June 24, 2021 | Matt Kucinski

Will I get a job?

It’s one of the top questions high school students ask when deciding whether to invest their time and money into a college education.

If you look at any college or university website, the answer to that question seems pretty clear.

It won’t take you long to find a number between 85-100 listed as the percentage of graduates who report either getting a job or heading off to grad school within a year of graduation.

Raising the standard

But while one’s first job out of college is important, staff at Calvin University know that cannot be the primary metric for success. They feel it is too narrowly defined for two reasons. First, the research shows that the average person will hold about a dozen jobs during their working career and those will span different sectors. And second, college should be preparing students more holistically, not just for a career.

Enter Calvin LifeWork, a four-year developmental life and career readiness program.

“Our main goal is to walk alongside students through their four years at Calvin so that they are equipped as they leave Calvin for life and work,” said Meredith Segur, a career coach at Calvin University.

Coming alongside

Segur and her colleagues in the Career Center are helping students, through this co-curricular program, to develop the necessary life skills to thrive right out of college and throughout their career and life. They see this program complementing the Calvin education.

“It's almost like the liberal arts, and specifically the experience students get here at Calvin, creates this wonder-filled, wide-open space for students to explore, and what the Calvin LifeWork program then does is helps students to fine tune and gain the confidence to take steps onto paths in that wide open space,” said David Wilstermann, program analyst for the Career Center.

One step at a time

The program is perhaps best illustrated by a map that resembles the popular children’s board game Candy Land. Each stage of the journey has a different theme (discover, equip, experience, launch), but maintains four consistent tracks (vocation, career readiness, financial literacy, leadership) or “colored spaces.” Each space represents a learning module designed to help students gain the skills they need.

“We guide our students along in bite-size chunks,” said Wilstermann. “The program is packaged to be developmentally appropriate, with each year’s content building off the one before it.”

The program includes a few dozen modules, approximately one per month during the academic year. The modules cover everything from career planning to learning how to resolve conflict, from creating an elevator pitch to learning how to build a network, from interviewing techniques to time management practices.

“There are so many skills that I feel are necessary for emerging adults to have that Lifework prepares us well for,” said Charles, a 2021 grad who completed the program.

World ready

Charles points out practical things like learning how to do his taxes, how to find the best health and life insurance, and how to set up bank accounts and IRAs as a few of the many skills he learned.

“That’s something that they don’t really teach you in school,” said Charles. “So, it was really nice to have LifeWork, have modules on those really helpful topics.”

For Kwaku, he saw great benefits in the networks he built and the confidence he gained. He was surprised how much he benefitted from the module on creating an elevator pitch.

“It was a little weird at the start, but after I was able to record this pitch, I gained confidence and I benefitted from this confidence in a lot of my interviews.”

He also said he benefitted from learning how to conduct himself in a virtual interview, which was important for him graduating during a pandemic.

And, ultimately, “Lifework helped me to get my job,” said Kwaku.

“I got a job with General Motors and basically that was through Calvin LifeWork, because they showed me how to update my LinkedIn, to always stay in touch with people, and through all of that I received some messages from LinkedIn, from some recruiters because my profile stood out to them, because of the advice I got from LifeWork.”

For Lawrence, he credits Calvin LifeWork with helping him build his resume, gain access to internships, gain confidence in talking with professionals, and expand his network.

“The Calvin LifeWork program can help you grow your professional network at a very early age,” said Lawrence. “It is an invaluable tool to your development as a student, and more importantly, your development as a person.”

Prepared for life

The only investment for students is a few hours a month of their time. There is no cost to the program. And while the skills learned help students become more marketable for their first job, they also prepare graduates holistically with the skills they need for both their long-term career and life—wherever God calls them.

“There are going to be a lot of different scenarios and a lot of different things you might not be ready for, and I believe Calvin LifeWork is what is going to prepare you for that outside of the class experience,” said Kwaku.

"LifeWork made me become more of a critical thinker when I try to make the best decisions,” said Tra.

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