One of the main lessons the Pandemic has taught us is that the concept of workforce readiness is changing. While generations of Americans studied to enter and stay in a particular field, we are seeing an unprecedented shift in the landscape of the US workforce, where employees are demanding more from their employers, and are also showing a willingness to switch careers, sometimes mid-stream. Technology has fueled a part of this shift, as the very nature of what it means to ‘go to work’ is changing, with remote, hybrid, and traditional in-person attendance existing within the same industries, and many times in the same companies. I believe that those in Generation Z, being the digital natives that they are, are particularly equipped to deal with this type of variance. In addition to their comfort and savvy when it comes to groundbreaking technology, they are concerned about the future of their communities, they accept and embrace change, and rely on trusted networks for information related to purchasing decisions, affiliating with organizations, and personal and professional development. So, the challenge for institutions of higher education is to evolve to meet the needs of these students, and to provide an education that can help them excel in this rapidly changing landscape.
If you have read my columns in the past, you may remember concepts such as digital dexterity, metacognition, and holistic instruction. I believe that it is our job to teach skills within majors, but now we must put more emphasis on graduating students who are flexible in thought and skill sets, and can thrive in leadership roles, no matter where their career path takes them. We need to provide them with leadership opportunities while they are still on campus so they can hit the ground running upon graduation. There is a reciprocal relationship there as well. Our student leaders are invested in the success of our campus, and many of them make an immense impact on the LSUS community in a way that goes above and beyond what is expected of them.
We have many dedicated Graduate Assistants, and at the undergraduate level we have students who participate in research across multiple disciplines at a disproportionately higher level than that of many universities, particularly ones of our size. However, the impact of student leadership can be felt outside the classroom as well.
In addition to our student organizations and student athletes, we have success stories such as our new library coffee shop, STACKS. Opened during the pandemic, STACKS has quickly become a go-to spot for a hand-crafted drink or delicious snack on the first floor of our library. STACKS is also a great hang-out spot- one of the new additions that has enhanced our on-campus student experience.
What makes STACKS unique for us is the fact that it is run almost completely by students. Our manager, Colton Herrington, is a Cellular and Molecular Biology major who has a penchant for social media in addition to his operational leadership. Our Assistant Manager, Rachel McCauslin, is a Digital Art Major. Kaitlyn Ezell (Community Health), Karim Pare, (Psychology), Kayla Williams (Marketing-Advertising Design), and India Kelly (Business Marketing), are all Baristas. You will note the variety of majors among the group of employees, who all function under the oversight of Trish Farnsworth-Smith, our Director of Auxiliary Services.
In addition to the walk-up service, STACKS also offers on-campus delivery options, as well as catering support for major student events such as the annual Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony, New Student Orientation events, the Homecoming parade, and the annual Color Run. These students are learning teamwork, time-management, marketing and promotion in a digital age, the use of technology to improve efficiency, quality-control, and superior customer service.
While student leadership roles, and student-run organizations are not new to the campus setting, I believe that we should all pay closer attention to how these opportunities can set our students up for future success, and elevate these roles from simple ‘student jobs’ to workforce preparedness roles; ones that transcend their field of study. So, I ask you, fellow leaders: what are you looking for in your entry level employees? And what are you doing to help them develop the skills they need to grow and help your organization thrive in the process? Are they given the autonomy and responsibility they need to become self-starters? Are there programs or functions you could implement to enhance their skills to help them keep pace with the rapidly changing landscape of what it means to be a viable, successful employee? This period of change has shown us that students and employees require a different level of development and tutelage, and further examination of how we nurture the next wave of leaders. As always, I wish you success in these and other endeavors.
Larry Clark is chancellor of LSU Shreveport