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Q&A: Teaching Future Flexibility With Georgia State University

Dr. Angela Christie (left), Faculty Director for College to Career, and Catherine Neiner, director of University Career Services at Georgia State University

The employment market is shifting, the workforce is more competitive and the value of a degree is questioned like never before. Students need help not only acquiring marketable and transferable skills, but communicating their experience to prospective employers. So how do you teach students to transition seamlessly from college to career?

Georgia State University's answer to this question is in their latest Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP): College to Career (CTC). This university-wide initiative aims to increase students’ ability to recognize and demonstrate career competencies they learn through curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences. Faculty director of the College to Career QEP, Dr. Angela Christie oversees the development, refinement and implementation of the program across the university.

A key factor for success is strengthening the relationships between students and University Career Services, led by director Catherine Neiner. “We hear our seniors saying, ‘I wish I had known to get this experience or make time for this internship.’ We need them to be thinking about this earlier, so they can make strategic decisions and get the experiences, coursework and knowledge they need to progress into a career and thrive,” Neiner tells Georgia State University Magazine in "More Than a Major." 

Webinar Replay: How to Create a Future Flexible Workforce 


We interviewed Dr. Angela Christie and Catherine Neiner to learn more about CTC and how to create a future flexible workforce. Here's what they had to say.

Q. Describe what it means to be future flexible.

Dr. Angela Christie: The days of landing a job and staying in it until retirement are long gone. It is very rare for people to work in the same industry, let alone the same company the majority of their working life. Students often come to college thinking: “I am going to be a future THIS or a future THAT.” They don’t go into the undergraduate degree with the mindset that they will earn as many career skills as they can, so they can apply for any job. We want them to start thinking like that.

We want GSU students to be future flexible; to see a variety of job postings across a variety of employment fields and have the confidence their skills and training prepare them to apply for any job.

History majors are not just teachers (though a remarkable and noble profession for sure!). The skill-sets these students develop as History majors prepare them for jobs in business, education, government, media and data analysis. If we can teach students to see the undergraduate degree as a process during which they can earn required career skills applicable to a variety of job fields, then they can major in what they love and be prepared to be future flexible during their job searches.

Catherine Neiner: Future flexible means that our students, as a result of the College to Career initiative, will have the competencies that transcend the discipline-specific skills and knowledge that will get them started today and have the capacity to engage in careers that we don't even know exist now. 

Research is telling us that potentially 50 percent of the jobs now will not be viable in 25 years they will morph or even disappear.  And so, we want our students to be on the forefront of critical thinkers, problem solvers and leaders who can navigate into those unknown paths and become productive.

Read: The Decline of Computer Science

Q. How has that definition changed or strengthened during the Covid-19 pandemic?

AC: It’s no secret: College grads during the Spring of 2020 faced an unprecedented challenge when it comes to the job search. Many opportunities evaporated overnight. Internships disappeared, and hiring freezes, layoffs and downsizing became common. If our students have just one or two jobs for which they are prepared to search and apply, they will have difficulty post-graduation.

Future Flexibility teaches students to look closely at job calls and translate their skills in appropriate and creative ways to match the skills required by the hiring committees. It’s not about training for THE job. It’s about training for a job and understanding that the job experience is a further training that prepares one for the next opportunity.

CN: The situation Covid-19 has presented is exactly what the definition of future flexibility is. Here is a time that no one foresaw, no one was prepared for in terms of new college graduate careers, and no one knows what skills and knowledge will be required as we emerge from it.

Through College to Career, our students reflect on their experiences, the competencies they developed and how they can be applied in careers they never thought of. They can determine how the knowledge gained in the classroom and the skills gained in applied experiences give them the foundation to pursue the opportunities that are presenting themselves.

Here's how GSU introduces CTC to students:


Q. Step 1 of the QEP Student Learning Outcomes is Awareness, stating that in the first year, students become aware of the career-readiness competencies employers value most. Can you explain how you’re using data to communicate employer trends?

AC: We use NACE’s eight career competencies as a guideline, but then connect these competencies to skills we think students are likely to encounter in their classes (and then offer training for faculty who want to add skills curriculum into their coursework and provide connection tools to help them make the skills to course work clear to students). We use Steppingblocks to highlight to students the in-demand skills by industry and employment field.

Q. How does GSU's College to Career initiative align curriculum with in-demand skills by major?

AC: The Skills Builder Tool helps connect skills practice in assignments, projects and co-curricular activities to career readiness competencies and allows students the opportunity to practice articulating the connection. Furthermore, the tool reminds students to collect projects that demonstrate the skills they have earned.

Faculty also have access to assignments that can be easily adopted into their coursework. The assignments are competency-focused and housed in the learning management system for easy adoption and assessment. Finally, CTC works with faculty across all majors to make sure career development curriculum is a part of what students encounter as they work through the major.

Q. How will GSU keep up with the rapidly evolving economy in regards to skills development?

AC: CTC is currently working on a Skills Gap workshop that can be added to the curriculum of any course. By using data from Steppingblocks, Handshake and surveys sent to employers (UCS), we have developed a list of 10 skills students should develop in order to be competitive. We would like to create online 15-hour credential courses for these skills, which can be added to any course in the catalog. A faculty member who would like to use GISARC Mapping, for instance, in his/her course on Medieval Literature will be able to add the online course for GISARC Mapping to his/her iCollege page.

Students finish the course on their own time, but submit a project/assignment from the course in fulfillment of the credential. Students must receive a C or better on the final project for it to complete the credential. Students earn a credential and also have an academically-reviewed project to demonstrate their proficiency in the skill. 

Q. Can you explain the relevance of using institutional outcomes to support career readiness? 

AC: The institutional outcomes we use to support career readiness are part of our Quality Enhancement Plan. We use the QEP as a way to get institutional backing and faculty involvement – mainly to start the work that will later fold more organically into the mission of GSU.

CN: The First Destination Survey is one of the methods used to analyze the effectiveness of the College to Career initiative. The intention is that students will land careers that are related to their educational pursuits AND that their social mobility increases.

Q. How do you find or develop co-curricular programs for students to enhance their marketability after graduation in the context of Covid-19?

CN: We have had two surprising gifts in this situation. The first is that we have been able to pivot in our relationships with recruiting employers. We were able to act as consultants to them and strategize about how to engage students in virtual projects.  We have held weekly "chats" with employers to talk about how to continue to connect with our students even if they do not currently have internship opportunities. 

The second is that students are developing a wide variety of experience in their communities and student-related organizations. We're able to support their understanding of this. Students recognize they can have vibrant experiences that build their qualifications for career pursuits, even if they are not "academic." We have been both pleased and astonished that our engagement with students in the career center has increased significantly. 

Explore one school's veteran career track for Boeing employees.

Q. How does the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) fit into CTC initiatives?

CN: The NACE career competencies are the foundation for the general GSU CTC initiative. Each school and/or department has the leeway to add discipline-specific competencies. This makes it both structured overall and particular locally.

Q. How does CTC support the mission of Career Services at GSU?

CN: The mission of Career Services at GSU is this: UCS supports GSU students as they find their places as contributing citizens in this changing world through engagement with their internal and external resources. UCS educates students for entry into their professional lives.

But perhaps more to this particular point is the vision for UCS: GSU Career Services is the model for other university career centers across the country by virtue of its innovative initiatives for the 21st century's student engagement in career and professional development.

The CTC initiative is recognized as one of, if not the most, innovative programs happening right now in career services. It is enjoying the sincerest form of flattery:  imitation. Many of the enterprises encompassed by the CTC are being sighted for their originality in approach and their usefulness in student development.

Q. And finally, what does success look like for CTC, and how will GSU measure the impact?

CN: The basis for CTC is GSU Strategic Goal 1: Students will achieve academic AND career success. GSU has already made remarkable advances in academic success, and now the CTC will fulfill the second item in the goal. Success will include a continuing increase in the students who are employed in career jobs upon graduation and continue to achieve higher social mobility. Georgia State University will be recognized as the brain trust for future government, business and community leaders and contributors in metro Atlanta, Georgia, the southeast and eventually the U.S. and beyond.

Who is Dr. Angela Christie?

In addition to being selected as the faculty director of the GSU College to Career QEP, Dr. Christie is a senior lecturer on the Atlanta Campus in the Department of English. She has also been the associate director of Lower Division Studies since 2007 where she has mentored graduate teaching assistants, edited the university’s Guide to First-Year Writing, served as the assessment reporter for the department’s core courses and developed paired-instructor courses for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Who is Catherine Neiner?

Catherine Neiner's path has taken her to number of career centers at a variety of colleges and universities large, small, public and private — and currently has oversight for the Georgia Career Information Center. She has served as President of the Georgia Association of Colleges and Employers and on the board of directors for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Why Steppingblocks?

If your students knew what hiring managers looked for, what target employers require, which skills are the most relevant to their next interview, and how to demonstrate their experiences, they'd have the confidence to get hired and get ahead. Unlock these insights with dynamic job market data and Steppingblocks, the digital career counselor. Contact us today.

Features image by Steven Thackston originally published in Georgia State University Magazine's article, "More Than a Major," by Maya Kroth, summer 2019.

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