“At Central Michigan University, we are a community committed to the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom, discovery and creativity. We provide student-centered education and foster personal and intellectual growth to prepare students for productive careers, meaningful lives and responsible citizenship in a global society.”
– CMU Mission Statement, adopted by the Board of Trustees, Dec. 2, 2010.
February and March are important months for students seeking internships and careers. The CMU Career Development Center and several academic colleges and departments are hosting recruitment events, and many registered student organizations will hold professional networking nights with alumni and community partners. It is an exciting time to reflect on our mission to prepare students for productive careers.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already presented CMU students with remarkable challenges and obstacles as they have shifted from various learning modalities and adapted to constant changes in the ways they live, learn and work. Now the pandemic is testing their career readiness in new and unusual ways. Many will begin internships or jobs at companies they have never visited in person; they will work with people they have seen only through the screens of their laptops or cell phones during virtual interviews. Others are navigating one of the most challenging and uncertain job markets we have seen in decades.
Since our earliest years of operation, CMU has been dedicated to preparing students to succeed in life, both personally and professionally. It is part of our focus on real-world results and something our faculty and staff take seriously. We emphasize experiential learning and putting theories learned in class into practice. We support students through mentoring in the classroom, professional development through registered student organizations, career counseling and academic advising, internships and more.
Now, in the 12th month of this global pandemic, we must focus even more on ensuring that our students feel prepared for the extraordinary world of work they will enter. As knowledge and technology grow at an increasing pace, new career fields and jobs are emerging — some of the most exciting jobs available today simply did not exist four years ago. And, as employers adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, they are looking for employees who can do the same.
Employers say they are looking for candidates who possess a breadth and depth of knowledge, an arsenal of technical skills and the ability to continue to grow, learn and improve in both areas. They need “T-shaped” leaders, innovators, change-makers and problem-solvers. As we rethink what CMU can and should be moving forward, we must identify opportunities to provide students more chances to expand their knowledge and skills broadly while also empowering them to develop deep understanding and proficiency in their preferred academic area.
They also are looking for individuals who possess certain highly valued skills: critical thinking and problem solving, oral and written communications, teamwork and collaboration, digital technology, leadership, professionalism and work ethic, career management, and global and intercultural fluency. To that list, I would add two additional competencies, which I believe are increasingly vital for long-term success: the curiosity and desire to be a lifelong learner, and the ability to adapt quickly to change.
Most people will change jobs during their lifetime — a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics report suggested it could be as many as 12 times. Therefore, preparing students simply for success in their first job is insufficient; we must help them prepare for a lifetime of successful careers.
What some people call soft or professional skills, I prefer to think of as durable and transferrable skills: the ability to communicate clearly and listen closely, to work together with people who hold a variety of viewpoints, and to approach problems with creativity and innovation. And, just like technical skills, these skills need to be refreshed and renewed with ongoing learning, which can include reading, learning from others, attending professional workshops, pursuing graduate certificates or degrees, and much more. CMU must serve students at every point along their educational and career journey; we cannot simply part ways at commencement.
Being nimble and flexible is an increasingly important attribute for career seekers to possess, not only due to the pandemic, but because job markets, industries and technologies change so quickly. Our students have shown they have the grit and passion — the Fired-Up Attitude — to achieve their goals in spite of obstacles, and this quality is invaluable to employers in every field of work. In fact, we know that employers purposefully and regularly seek out CMU graduates for this very reason.
When students can demonstrate that resilience alongside an ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to process new information quickly, they immediately become more attractive candidates for employment.
I am proud to see these attributes on display daily in our student organizations. Student leaders have adapted traditional in-person events into exciting virtual experiences; they have found ways to build connection and community in an online environment; and they have adopted new tools to support their learning and development. As we help our students build their knowledge and skills, we also must help them articulate their experiences being nimble and flexible — these are valuable resume-builders, too.
CMU will continue to emphasize career-readiness and lifelong learning in our Strategic Envisioning Process, and I look forward to sharing exciting updates in the months ahead. Good luck to all our CMU job seekers!