Transition from School to Work

Transition from School to Work

Fred Evers
2001 3M Teaching Fellow

bout eight years ago I designed a Transition from School to Work fourth-year course for majors in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. I had the support of our chair, Dr. Ron Hinch, and of colleagues such as Dr. Sid Gilbert. I believe that this course is an example of “making a difference” for our students. University campuses typically have career service professionals who can help students prepare and search for jobs. The University of Guelph has an excellent Student Life & Career Services Department. Unfortunately, many students do not use career services to the full extent because they are too busy. Many do not even prepare a professional resume. A transition from school to work course makes time available for the students since they are obtaining academic credit for the course.

The foundation for the course is research I have conducted on the skills that university graduates need in the workplace. Drs. James Rush, Iris Berdrow, and I published a book on the topic in 1998, entitled The Bases of Competence: Skills for Lifelong Learning & Employability. In this book we present a model of eighteen skills which are grouped in four base competencies: Managing Self, Communicating, Managing People & Tasks, and Mobilizing Innovation & Change. We found that employers of university graduates are willing to train them in technical areas because they realize that university programs cannot include all aspects of the field of study. However, they do expect that university has prepared new graduates to write well, solve problems and find creative solutions, manage conflict, think critically, and most importantly, be able to lead a group when called upon.

In order to help students think about what they want to do after university, they research and present (orally to the class and as written papers) an Action Project. The project can be on any area that relates to what the students want to do next. Students may work in teams. Examples of topics include: ethical behaviour in the chosen field, gender balance in the workplace, the advantages and disadvantages of contract work, international comparisons of an issue in the discipline, human resource issues, the history of a discipline, work opportunities in other countries, and types of specific training. It is critical that students are given the freedom to work on a topic that will help them prepare for their own transition.

The students also prepare skills portfolios focusing on the four base competencies. The portfolios are key to the course. Students need to have the time and space to reflect on all the academic, part-time work, summer jobs and volunteer actions they have accomplished. The portfolio also contains a one-sentence personal mission statement and an intellectual autobiography, a resume, an example job cover letter, a log of job interviews, and an assessment of strengths and areas needing further development.

A number of my colleagues have told me that we should not give credit for a course on the transition from school to work because students should do (on their own) the activities we cover in the course. My response is two-fold: first, the course can be done with high academic rigor and second, students will not do (on their own) what we cover in the course. The course provides the space and time to do the work of transition. I receive very positive feedback from alumni who took the course. They tell me how the course helped them with the transition and that they have kept their portfolios up-to-date. Transition courses make a difference.