New cooks and college graduates entering the workforce have a lot in common. Both have a clear idea of what they want to achieve—for one, it’s a delicious homemade meal, for the other it’s a rewarding job that aligns with their interests and skills—but neither knows exactly how to get there. In other words, there’s a gap between aspiration and achievement.
Enter Blue Apron, a meal-kit service that tapped into Millennials’ desire for convenience and guidance and helped a generation raised on frozen dinners and fast food get comfortable in the kitchen.
Blue Apron subscribers receive a box of fresh, pre-measured, labeled ingredients along with detailed recipes and step-by-step instructions. Recipients quickly learn that there’s a lot more to making a savory roast chicken than just rinsing it off and putting it in the oven. But they learn it without having to pull a rubbery, overcooked chicken out of the oven because Blue Apron set them up for success.
Like new cooks, students who are new to the job market benefit from structured guidance. This is especially true when it comes to identifying and developing the skills, knowledge, and experience they’ll need to make themselves marketable to employers and to excel in the professional world.
Blue Apron’s approach offers three lessons that can help us set more students up for post-college success:
1. Help students gather the right professional ingredients
Blue Apron is appealing to novice cooks because it provides them with the right ingredients, pre-measured and clearly labeled—all they have to do is use them. While we can’t give students professional skills in a box, we can help them identify which skills (or ingredients) they need to become competitive job applicants, and provide them with opportunities to acquire those skills.
To teach students the soft skills they need for the early days of entry-level jobs, some colleges and universities are investing in short-term professional skills boot camps for students. For example, Wabash College offers a professional boot camp as part of their winter break internship program. Similarly, Mount Holyoke’s Nexus program embeds experiential learning and internship opportunities in degree programs.
Learn more about these practices in our full study on the liberal arts
2. Label the ingredients: Help students translate academic skills into professional skills
Employers often report a “skills gap” and lack of workforce preparation among new graduates. In fact, only 11% of business leaders strongly agree that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace, and 45% of senior executives in the U.S. believe that soft skills are where employees are most lacking.
In many cases, students have already developed these soft skills employers, but don’t see the connection between their coursework and the workplace or cannot articulate their professional skills. Consequently, they struggle to convince employers that their major or specific courses will be relevant.
To solve this problem, Memorial University of Newfoundland asked faculty to identify the professional competencies students are already learning through their coursework. They found that simply adding professional competencies to course syllabi equips students with the vocabulary to communicate the value of their liberal arts education to employers.
Indiana University Bloomington’s Liberal Arts and Management Certificate program includes a dedicated career development course that teaches students how to connect the soft skills that they acquire through their liberal arts education to specific industry needs in order to position their skills for different types of employers.
As part of the course, students complete a Liberal Arts Education Memo that asks them to articulate the relevance of their liberal arts coursework to their chosen fields. As a result, students entering the job market can draw on concrete examples to communicate the workplace relevance of academic coursework to prospective employers.
3. Write the right recipe: Provide clear, step-by-step guidance
When I’m cooking, nothing will trip me up faster than a badly written recipe. Preparing students to enter the job market isn’t just about making resources available, it’s about connecting students with the right resources at the right time, and helping students align academic studies with professional aspirations.
To provide students with specific, actionable information about majors and related co-curricular opportunities and careers, Queen’s University developed major maps for every undergraduate program in their College of Arts and Sciences. One side has the map itself, featuring activities for each of a student’s four years on campus, including course selection, co-curricular opportunities, internship programs, a clubs directory, and information on using LinkedIn and professional associations. The other side identifies the high-demand skills that employers look for, and provides descriptions of skills students can expect to gain through their course of study.
Infographic: Prepare students for the workforce
Schools can improve post-college outcomes by encouraging students to start planning for post-graduation success earlier and connecting them with the right information at the right time. But at the risk of taking this analogy just a step too far, it’s important to remember that the student—not the institution—is the chef (after all, this analogy is about meal kits, not take out). The goal isn’t to confer an employment contract along with a degree, it’s to help students identify and pursue experiences throughout their college career that will position them for post-college success.