While no career is exactly like another, there are a few core competencies that make graduates stand out. These well-rounded, professional-readiness skills have become more important than ever in the remote learn and work environment, and go beyond basic tips on how to interview well.
Understanding this, FIU Online created the Career Engage program in 2019 to help the university’s fully online engineering management students close the skills gap, hone communication abilities and harness the hard and soft skills they need for their respective industries.
An edge for students
Since 2019, the program has expanded to include fully online students in hospitality and tourism management degree programs as well as those earning degrees in public health. Currently, Career Engage has more than 2,100 students enrolled, many of whom are navigating the changing job landscape in the wake of COVID-19.
“The job search has become more challenging and competitive," says Nico Rose, associate director for academic program management at FIU Online. “Career Engage was created to give our students an edge."
“I completed the program because I wanted to gain extra skills that would make me more marketable,” says graduate student Dominique Colas, who received certification in wedding planning to complement her degree in hospitality management.
Colas explains that the certification course has diversified her knowledge and will allow her to create an additional stream of income with wedding planning if she needs to.
Like Colas, Corey Damon, also a fully online master’s student in hospitality management, enrolled in Career Engage to help make his resume stand out. Damon is full-time active duty, stationed in San Diego, serving in the Navy, but wants to enter the hospitality industry when he returns to civilian life. Because of his years of service, he doesn’t have as much hospitality experience as he would like.
“I’m going to have to find ways to set myself apart. These certifications will make me stand out and allow me to compete better with those who have more experience,” he acknowledges.
However, it isn’t just certification those enrolled gain. The program also provides practice with communication and personal branding, which public health graduate student Alshima Shuiab found useful.
Both Shuiab and Damon agree that personal branding may not come naturally to some. They both also say they learned how to maximize their use of LinkedIn through the Career Engage activities.
“The thing I liked most about the program, in addition to the hard skills, were the soft skills I learned. Communication is more important now than ever,” Shuiab says. “The program prepared and allowed me to apply what I’ve learned and integrate that with my on-the-job training.”
Tied to industry needs
“At FIU we are constantly searching for ways to enhance our student experience, which in turn, will translate into student success,” says Cynara Suarez, associate director of online student services at FIU Online.
Rose adds that Career Engage was designed to help augment traditional academic models. Graduating students who want to stay relevant will need to consider ongoing learning through micro-credentials, and this trend has fueled the rise of certifications and badges for a range of industries like engineering management, hospitality and tourism management and public health.
“We connected with our unit liaisons in the college and their industry partners, which identified critical workforce competencies as well as skill gaps that helped us focus on what experience to create within Career Engage,” he says.
Three-step badging pathway
Available to both undergraduate and graduate students, completion of the three-step Career Engage pathway is self-determined and completely online. It is also built in the Canvas learning management system; so online learners can work at their own pace. Students are encouraged to complete their certifications and badges by the time they graduate.
When students start Career Engage, they begin a three-step badging pathway. The first step is to earn professional certifications; the second step encompasses soft skills that are in-demand and in need; and the third step guides students to build their personal brand with a capstone project to create a career action plan.
“It didn’t take me long to complete the entire course. I really enjoyed the lessons, and I learned some valuable new skills,” Colas says.
Within Career Engage, students practice their skills with a mock interview that features role-play scenarios. When a student completes the entire badging pathway, they receive a Career Engage university badge they can use for their personal branding, such as on social media, email signatures or resume.
Additional Career Engage experiences will be added to pair with more fully online degrees in the future.
“Our hope is to foster a culture of lifelong learning. We want to be a university that goes beyond graduation,” Suarez adds.