USF evolves approach to fit changing workforce needs
As the University of Sioux Falls class of 2019 received its diplomas this month, the school’s president, Brett Bradfield, knows each person could migrate out of his or her field seven or eight times during the career ahead.
Preparing students for that unpredictable future means continually honing the education provided and increasingly working closely with industry to connect and equip students for the workplace.
“It doesn’t necessarily take a complete retooling. You take majors that have always been solid, but you reconsider how they fit into the current paradigm of the employment needed in our community,” Bradfield said.
“We believe our liberal arts portion of our education ensures that many of the so-called soft skills and important dispositional attributes employers are looking for beyond specific job skills are present in our students.”
The approach was a success for 2016 graduate Teagan Molden and Howalt+McDowell Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company, thanks to an internship after Molden’s junior year.
“I wouldn’t have even known about Howalt if not for USF and the staff there,” said Molden, who came to the university from Minnesota and was a standout on the NSIC championship basketball team.
She gained hands-on experience at the firm, going out on client calls and organizing a LinkedIn training for the entire office.
When she returned to USF her senior year, she continued working part time.
Bradfield knew a bond had been built between student and employer when he walked into a basketball game and saw the Howalt+McDowell executive team there cheering on Molden.
“They had been so pleased with her in their office; they told me that evening their intent was to hire her.”
Molden now has spent three years at the firm as an adviser in the client employee health and benefits department.
“I think the business school helped me a lot in developing my core competencies and helping me get the internship and preparing me for my career,” she said.
USF has a strong record of similar success.
Of the students in the class of 2018 who responded to a survey, 99 percent had found full- or part-time work or went to graduate school.
Many come from USF’s undergraduate and graduate business programs, which include degrees in finance and accounting; its three nursing programs, which include an MBA in health care management; and its education program, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees.
“Most of our nursing students will already have job offers before they graduate,” Bradfield said. “We have great success, and we consider it an honor to support the city, state and region that supports us.”
USF began the 2018-19 school year with record enrollment, counting about 1,550 students among undergraduate, graduate and adult learning programs.
New offerings include a concentration within the media studies major in social media marketing, as well as a certificate program designed for those already working.
“There’s a very large market for that, and we’re in that with both feet as a university,” Bradfield said.
The school also weaves in what he calls “the hidden curriculum.” It’s an emphasis on skills especially valuable in the workplace.
“It’s how we talk about the importance of work ethic, responsibility, team play, collaboration, entrepreneurial spirit in the sense that you’re a problem-solver. So it’s not necessarily trying to start your own business but being a problem-solver who can bring new ideas into the business climate.”
USF is trying to become even more connected in the business community, leading to the sorts of opportunities that matched students like Molden with employers such as Howalt+McDowell.
“We see a real benefit in that because it allows our students to take the theoretical constructs they learn in the classroom and add experiential learning,” Bradfield said. “And the business community is finding there’s a real advantage to this, and they take on students and work with them and find those that are promising.”
At Howalt+McDowell, the firm has worked with its partners in higher education, and it has honed its recruitment strategy.
That includes speaking to college students on campus, offering firm tours and structuring its internship program so students receive broad exposure to jobs at the firm and can choose which areas interest them.
“USF is a great school. There’s no question about that,” Howalt’s chief innovation officer Kira Kimball said. “We’ve worked with USF for our internship program in others ways, and I think the liberal arts education is a great background. You learn a lot of critical thinking skills, good reading and writing skills. That’s pretty foundational. We can train on all the technical expertise, but that sets a really firm foundation.”
And while USF has a 135-year legacy in the city, Bradfield realizes that preparing students for a changing workplace is what will sustain the school for future learners.
“As the city has grown and the economy has grown, we have grown with it,” he said. “We see that as a great blessing for us because honestly in the state of higher education across the nation … with complete respect to other parts of the nation, I’m certainly glad we’re in Sioux Falls.”