How To Better Prepare Young Professionals for Careers
September 4, 2020 | By Ryan Decker
Technology has changed how we work.
Big data and analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain influence how industries do business. With technology changing rapidly, students, faculty and industry professionals must collaborate to embrace the future.
Take me, for example.
During an internship at Walmart as an internal auditor in the summer of 2019, I encountered many tools and technologies that revolutionized the audit process. While Microsoft Excel isn’t dead (yet), there are many other tools to analyze and visualize large amounts of data.
I had not encountered many of these tools in my accounting courses and was fascinated. And many of my friends felt the same way. We wondered how we and others could better prepare to become young professionals amid all this change.
Understanding the Gap
Jenna Wilson and Emily Harrell and I collaborated to see how we could introduce these emerging technologies and data analytics tools to students to fill the gap between university curriculum and industry expectations of full-time hires.
As officers of Beta Alpha Psi (BAP), an accounting, finance and information systems honors organization on campus, we were positioned to help students through our organization. Even though the project was hosted through BAP, it was open to all Walton College students regardless of major, interests or experience.
Our goal was to create interest in these emerging technologies rather than creating experts. We wanted to provide our peers with foundational skills so that they are more confident using technology.
While almost all disciplines require knowledge of data analytics and emerging technologies, we focused on accounting, finance and information systems. We polled Beta Alpha Psi members and found knowledge of new tools and technologies low but interest high. Students wanted to prepare themselves for careers, but they either didn’t know how or where to start.
As recent interns, we knew exactly what they meant.
Filling the Gap
In the fall of 2019, we created workshops and modules to promote the importance of data analytics and emerging technologies. Through connections we had with employers and industry professionals, we introduced students to new technologies, networking opportunities and ways to improve their marketability and success.
We also developed a website with resources and modules with step-by-step instructions and solutions for students to practice on their own time. This proved invaluable when in-person workshops were no longer possible due to COVID-19.
We reached out to companies who hire Walton College students to understand which topics and programs students need to be exposed to before they start careers. Based on the feedback, we decided to focus on Excel, Alteryx, Tableau, SQL, blockchain and cybersecurity.
Because student skills varied from beginner to advanced, we offered workshops that ranged in difficulty. These workshops were both student-led and professional-led and gave students the opportunity to ask questions of other students and network with professionals and potential employers.
Some workshops provided a broad overview of the program or topic, while others offered specific applications of the tool for accounting and finance majors. These interactive workshops allowed students to work in the program while listening to the speaker. Students who attended the workshops appreciated the specific accounting and finance examples that helped them connect the software with their coursework.
We are proud to contribute to the Walton College’s culture of high student success by being EPIC. What does it mean to Be EPIC? Members of the Walton College strive to uphold values of excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality in all situations. What made us the proudest of these workshops was the chance to live out, as students, our college’s EPIC values. What started as an idea to contribute to our own success resulted in something that could benefit all students.
Excellence | We are driven to be the best in everything we do.
Not only do these workshops help students land lucrative internships and full-time jobs, but they help us succeed once we get there – to be our best. As Walton College students move across the world to begin careers, we carry the reputation of the Walton College with us. These workshops further our ability to show everyone how we can adapt to today’s changing reality.
Professionalism | We operate with integrity, humility, respect, and inclusion.
This program is entirely focused on student success. When students succeed, the Walton College succeeds. We know there is no “right” path to success, but these workshops fill the gaps for those of us who want to prepare but aren’t able to pursue a business analytics or blockchain minor, or those of us who want to learn a new skill but don’t know where to start. Everyone can learn something, and we foster an environment focused on student success.
Innovation | We imagine possibilities, we create, and we inspire others.
The Walton College works best when students, faculty and industry professionals collaborate in creative ways. Learning is not confined to the classroom, and we have united students and professionals under a common goal. In 2020, we presented our project at both the Beta Alpha Psi Regional and International Conferences, competing against teams around the world in the category of innovation; we placed first and second, respectively. Our innovative approach to preparing young professionals also contributed to our recognition as a Gold chapter, putting us in the top 10 of over 300 chapters around the world. When colleges across the country and the BAP Executive Office heard our idea, they were inspired to pursue similar projects.
Collegiality | We respect each individual, we value our differences, and we welcome all.
Learning a new skill can be intimidating. Everyone has something to teach, and everyone has something to learn. We bring people together who are interested in a topic so we can teach each other. Our workshops promote collaboration between teacher and student to reduce the feeling of “experts” and “beginners.” We believe our focus on collaboration over competition yields better results.
The rapid pace of technological change is not slowing down, and neither are we. We will grow this project on through 2020 and beyond. We will communicate with professionals to further learn and understand what they want potential new hires to know. We will increase the collaboration between students by developing student experts to help lead sessions over these topics. Students are more comfortable questioning their peers than they are asking industry professionals. Because asking questions is so vital to understanding, most workshops will be led by students. We will provide student-professional networking opportunities throughout the year through panels or competitions.
We received positive feedback over our online modules and planned to develop more online modules even before the pandemic hit. The use of digital communication will encourage collaboration while we adhere to social distancing guidelines, when necessary.
It is more important now than ever before to promote student success, so the show must go on.
Special thanks goes to our industry partners: