September 2018

While work study is an important part of financially supporting college students, many Minnesota Private Colleges are also working to redefine the role of student employment in career development.

“When employers are hiring for a position many are working off a behavior-based philosophy, which is predicated on work history,” said Dave Broza, director of the Office of Career Development and Calling at Bethel University. “The best prediction for an employee’s success is their past experience and this includes work study.”

Minnesota Private Colleges have 3,609 students accessing federal work study and many more accessing institutional and state work study programs. These students are doing a variety of jobs, including marketing, customer service and facilities management. And they are gaining important work experience that can help them enter the workforce.

Work study is a combination of federal and institution aid set aside to provide part-time on-campus jobs for undergraduate and graduate students with financial need. Colleges use work study to fill part-time roles, keep students engaged on campus and connect students to more resources.

Bethel houses its work study program in the human resources department, which ensures that there’s an emphasis on students gaining professional experiences. The institution has implemented a system to help students better understand what employers are looking for and is working to integrate those desired experiences into student employment.

“One of the things we offer students is a portfolio style system so they can connect their experiences with attributes that employers are looking for,” Broza said. “We’re working with human resources so work study managers can contribute to the portfolio and help students connect their current work with their future career.”

There are a lot of important skills learned in work study and these can translate directly into the work force. There are also opportunities for students to try out a specific field to see whether they enjoy that work — giving them the chance to grow and potentially fail in an educational environment rather than their first job out of college.

One of the challenges with work study is changing the culture around how students describe their experiences. It’s important for students to understand what they’re learning in student employment and not to think it’s “just work study.”

“Articulation of experience is huge for translating past work experience into future work,” Broza said. “We use the tool R.E.A.L. Experience to help students demonstrate the value of their skills and experiences. It’s designed to help students understand how to articulate their experiences and gain employment after graduation.”

Work study managers have different types of relationships with students and can teach them a unique set of skills. “We often hear from managers that student employment is teaching students a different type of accountability,” Broza said. “What does is look like to be on time? How do you complete a task in a given amount of time? How are you balancing a complicated schedule? These are all questions we see addressed by student employment.”

Career preparation is baked into what is happening throughout a student’s college education, in particular tied to what happens in the classroom, Broza said. But work study is a great opportunity to supplement those other experiences and help students prepare for what’s next.

By Tom Lancaster