Five key considerations for delivering careers and employability services online

Science, by Farbricio Marques on

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. It is based on a talk I was asked to deliver for the UK Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services.

Early in 2020, the UK Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services invited me to speak at their annual conference. I was to deliver a keynote on the topic of online delivery of careers and employability services. COVID-19 was already on the horizon, but I was hopeful that I would get to travel to Nottingham to speak at the conference. I was especially looking forward to meeting some of the UK careers practitioners that I’ve gotten to know on Twitter. However, that wasn’t to be the case as the pandemic wreaked havoc around the world.

Fortunately, AGCAS still wanted to hear from me and invited me to walk the talk by delivering my presentation online. I enjoyed presenting to an audience of around 100 AGCAS members. I offered a summary of several of USQ’s online programs and services, shared some frank reflections on our successes and failures, and concluded by highlighting a few things that I have learned from my experience and encourage anyone planning online careers and employability learning to consider.

1. Pedagogy before platform

When thinking about a new online program, it’s natural to consider which platform to use. Vendors are very keen to help us deliver learning resources, mentoring programs, resume reviews, mock interviews, and much more.

However, if we leap straight to researching platforms and talking to vendors, we’ve skipped a crucial step. That is to establish what we actually want to do with with the program. What outcomes do we want to achieve, what exactly do we want students and stakeholders to do, and how will teams support participants? Once we’ve purchased a platform, we need to work with the functions, processes, and constraints designed into it. We may find that crucial decisions about how the program works are made by the platform, rather than by us.

2. We pay for better user experience and reporting

For any given online program or service, it’s easy to hack together a solution using existing tools. We all have easy access to online documents, learning management systems, website builders, and video conferencing software. This gaffer tape approach may be all that we need for pilot programs or agile responses to challenges and opportunities. But the experience of our students and other stakeholders, and our ability to measure outcomes, can suffer.

The benefit of a platform is that it’s designed to be easy for users to navigate. Features streamline procedures, provide guidance, and reduce the learning curve. For program administrators, we get dashboards and exports of all kinds of data. These are important benefits, but they come at a cost. It’s important to keep that in mind, especially when our platform isn’t meeting expectations. If we’re not getting better UX and data, what are we paying for?

3. Don’t assume scale

Careers and employability services are often very small teams of people tasked with serving entire institutions. One big appeal of online programs is that they allow for programs and services that have no limit on the number of participants. Often, people will expect that this will automatically result in higher levels of engagement with online delivery than there has been with face-to-face delivery. In my experience, this is seldom true.

What drives engagement with careers and employability services remains the same regardless of modality. Quality programs and services, relentlessly promoted, and delivered with as much collaboration with faculty and other professional services as possible. In fact, this can be harder for online programs than on-campus ones.

4. Don’t assume accessibility

Similarly to expectations for scale, there is often an assumption that online services are by nature more accessible for our students. It’s true that we may see more regional or remote students using our services when physical location no longer matters. But it’s vital that we remember that distance is not the only, or even the primary, challenge for online students.

Firstly, not all students have the devices, data coverage, or digital literacy needed to make the most of online careers and employability services. Secondly, many of our students lack the most crucial resource: time. Our students are trying to fit their studies around work, family, and other obligations. Then there’s the impact of cognitive and emotional fatigue. No matter how good our services are or how easy it is to access them online, we are in a constant battle for student time and attention.

5. Get employers involved in everything

I’ve observed that many careers and employability services distinguish between student-facing services and employer engagement. The careers educators provide workshops, consultations, and teach into the curriculum, while the employer engagement teams host information sessions and career fairs. The two come together sometimes, but I believe that there’s rich opportunities for employer engagement in a wide range of career education activities. This is one reason why I’m so interested in connectedness learning as an approach to careers and employability.

At USQ we’ve had good results with bringing employers into our full range of services and programs. They join us as guests in our webinars, not only on resumes and interviews, but also in our career exploration and planning sessions. Of course our mentoring program is a fantastic vehicle for engaging industry (often themselves USQ alumni) with our students. We have had good results in getting industry involved with our online simulated graduate recruitment program, as assessors. Finally, we’ve been doing a lot of work recently as brokers for work-integrated learning and industry-based projects, helping employer partners find opportunities to engage with our students inside the curriculum.

Employers are keen to go beyond the traditional activities of careers fairs and information sessions. They enjoy getting involved in deeper learning activities with students. Our role as facilitators is to help prepare and support employers as they get into these new activities.

Let’s keep learning

Careers and employability services are changing, and online delivery services is just one area where we’re seeing that. As career development professionals, we need to practice what we preach by navigating these changes with openness, adaptability, and inquisitiveness. While doing so, it’s essential that we maintain our commitment to professional practice, informed by our knowledge of our students’ needs, our judgement and experience, and our profession’s rich foundations of theory and evidence. We can best do that if we recognise ourselves as lifelong learners and take every opportunity to share our experience and knowledge, such as those hosted by professional associations around the world.

Australian National Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services professional development event calendar
UK Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services training and conferences
Career Development Association of Australia professional development events calendar
Asia-Pacific Career Development Association webinars, upcoming and recorded
Career Development Association of New Zealand online professional development
CERIC: Advancing Career Development in Canada, upcoming and past webinars
US National Career Development Association webinars

Michael Healy
Careers and employability learning expert

I am the National Manager, Career Education for I hold a PhD in careers and employability learning, with several publications to my name. I am passionate about promoting the value and impact of quality careers and employability learning.