employers so they can better understand today’s workplace. Cardona says he expects colleges to be more attuned to changing workforce demands. At the same time, employers overwhelmingly feel universities could resolve skill mismatching issues by better aligning curricula with job openings.
This has been a priority at CMU for years.
We are strongly committed to working in partnership with employers to ensure that the education we offer - and the preparedness of our graduates - meets the changing needs of professions and industries. We enthusiastically share the education secretary’s vision, and work with our employer partners to create pathways for students that lead to success.
Merging classroom theories with real-life skills
College advisory boards, consisting of members from outside companies and industries, are often able to recommend changes that shape what we are teaching. For example, advisory boards for CMU’s College of Business Administration and College of Science and Engineering play an important role in shaping curricula, bringing guest speakers and programs to campus, and creating opportunities for partnerships that connect students and professionals. Advisory boards bring the real world to campus, but they are just the start of a true commitment to collaborating for student success.
CMU infuses classroom learning with the in-demand skills employers seek. Events outside the classroom provide students with hands-on experiences and connections to potential employers that are invaluable for their futures.
Every year, CMU’s College of Business Administration hosts ERPsim, a simulation that tasks teams of students to run a successful company. It utilizes the very same software that many companies use to build efficiencies and maximize profits. The competition pairs students with mentors from dozens of companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Lilly and Deloitte.
In addition to the knowledge demonstrated by students, ERPsim is a chance to develop the transferable skills of leadership, communication and teamwork – all important skills our employer partners say they need. In fact, some of these companies offer internships and jobs to participants during the competition!
Students in CMU’s Fashion Merchandising and Design program produce the impressive Threads Fashion Show annually, which offers hands-on experience in clothing design, public relations, graphic design, model management and more. Participants also open doors to their future by forging connections with employers like Carhartt, Meijer and Kohl's, who are looking to hire graduates with exactly this kind of experience. The show also provides experiential learning for about 30 students studying event planning and management, broadcasting and nutrition.
Another truly inspiring annual event that demonstrates CMU’s commitment to partnering with companies to prepare career-ready graduates is the School of Engineering and Technology’s Design Expo. Student participants, many of whom are working on ABET accreditation alongside their degree, take on real-world design challenges provided by companies including Ford, Moeller Aerospace and Dow. While student teams work to design and present their product, company representatives can watch their process, gauge the skills and knowledge being deployed and make connections with potential future employees.
Securing mentorships and internships
Independent of major or minor, all CMU students have access to Central Connections, an innovative mentorship program connecting students and recent graduates to professionals who can offer career support, mentorship and countless professional resources. Currently, more than 1,300 students and alumni are part of the virtual community that leads to job opportunities.
Partnering with employers for internship opportunities has proven to add considerable value to a CMU education. Our first destination survey of recent graduates shows that students who participated in internships found the experience highly valuable in securing a job after graduation.
Getting results for students and employers
Beyond preparing students, collaboration helps employers find employees with the right skills and knowledge – an increasingly desperate challenge in many industries. When companies are involved in education, they are cultivating a well-trained and educated workforce.
Employers engaging with students in the classroom can be a vital way to power the talent pool. CMU’s Employer Spotlight program allows companies to schedule time in appropriate classes to have casual conversations with students about what it is like to work in their organization; and to explain the skills they need most. These on-campus interactions have helped employers find students who have the right skills for roles they need to fill.
Companies will seek out universities that want their involvement. Consider the following examples:
- Sydney Dennis, campus recruiter for Total Quality Logistics, believes CMU has created an environment that encourages companies to connect with students. “I always feel like I am able to get to all the target students I am looking for when it comes to hiring for internships and full-time roles,” Dennis said. “It has been very easy working with CMU staff, professors and student organizations.”
- Danny Lorentzen, a talent acquisition manager for Enterprise Holdings, credits a positive relationship with the university and its Career Development Center, finding that ”CMU graduates are prepared for the post-graduation life.”
- Dynatrace recruiter Novena Petracaj says their company has been fortunate to hire “incredible CMU graduates throughout the last few years,” and that “throughout our partnership, we’ve been able to connect CMU students with some great opportunities.”
Growing the potential for success, together
In the end, our goal is not simply to grant a degree; our goal is to prepare students for personal and professional success, not only for a first job, but for a lifetime of leadership. We cannot do that without engaging employers to inform and enhance a CMU education. When we work together, the potential for success grows; and when our graduates succeed, it boosts the state and region, making communities more economically competitive and robust.