In the current economy, job security is anything but a sure thing. With seasonally adjusted unemployment rates at 5.7 percent in Kansas as of May, even those who have jobs may be wondering how to continue being a necessary asset to their employers.
Laura Johannesmeyer, coordinator of career counseling and coaching at Johnson County Community College, often sees community members in similar situations come in to her office. She said continuing education, even if one already has a degree, can be an excellent way to maintain marketability.
“You have to be competitive and keep up with your skills,” Johannesmeyer said. “Be it to change your career field or stay and move up the ladder.”
But what skills, exactly, should you develop? With countless classes offered by the over 70 learning institutions in Kansas including online programs, community colleges, vocational and technical institutes and four-year universities, the options can be overwhelming. To help narrow the choices, area career counselors and college faculty have a few suggestions.
Susan Wade, director of career services at Baker University, said interpersonal skills are key.
“We know that employers are absolutely looking for strong communication skills,” Wade said. “If you are not a strong writer or presenter, those abilities would be good to strengthen, especially if you work in a group setting.”
Kevon Abshier, campus director of Rasmussen College’s Overland Park and Topeka campuses, said that another skill not found in your typical “reading, writing and arithmetic” courses is every bit as desirable.
“Employers are looking for persistent, driven employees to take on different challenges and take certain risks,” Abshier said. “They need to be able to navigate their way through problem solving, so we build critical thinking into each course.”
However, Wade said problem solving is not something to be studied, but rather, developed over time and effort.
“There is no one class that is called ‘critical thinking.’ At Baker it is embedded in everything,” Wade said. “Employers want people who can problem solve. I am not talking about math, but rather being able to look at both sides of the situation.”
Abshier said it would be a good idea for job seekers and professionals seeking career advancement to improve their abilities to manage and motivate others.
“A lot of employers want to see leadership skills,” Abshier said. “Take, for example, the Department of Corrections. I would advise someone wanting to move up the ranks in law enforcement to look at Justice Studies with a leadership focus.”
Abshier can make suggestions confidently because Rasmussen faculty members often consult area business and institution leaders while developing curriculum to discover what skills they seek in potential employees. That way, Abshier said, students can be sure they are learning skills that will be desirable in the workforce.
“We find out what is the need out in the workforce and where can our programs line up,” Abshier said. “We ask what positions are in highest demand and what we can do to provide businesses and industries the employees they need.'”
The same concept is used at Neosho County Community College. Career counselor Jeff Almond said that when a major aircraft manufacturer, Spirit AeroSystems, opened a manufacturing facility in town, NCCC teamed up with the company to create coursework designed to specifically address the knowledge needed in the aircraft industry.
“When they came to Chanute, Spirit said, ‘These are the problems we have seen with our employees. Can you help us fill those gaps?’ ” Almond said.
Now, NCCC offers classes like “Aero Assembly,” “Aero Safety” and “Aero Technology.” Almond says that opportunity brought a positive outcome for all involved.
“Everyone wins in that situation," Almond said. "Our students find jobs and employers get the employees they need.”
But if you are just looking for a hot ticket to a career field with vacancies, Kent McAnally, director of career services of Washburn University, said career counselors suggest looking within yourself first.
“We try to help our clients sort out what might be beneficial to them as individuals to reach their own goals and what might be the best fit to furthering their skills to advance toward that satisfaction,” McAnally said. “Not just to become a physical therapist or court reporter because we need (those occupations.)”
To find your “best fit” career, Johannesmeyer said it takes more than just sharpening your skills. You must also understand your personal interests and natural abilities.
“When students just say they want a job that is ‘in demand,’ that is when I have to take a step back and see who they really are,” Johannesmeyer said. “We take into account previous work experiences like what they enjoyed, where they excelled and when they were bored.”