Innovative Program 2

“CONNECT” Teaches New Grads How to Land New Jobs

By Joel Vogt

At most colleges and universities, students have ample opportunity to take advantage of the career services their schools offer. But reality says that many of these students – for a variety of reasons – simply don’t or won’t do so. The inevitable result: They often graduate feeling “lost,” “confused,” or worse, and believing they have no real place to go for the help they finally realize they need.

Fortunately for graduates of the University of Manitoba, however, there is a place to go – thanks to the school’s four-year-old “CONNECT” program.

CONNECT is a sort of job-hunting “boot camp” that is open to University of Manitoba alumni/ae (as well as alums from the nearby University of Winnipeg and St. Boniface College campuses) who have graduated within the last three years. Over a two-week time frame and led by two program coordinators, the participants devote their full weekdays to developing the skills and confidence they need to land jobs related to their college majors.

“CONNECT came about because an integrated program was seen as the best way to help graduates get these [job-hunting] skills in a short time,” says Jean-Louis Guillas, who, with Lisa-Marie Ferens, serves as co-coordinator of the program. “The normal Student Employment Services workshops [at the University of Manitoba] are really intended for students – as they go through their university programs. CONNECT catches graduates after the fact and when they are right up against the cold, hard reality of the job search.”

That’s not always easy to do, of course; after all, it can be difficult enough reaching students while they’re still on campus, let alone after they’ve graduated and seemingly “scattered” without a trace. That’s why Guillas and Ferens market the program heavily, through local newspaper advertising, ads and handouts in convocation publications at the three participating schools, posters and brochures, radio and television public service announcements, and even personal announcements in campus classes composed mostly of seniors.

As a result, the program generally draws between 10 and 20 participants for each of its 11 monthly sessions. Those participants can expect an intense experience that requires their active participation and a considerable investment of their energy and time – though it costs them no money (since the program is fully funded, on a renewable basis, by the Manitoba Department of Education and Training).

A Lot of Ground in a Short Time

Before the program is over, participants will have:

  • Done an assessment of the skills they have to offer prospective employers.
  • Gotten to know the University of Manitoba Career Resource Centre and similar on-campus services.
  • Assessed their interpersonal communication skills.
  • Learned how to write effective resumes.
  • Practiced approaching prospective employers about jobs.
  • Polished their Internet job-hunting skills.
  • Learned how to become better organized.
  • Improved their job interviewing techniques.
  • Practiced networking and “self marketing” strategies.

Once the program seminars are over, participants can also meet one on one with either Guillas or Ferens to receive ongoing counseling, coaching, and support – an option Guillas calls critical, especially when participants struggle to implement what they’ve learned in a way that will compel employers to hire them.

“The most difficult aspect of working with new graduates is the fact that, no matter how excited, motivated, and smart they might be, many of the participants still have a hard time cracking their way into positions because they don’t yet have experience,” Guillas says. “Helping participants deal with the emotional roller coaster of the job search is by far the biggest challenge.”

On the other hand, Guillas says, the potential rewards are great as well. The program aims for an overall “placement rate” of 70 percent. In 1999-2000, the overall rate was 73 percent; meanwhile, during the first half of the 2000-2001 school year, placement rates for the “classes” have ranged from 70.6 percent to 88.9 percent.

“Getting the calls from participants who have landed their first career-related jobs – sometimes before they call family members – is a real confidence booster for Lisa-Marie and me,” says Guillas. “Because of our coaching component, we get to know the participants fairly well and keep in close contact with them so that we get that chance to vicariously share their successes. Hearing that we’ve helped them get started down their career path is truly rewarding.”

So too, says Guillas, is knowing that the CONNECT program has given the participants skills they’ll use not just once, but many times over the course of their lives.

“To paraphrase an old adage,” Guillas concludes, “we’re teaching our participants to fish instead of giving them the fish.”