We live in a time when far too many students graduate with four-year degrees only to struggle in finding or keeping a job. Sometimes we can blame location and lack of employment opportunities, but oftentimes these graduates have a significant lack of work experience.
A Work College is designed to equip students with practical, applicable professional skills. This model requires students to participate in a work-learning-service program, which enables students to graduate in good financial standing (money earned is applied directly toward tuition cost), as well as with valuable work experience that enables them to transfer their skills to any position.
Here are five principles of a Work College model and how they can prepare you for success upon graduation.
Principle 1 – Respect work as a learning opportunity
Within a Work College model, students will learn diligence and dedication no matter their job — working in an office, putting books back on library shelves, sweeping floors and everything else in between. At an average service job, employees are rarely encouraged to reflect on the things they’re learning.
However at a Work College, just like the classroom, the work environment presents itself as a learning laboratory. Each position poses the question: “What are you learning while you are here?” Each student thinks about it, reflects on it, describes it, and explicitly names the skills he or she learns from the experience.
It’s real-world work with an understanding that students are learning something valuable while they’re doing it. A student will walk away from their first year of work with a plethora of skills for which they have developed a greater appreciation and ultimately, the knowledge and foresight to carry them into the workforce.
Principle 2 – Begin your leadership journey
Dr. Chris E. Domes, president of Silver Lake College, is a member of the Talent Development and Planning Committee on behalf of the Governor’s Council on Workforce Investment in Wisconsin. In that capacity, he has spoken with an executive of a Green Bay-based company who told him, “Chris, no college graduate wants to go work for an electrical supply company. They don’t think it’s the greatest job in the world. It’s not all glitz and glamour. We’re looking for four-year undergrads, but a few months ago we still had 30 openings. Even if we offer a path for students, we don’t think a lot of students understand that path is there for them to learn, grow and develop.”
This is one of many companies having a hard time filling job openings with quality graduates, in part because young graduates don’t like starting out in a lackluster position — and they never learned that you can’t be the boss on Day 1. This is an example of how work colleges help students manage career expectations and develop a realistic professional development plan.
In a Work College, students learn they can’t walk into a job and immediately be the person in charge. Rather, they begin a journey of discovering both their leadership skills and their weaknesses. Students also will develop an understanding of the long path of consistent hard work that eventually leads to upper management. In short, they learn what it takes to be the boss, and the qualities and steps it will take to get there.
Principle 3 – Quality academic + professional preparation = successful life
A Work College education develops the whole person. Students in a Work College model are expected to be successful in every area of life — which often starts with holding a decent job, paying back student loans and living as an independent adult after graduation.
Many college-bound youth are unaware of the real cost of education, whether it’s due to their parents funding their degree or because the ease of acquiring student loans allows them to avoid the real burden of not having money. It’s a gap for many young people, and it doesn’t do them any favors. Being involved in a Work College model helps address that gap.
Many students are easily discouraged from working by a seeming lack of interesting work opportunities, or even the idea of balancing an even busier life. Other students don’t see the value of working in college at all. While the classroom usually remains in the realm of the theoretical, the Work College model aims to instill a mindset that work is a necessary a part of your education because it practically prepares you for future success by educating not only with books, but with true experience.
Principle 4 – Be passionate about your work
When Walt Disney opened Disney World, he wanted everybody to play their roles at their utmost ability, whether they were serving cotton candy, taking tickets on a ride, sweeping sidewalks, cleaning the bathrooms or wearing a Mickey Mouse costume.
Each role is necessary to having a successful operation, even the less glamorous ones. If working students “play their role” at 100 percent every day, they will gain more from the experience.
A Work College is designed to teach young people that no matter what they do, they should do it with incredible passion. Because passion and determination are characteristics of strong employees and strong leaders. Graduates who are steadfast and hardworking at the entry level who sustain that level of commitment will move up the ladder more quickly.
Principle 5 – Embrace stewardship and personal responsibility
It is nearly impossible for students to understand financial resources if they leave college without ever working or needing to manage their own budgets. Having a job helps address some of those issues.
The Work College model helps students learn to manage their financial lives. Students will change the way they think about money (read: how they spend it) if they know where it comes from, namely, their own hard work. Furthermore, they will learn to appreciate the value of what they’re earning, because the money earned pays the cost of their education.
Incorporating a routine work schedule into the college lifestyle reminds students that the work they do, academically and for service, will better prepare them to lead a successful life. So, before deciding on a traditional college education, examine your options. The Work College model might be precisely what you need to be more professionally and personally successful upon graduation.