Even at the upper reaches of higher education, certain childhood mottos still resonate, such as this one: “Be prepared.”
Adhering to that adage, the scouts had it right, whether it applied to tying knots or launching college students into lifelong careers.
And the latter is what UNLV’s Southern Nevada Leadership Summit on Tuesday was all about. “The Future of UNLV Talent Pipelines” brought together top industry leaders, employers, and legislators, along with faculty and students to discuss the issues around our region’s workforce and ways UNLV can develop programs to address them.
The event kicked off with keynote speaker Jeremy Podany, founder/CEO of the Career Leadership Collective.
“A lot has changed in 20 years, and changed rapidly,” Podany noted before posing the question, “How can you embrace the complexities of a talent pipeline? Because it’s not simple.
"How can we go from that point of tradition to innovation?”
The summit’s goal: To create dialogue between the university and potential employers about what the latter need in employees and what the university can do to better equip its graduates for the shift from campus life to life in the community.
This brought an exchange of ideas and insights between the leaders driving economic development and the university and was intended to spark continual engagement between the two.
The leaders attending came from all sorts of sectors – business, law enforcement, media and entertainment, healthcare, nonprofits, government, hospitality and tourism, and more. And while requests to produce more graduates in certain degree programs popped up, perhaps some in the room were surprised by the answer when Podany asked for general feedback on employers’ wish lists for student abilities. A representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stressed the need, not for a deeper understanding the drivers of crime and intricacies of law, but for “soft skills and communications.”
The wishlist for other leaders included ways to bridge the “generational gaps” between employers and employees in internships. They suggested programs to build skills that are transferrable between industries and to teach students how to “sell themselves” to employers and better communicate their skills to employers. And repeatedly, they pointed to the importance of well-developed internship programs across all sectors.
Eileen McGarry, executive director of Career Services at UNLV, said the summit is connected to UNLV’s Top Tier 2.0 goals. When President Keith E. Whitfield joined the university two years ago, he brought a greater focus to career development and its role in student success to that strategic plan.
“Workforce has been somewhat absent in terms of academic strategic plans but has really come to forefront as we look at student success and what we need to do to support students’ retention and eventual degree attainment,” she said. “My mission is to really help our campus come together collaboratively around career readiness. We have pockets of wonderful, excellent programs and initiatives, but do they cross throughout campus? We’re now much more laser-focused on it. We know that it’s an imperative.”
She added that there’s nothing ‘soft’ about skills employers are asking for. “Communication, working in teams, time management — these skills prepare students for their professions in the same way that proficiency with statistical modeling prepares finance grads or anatomy prepares future nurses. Whether students realize it or not, they are building these success skills now. Part of Top Tier 2.0 is making that a much more intentional part of their experiences here."
Podany explained that Generation Z students differ from Millennials in that they are more independent, entrepreneurial, communicative, competitive, and more motivated by security and financial goals. Soon, he said, about 50% of new UNLV graduates will be the first in their family to graduate from college, well above the 40% figure nationally. “That's significant,” he said, adding that “84% of students think about their future career daily or weekly. It is incredibly important to them.”
And yet, among the problems that employers are facing in finding qualified candidates are gaps in basic skills within new graduates. The importance of internships was repeatedly cited as an area needing further development. And conversations explored whether more certificate and specialized trade-style training, mixed in with four-year degree programs, would help strengthen employment pools.
Sprinkled among the invitees were about 20 student leaders, including Andres Rodriguez Lombeida, an MBA graduate who is now a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Public Policy and Leadership. "I'm interested in seeing how people are thinking, trends in hiring, in workforce development, and try to take advantage to the fullest,” Lombeida said.
“Knowing how things are evolving, it's one way in which we can do that. Bringing community leaders and people involved in companies looking for talent and listening to them will give the university great ideas on how to move forward. UNLV is already doing a good job, but as with everything, it can be improved. This event is great for that."
Also in attendance was Nancy Uscher, dean of the College of Fine Arts, who touched on helping prospective employers and employees alike better understand transferrable skills.
“Artists have a real understanding about creativity and they can be great employees and collaborators in almost any field,” Uscher says. “Although it may seem like musicians or actors, dancers, filmmakers, and graphic designers might have particular niche jobs in the entertainment industry, our wonderful artist-citizens can be of great use and help in almost any profession. We tell our students there is no limit to what they can do in this world. We want to give them agency, a sense of inventiveness. I believe in artist-citizen leadership.”
“We hope there are themes that come out of this that give us some direction to focus on, and we’re looking to continue to learn how we can engage with these stakeholders.
McGarry noted that pandemic-fueled trends, such as the so-called “Great Resignation,” the economic volatility amid rising inflation, and increased remote work have changed the hiring environment drastically and quickly.
“This is a great time because the market has changed. We have to take a good look at how we’re preparing our students for the future, what the workforce looks like in the 21st century. Our employers are feeling more pain in getting talent so we have to think about what it looks like from here on out. We need to have big picture conversations about that.”
That underscores the need to create engagement continuously between the university and industry.
“We don’t see this as one and done,” McGarry said.
Insights from a Breakout Group
Following the keynote address, the 200 industry leaders and university representatives at the Southern Nevada Leadership Summit met in smaller breakout rooms, organized by industry, so potential employees could expand upon their needs. UNLV staff asked them three key questions so their feedback can be considered and possibly become actionable in future programs. Here’s a sample from the nonprofits group:
Question No. 1: “What attributes, skills or abilities do you forecast will be necessary and beneficial in your industry or field in the next five years?”
Answers: Teaching students how to navigate Internet technology; more knowledge of fund-raising; focus on administrative skills; grant-writing skills, which are tough to teach on the job; more partnering with student-led organizations; more adaptability to pivot to responsibilities not strictly on a job description.
Question No. 2: “What are the gaps between the skills and abilities that college graduates bring to the workplace and your expectations of them? If UNLV were to offer a more diverse array of upskilling opportunities, what types of micro-credentials, badges, certificates and degrees do you value or might you be interested in us offering?”
Answers: Social and emotional intelligence that were lost during the isolation of the pandemic; cultural competency, such as dealing with homeless clients and understanding their body language and their triggers for trauma; improved project management abilities.
Question No. 3: “How can UNLV better engage with you and other stakeholders to generate the kind of close collaboration necessary to ensure that your workforce and talent needs are met by our students and graduates? How could we make it easy for you to partner with us?”
Answers: More volunteering; more opportunities such as this one to come together and talk; educate students on how to solve common community problems; market nonprofits to high school students as they learn about scholarships; change the cultural bias toward nonprofits; don’t lump nonprofits all together at career fairs.