How Two Experts With a Lifetime’s Worth of Experience In Education Are Trying to Help Students Land Their First Jobs

A Lifetime’s Worth of Work

Paul Smith and Leah Jewell have a combined 67 years’ experience working in education (37 for Paul and 30 for Leah).

“We’ve achieved grandparent status,” Paul says, in reference to how long they’ve been in the sector.

They’ve charted different career paths, but today, Paul and Leah are both at Pearson. Their work focuses on preparing today’s learners for higher education and the workforce.

And when it comes this critical pathway, Paul and Leah agree: things are not like they used to be.

Many Factors Create One Big Challenge

“Decades ago, I went to college because I knew that if I did, I would get a job,” Leah says.

Paul says the same.

“It used to be that if you got a degree in X, you got a career in Y.”

Today, they say, that’s no longer true.

“Employers tell us they have serious trouble finding qualified people to fill their jobs,” says Paul. “Candidates lack the ‘soft skills’ they need to succeed after school – things like self-management and initiative, the ability to work on a team, and communication skills.”

The problem, Paul says, is these “soft skills,” also called employability skills or personal and social skills, aren’t being explicitly taught in courses offered at many colleges and universities.

Often, he says, professors at institutions are so busy teaching students the broad range of mandated “hard skills” required to graduate that there isn’t enough room in the courses required for a major, or dedicated time in those four years, to also develop the personal and social skills that complement students’ technical preparation in a focused, intentional way.

“We end up with students who have 4.0 GPAs,” Paul says, “but who don’t know much about actually getting a job or how to handle themselves professionally and effectively once they get there.”

That’s the challenge Paul and Leah’s latest project at Pearson attempts to address.

Filling in the Skills Gaps

Paul and Leah are two members of the team working on a new Career Success Program in support of Pearson’s employability program.

Based on insights from many years of learning science research, the Career Success Program was created to help college students navigate the career planning process.

“It’s a huge suite of interconnected digital assessments, activities, and tools,” Paul says, “that helps students determine what careers might be a good fit for their interests and abilities and, importantly, exactly how to get there,” Paul says.

Each student’s experience with the Career Success Program involves milestones, assessments, and projects that are both personalized and continuously adaptive. Users can access their interface at any time.

Paul says the Career Success Program helps students tackle the “Three D’s” of finding an pursuing a satisfying career: discovery, development, and demonstration.

“Through a series of logical and manageable steps, they discover their personal and academic strengths and weaknesses, develop the skills they need for their desired future career, and demonstrate to potential employers that they possess the skills and abilities to succeed.”

Pilot Programs

Several schools are currently piloting Pearson’s Career Success Program.

At the University of North Texas, all incoming freshman and transfer students (approximately 12,000 in all) will work with the program this year.

Another 2,000 or so students at Texas Tech are also using it.

“Schools are appreciative that we’re helping them get to their students much earlier on,” Leah says.

“Career planning conversations can’t start senior year – they should be embedded throughout all four years students are on campus helping them explore and prepare for future employment possibilities.”

Paul says that in addition to helping start career research and conversations earlier, schools like that the Career Success Program keeps the job search process cohesive and forward-moving for students.

“Many schools arrange one-off workshops for job seekers…to help with resume editing or mock interviews,” he says. “The program is different because it’s an integrated, flexible, one-source solution. Students come back to it again and again during their time in college to hone skills and track progress towards their ultimate career goals.”

The Job Search: Then Versus Now

Leah remembers searching for her first job 30 years ago.

She says her experience was nothing like the experience a typical college student has today.

“I didn’t have a specific academic or career path in mind, because I knew any degree was enough to qualify me for most jobs.”

A few months before graduation, Leah says she saw a Pearson sales position listed in one of her honor society magazines.

“There were lots of jobs for college graduates back then, and this one looked kind of, sort of interesting. So I applied,” she says.

It took six months (“Everything was done via written communication and face-to-face interviews back then”), but Leah got the job.

Thirty years later, she is still a Pearson employee.

Thinking Differently

Throughout her career, Leah has held many roles at Pearson.

“I was passionate about education, but I didn’t know if I’d be a good fit for any of the roles,” she says. “As it turns out, I’ve loved every job, including my first job working on college campuses.”

(Leah says she could have benefitted greatly from a career success program, had it existed then, but it’s particularly valuable now with how employers leverage social media).

She credits much of her success and satisfaction to the company’s people and priorities.

“I’m proud of the colleagues I’ve hired and helped develop who have gone on to do some really amazing things in education,” she says.

And, Leah says, she’s excited that, even after 30 years, she’s still finding new ways to help learners through her work.

The Career Success Program is one great example, she says.

“I’m very proud that we are thinking creatively and innovatively about the kinds of solutions learners need to access today.”

Recently, Leah spoke at America’s Promise Alliance Community Convention 2016 about what she sees as opportunities and challenges for employers and job seekers: