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Strengthening Career Preparation through Student Employment

March 24, 2013

A quality education and experiential learning go hand in hand to contribute significantly to a student’s total college experience.  Opportunities made available through on-campus student employment and internships are excellent ways to positively impact student experience and increase the return on investment our students and their families make. Over the past couple of years, the Office of Human Resources and Student Employment has been driving initiatives that include retooling student worker supervisors, influencing academic internships, and partnering with career services for the common purpose to better prepare students for employment after graduation.

St. John’s employs 1500-1600 student workers annually.  One of the goals of the HR efforts was to shift the culture of student worker supervision to a more proactive coaching-based model.  Supervisors were already committed to student academic success; however, supervisory practices focused more on getting tasks done than on providing student workers with developmental coaching and real world experiences.  Another goal was to provide more internal, academic internships to students by engaging departments throughout the University.

This cultural transformation grew out of a University-wide strategic priority to significantly enhance career placement services and outcomes for students.   

The Process of Changing the Culture

With the University’s strategic repositioning firmly in hand, in November 2011 a committee was formed of members from Human Resources and Career Services.  The committee conducted a series of focus groups between February and April 2012 – in all 82 student workers, 61 student worker supervisors and 45 department managers participated in the eight sessions that were held.  Topics centered on attributes related to the life cycle of a student worker from hire to graduation, and included identifying transferable skills, finding the right fit for the job,  creating performance objectives and providing feedback, coaching and mentoring.  The focus groups also explored ideas to expand on-campus academic internship opportunities across the university and cultivate paid or academic internships with external vendors.

The committee aggregated the data from the focus groups into key themes for both supervisors and student workers to determine where potential gaps existed.  A gap analysis was prepared and initiatives were identified to close these gaps.  In June of 2012 a summit was held for student worker supervisors to review findings of all focus groups and engage them in a dialogue around new and innovative approaches to transform the student worker experience. This was attended by 94 supervisors (approximately 70% of the total SW supervisor population) and was broadcast via video conference to engage all campuses.

As a result of this process a series of initiatives was born and implemented, most notably:

  • New training programs were launched for supervisors of student workers
    •  Module I: Defining the Job, Interviewing Candidates, Selecting Student Workers and Orienting Student Workers to the Job (150 supervisors have already been trained in this program)
    • Module II: Assigning Work, Coaching and Providing Feedback (123 supervisors have already been trained in this program)
    • Module III: Identifying and Responding to Student Workers in Distress (this new program is currently under development)
  • A Supervisor Toolkit was developed with information and resources around job descriptions, templates, interview guide, competencies, evaluation sheets and coaching tips.
  • The Supervisors Guide to Managing Student Workers was updated and revised, and now serves as a more comprehensive guide for supervisors including everything from pre-hire activities to resources, toolkits, recommended training programs, policies and procedures, positioned within the University’s strategic framework and direction.
  • A Guide to Hosting an On-Campus Internship was prepared along with a PowerPoint pitch to use in educating departments; these were distributed to college internship coordinators.
  • The On-Campus Student Employment Fair was conceived, and in its first year 30 University departments were represented and 440 students attended; and in its second year, 45 departments and 776 students participated, and the event presented internship opportunities as well as student worker and work-study positions.
  • HR and University Career Services held a Department Showcase open to the entire University community called Employee Engagement in Student Career Readiness in April 2013. The presentation and panel session were attended by an audience of 70 employees.

The work to prepare student workers for their careers continues!  Last December, a Lunch and Learn session was held for supervisors of student workers to share the progress that has been made on all these initiatives and to brainstorm additional ideas around ways to continue to equip students to enter the workforce.

The Impact of Student-Centric Technology Advances

Outside the work of the committee, Human Resources was also working to automate the student worker hiring and employment processes to simplify the student job search, streamline application and hiring, reduce paperwork and errors, increase communication throughout the process, and increase convenience for students, hiring managers and HR staff.

The new process, once implemented and rolled out, achieved all of these goals using a combination of existing and new technologies.  The old process required students to physically come to the Office of Human Resources to apply for student employment positions; HR would make copies of the application and send it to various hiring managers, sometimes resulting in application delays, and lost or misplaced applications. 

Where the old process was labor intensive and paper-driven, the new process is automated:

  • Students can apply for jobs remotely 24/7. No more incomplete or inaccurate Employment Applications and no more run-arounds in the job search process.
  • Applications and the electronic personnel change form (EPCF) are tracked online and students and managers receive email alerts throughout the hiring process. Hiring time has been shortened by 2 days.
  • Post-employment paperwork has been reduced by 70% and paperwork can no longer get lost.
  • Over 40,000 pieces of paper generated annually during the student hiring process have been eliminated (saving six trees a year!)
  • Data imaging of remaining paper documents is being performed, eliminating student worker personnel files altogether, and allowing for remote access to files in the Human Resources Information System (HRIS/Banner).   This past fall semester, 1580 student documents were scanned into the Human Resources Information System, eliminating the need for filing and storage of 700 individual student employment records.  Student employees now have a complete electronic file with data stored on the system and any required hard copies scanned into the system. 

Student Worker and Hiring Manager Testimonials

Here are some of the positive comments we have received from users of the new system:

"I have applied for other jobs online which were a hassle. I had a feeling that when applying for a student worker position online it would be a hassle as well, but I was mistaken.  The process was so easy, and it only took me a few minutes. I even got a reply from one of the offices the same day! It was easy and I was more than happy with everything. Thank you." Vinny (Student)

"I recently applied to several jobs on campus through the UIS student employment application form. I can't believe how easy it was! It was so convenient that I could access the form from any computer I could reach and the instructions are very "user-friendly." The whole process took me about ten minutes and I applied to three student worker positions. Thank you so much." Eboni (Student)

"I applied for on-campus jobs through the UIS Student Employment form and was very satisfied with how convenient it was! It was especially helpful because I am a student from out of the area, so it made it very easy to apply for jobs before getting to campus in the fall.  The instructions were very straight-forward and it was easy to navigate. I was able to apply for three positions in a matter of minutes thanks to the user-friendly system." Nick (Student)

"I am very pleased using the EPCF format. It is helpful for many reasons, one being the ease for inputting information and another reason no more loss of paperwork. It is easy to track status and updates throughout the process to keep us informed. I have been using the EPCF format since the beginning and have found it easier than the paper method and more efficient." Kerri (Hiring Manager)

"As a student worker Supervisor, I have found the utilization of the EPCF for new hires to be a helpful tool. The transition from the PCF of past years to the electronic EPCF is faster and more efficient. It allows for corrections and for HR personnel to better communicate with Supervisors regarding missing documents, completed paperwork, etc. The electronic processing of paperwork speeds up the process and ensures that the student worker is paid on time." Lillian (Hiring Manager)

What Our Supervisors Are Saying About Their Student Workers Today

With the shifting culture of student employment, we now regard these positions as a key component of a student’s total experience, acknowledging that the University has a responsibility to provide not only quality academics but quality experiential learning as well.  Student employment provides that practical and essential career preparation that our college students need.  Recently, we asked supervisors across the University to describe the impact that students have in their departments.

Read what some of them told us:

"In Jumpstart, our student workers are everything! Our incredible students serve over 300 hours in local preschools and make a difference in children’s lives daily. They work hard so that the children in their preschool classrooms can enter kindergarten prepared to succeed. The teachers and directors of our preschools are constantly telling me how impressed they are with our students and the high-quality work they are doing in the classrooms. I have never worked with such dedicated and caring students and I am so proud of all the work they do! We could not do it without them."
Julie Brunner, MPH
Senior Site Manager at JumpStart

"The College Work Study students are an enormous asset to our department, the Office of Student Financial Services.  In addition to the great deal of support they provide us, it is great to watch them learn and grow professionally. Even the students are amazed at how much they learn while working with us. The students are definitely taking away priceless work skills and values that will assist them with whatever professional path they take. "
Kerri Scianna
Financial Aid Counselor

"Every office benefits from the support of a student who is a good communicator, possesses excellent interpersonal/organizational skills, and understands what it takes to get the job done.  In the Office of Marketing and Communications, student workers assist me and the department with a myriad of projects, reports, and other duties.  Without their help, loyalty, and reliability, my tasks and those of the department would be more time consuming and difficult to accomplish.  Even more important, the experience also benefits the students themselves; they come out with confidence and tools necessary for full time employment."
Josephine Bonora
Sr. Administrative Secretary
University Marketing and Communications

"This year was a successful hiring year. The applicant pool had many outstanding candidates and we were lucky enough to hire seven new college work study students. All of our new college work study students were well versed in the office setting. They fit right in. Our team is so happy with the new addition to our work family."
JoAnne Zissel
Academic Support Service Asst IV

"We are writing a history of St. John's University, not a minor research venture since the University is approaching its 145th anniversary. If not for the assistance of our student workers, it would be impossible to keep this historical investigation on schedule. They have learned to be gentle in copying fragile material in our archive, proficient with the often-uncooperative microfilm machine, and creative at suggesting different avenues of research. In short, they're wonderful!   -Dr. Frank and Maxine Brady"
Maxine L. Brady
Associate Editor of the Tobin Review of Business

"I my opinion there is nothing more valuable than a competent student worker. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with many student workers and have found them to be helpful, resourceful, intelligent, personable, and extremely helpful, they are an essential part of any department. I have been so blessed with all of mine."
Donna Maria Deans
Senior Buyer

"The resident safety monitor is arguably the most responsible student worker on campus. The public safety department could not function efficiently without their service, commitment, and dedication to safety. The resident safety program exemplifies teamwork at its best! "
Lillian Donovan
Public Safety Officer

"The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences currently has three student workers who help support our 35 faculty and 160 graduate students.  They are a vital part of our department.  One of our students through her work experience at our department was able to secure a student worker position with the university study abroad program and an internship.  Their contributions are essential to our department's success."
Marie F. DiMaggio, Secretary
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences

"(Through) work study, the students get to help run the University, and it is thrilling to experience their enthusiasm and empowerment.  The St. John’s community has new contributors whose talent I and others staff members can marvel at and nurture."
Germana Berni, ‘07CPS
Institutional Advancement

National Recognition

St. John’s HR was recognized by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources by earning the 2013 Excellence in Human Resource Practices Award. Read the story.

St. John’s and other universities discussed their campus employment programs in University Business, a magazine for higher education management. Read the story.