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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

College is supposed to prepare you for your career and to lead a productive work life. In what ways do you feel most prepared for this challenge? In what ways do you feel least prepared?

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I normally do not need reminders of why I love what I do — teaching college students public relations management — but there are times when it all comes flooding back to me.

This past December was one of those times. The Public Relations Society of America, Maryland chapter, honored me with its Educator of the Year award. I was deeply touched by this. First, to be honored by PRSA-MD was incredibly special. Second, being honored for doing what I love to do is especially poignant.

Here is the official announcement:

The 2013 Best In Maryland Committee and the 2013 PRSA-MD Board of Directors are proud to announce the 2013 Educator of the Year recipient: Lester R. Potter.

Accredited Business Communicator Lester R. Potter, an MBA, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies at Towson University, Maryland. He is “ABD” (all but dissertation) for a doctorate in Instructional Technology at Towson.  At Towson, Potter teaches Public Relations Writing, Organizational Communication, Strategic Public Relations Planning and Management, and Public Relations for Nonprofit Organizations.  He has served as Faculty Advisor to the PRSSA chapter for ten years.

Prior to beginning his academic career, Potter was President of Les Potter Incorporated, an international consultancy he founded in 1998.  His firm helped organizations worldwide use communication as a strategic management tool to boost organizational effectiveness.  For over 30 years, Les Potter has improved business operation with innovative, results-oriented interventions.  To solve clients’ problems, Potter draws on successful experience in organizational communication, strategic and marketing planning, and human resources and project management gained from work with a wide variety of organizations and industries.

Les Potter’s background includes many different and enriching business situations that prepared him for successful client service.  Potter was Chairman of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) during 1991-92.  He was named an IABC Fellow in 1997, IABC’s highest honor.  He served on IABC’s executive board, accreditation board, and as a trustee of the IABC Research Foundation.  He earned IABC accreditation (the ABC designation) in 1978.

Les is also a member of Kappa Delta Pi, the invitation-only professional association for educators, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

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There is a sad fact in the world of American employment. Organizations interested in investing in the U.S. are finding too few potential workers with the requisite skills.

About 600,000 jobs last year went unfilled in the U.S. due to a lack of skilled labor (Stuart E. Eizenstat & Robert I. Lerman). The skills needed are often that of machinists, welders, robotics programmers, and mechanics who can maintain equipment.

What is the reason for this? I have some ideas. I teach public relations/communication management at Towson University. Far too many of my students want to be event planners, not even PR/communication professionals, much less mechanics or machinists. I believe that impressionable young people have been brainwashed to view working with their hands as beneath their dignity. This is complete BS.

I believe that some people are better suited to working with their hands. And the truth is, we need many more people who can fix things than we need people to plan parties or weddings. Have you tried to hire a “handyman” lately? If so, chances are you were put on a long waiting list. We are rapidly losing our ability to fix and make things, hence the greater need to hire people to do it for us.

There is a real need to prepare people for skilled labor and subsequently, enhanced employment opportunity. Schools used to offer practical, helpful classes like “shop”, courses of instruction in a trade such as carpentry, electricity, or auto mechanics. I believe that such courses should be required for middle and high school students for both boys and girls. No sexism here.

Why require boys and girls to take shop? Because they will learn practical, useful life skills. And many young people will also learn skills that can mean employment opportunity. It just makes good sense for women and men to learn these things.

Employment in manufacturing accounts for 20 percent of jobs in Germany, 16 percent of jobs in Switzerland, but only 10 percent of jobs in the United States (Eizenstat & Lerman). Young men and women who take shop may find that they like the work so much that it constitutes a career option. The statistics prove that employment opportunities abound for such skilled workers.

Shop courses could offer such practical education as basic auto repair and maintenance for young people. An understanding of these concepts can help both men and women to not be ripped off by unscrupulous car repair shops.

Skills that help you learn to repair and build things, like carpentry or basic electricity, would also be useful. And again, career options come with it.

Academic professional/technical college instruction is often augmented by internships. For skilled workers, an expanded system of apprenticeships should be offered to provide hands-on experience. In Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, for example, 55 to 70 percent of all young people enter apprenticeships (Eizenstat & Lerman).

To meet the needs of 21st-century U.S. employment, we owe our young people options for expanded employment opportunity. Becoming a skilled tradesperson is one such option. Working with your hands may just be a viable and interesting option for many.

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Yes, it is.

I could stop there and make this my shortest post ever. But my short answer to this frequently asked question needs some explanation.

I teach public relations/communication management at Towson University. A valid question is, can someone be successful in PR/communication without a college degree?

The answer is, of course, yes. But here’s the rub — you have to be hired first. And why would an employer hire someone for even an entry-level position without a college degree when so many graduates are churned out each year who vie for low-salary entry-level jobs?

Get the picture? You must have credentials to get hired. “Credentials” means “qualifications. You can become qualified over time by on-the-job training, but as I said, you have to get hired first. That’s the hard part.

The first thing any reputable employer looks at is your experience (qualifications) for the open job he/she is trying to fill. The old chicken-and-egg question is, “but how do I get experience if I can’t get hired?” The simple answer is, “go to college and get a degree in the field.” That gives you, at best, the entry fee to seek employment.

Businesses must consider the  return on investment (ROI) on all big decisions. Like any business, a high school grad must consider the ROI in deciding whether or not to earn a college degree.

But in considering college, a student must view the payout in more than just enhanced earnings over the life of a career. Enhanced lifetime earnings for those who have college degrees is well-documented. But intangibles like personal growth and life experiences should factor into the decision, too. College can help you in so many more ways that what happens in the classroom.

Does this mean you can’t obtain personal growth and life experiences without a college degree? Of course not. But the four years you are in college are an intense time of learning and growth that prepares you for your career and your life, too.

To many of us who have hired, trained, and fired employees over the years, a college degree is really just an entry fee for the world of work. Real learning begins on the job. Sadly, many organizations must offer remedial training to raise the level of competence of new hires, often on things they should have mastered in school.

Remember, to be hired for any job, you must demonstrate qualifications. It takes time to gain the qualifications you need, but earning a college degree puts you well ahead.

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The helpful folks at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) have recently provided vital information for college graduates entering the work force. This is must-have information, for knowing what employers want in new hires should be part of every graduate’s career plan.

According to NACE’s Job Outlook 2013 Survey, the number one skill/quality employers seek in job candidates is “ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.”

Here’s the NACE top ten in order:

  1. Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization.
  2. Ability to work in a team structure.
  3. Ability to make decisions and solve problems.
  4. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work.
  5. Ability to obtain and process information.
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data.
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job.
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs.
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports.
  10. Ability to sell or influence others (NACE, 2012)

This information is timely and relevant for me as well. For my doctoral dissertation,  I am currently formulating research on the influence of Web 2.0 technologies on Millennial Generation students’ interpersonal communication skills and abilities. My own research echos the NACE finding — employers want new hires who can communicate effectively face to face.

In fact, Numbers 1 and 10 go hand in hand. Successful employees need excellent interpersonal communication skills in order to sell and influence others. Book after book, study after study, all proclaim that employers want effective communicators, but these works often cite “written and oral communication skill” equally. However, the NACE study is clear: the ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization is critically important.

Why is there such sudden emphasis on face-to-face communication among employers? Could it be that there really is a deleterious effect of growing up digital, of being a heavy user of Web 2.0-enabled technologies? Could it be that college grads of today are less skilled (or less predisposed) to communicate effectively face to face?

I have been curious about such questions since I began my college teaching career in 2004.

By next spring, I hope to have clear answers to such questions once my mixed methods research is completed. I intend to study the phenomenon of Millennial Generation students’ interpersonal skills and abilities in considerable depth. I am excited about what I will learn.

But in the meantime, I hope all my students will pay attention to what NACE’s study found out.

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If I were asked to give a college’s commencement address (fat chance), here is what I would tell the graduates:

1.  Lose the narcissism. Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr., recently covered this better than I ever could, and I agree with McCullough; I would tell graduating college students that “you are not all that special”, even though, as members of the Millennial Generation, you have been told that you are all of your lives. The difference here is that McCullough was addressing high school seniors. My commencement speech is to college students, whose egos, by this time, have been knocked down a peg of two. But the point is still important — you are not the center of the universe, so get over your self-importance. In the grand scheme of things, you are just one among many out there scratching to make it. That simply means that you are not entitled to a high starting salary or the job of your dreams immediately. You will have to earn what you get, beginning with an entry level job and working your way up.

2.  Work means work.  When you take a job, you are expected to earn your keep. Being hired is not a license to coast. You must work to prove yourself every day, with every task, and on every assignment. You are being paid to do a job. Do it to the best of your ability, and then improve on your performance continually.

3.  Results are the only thing that matters. I love my Millennial Generation college students, but I get sick of hearing this excuse for a bad grade: “But I worked so hard on that!” Who cares that you worked hard? You are supposed to work hard. Do not ever tell an employer who critiques your poor performance that you tried really hard. The implication is, as it is with my students, that you should get some sort of credit for your effort. No way. You are supposed to give every task, every assignment, and every project your 100 percent effort. That is merely an entry fee. Results are all that matters. Yoda said it best: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

4. The Golden Rule is the only thing you ever need to know about diversity.  Simply treat people like you want to be treated. The Golden Rule is the golden key to living a successful, meaningful, and productive life in harmony with other people.

5. As members of the Millennial Generation, you must deal effectively with other generations in the work place. Learn to understand and respect Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. They got there first. They have paid their dues (if they are still employed there with you). Respect them. Help them. Learn from them.

6. You can’t text your way into super-stardom. You are not inherently smarter than the Boomers and Xers  just because you “grew up digital”. Just because you can text and Tweet and Facebook and email and surf Websites, often all at the same time, does not mean you are smarter than they are. They can do these things, too.  Being adept at Web 2.0-enabled social media, a hallmark of the Millennial Generation, is of small advantage in the face of the incredible life experience that these older generations have on you.

7. Never drink too much at an office social function. That is a career-limiting move for sure.

8. Happen to things; don’t let things happen to you. That was important advice from one of my mentors, David Hogan. When I went to him for advice about how to do a difficult project, he advised me to “go make something happen.” In other words, he advised me to figure it out. That is what he was paying me for anyway.

9. Accept the guidance of a mentor. Like David Hogan, and David Wesley before him (See my blog post below dated October 21, 2011), my mentors have been invaluable to my career success. You will find them, too, or they will find you. The is much truth to the old Zen proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

10. You, and you alone, must find your own way. And here is the good news — you will. I know you will, and it will all be okay.

Good luck.

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In this difficult economy, in which one in two recent college graduates is unemployed or underemployed, what do you think is most important to prepare yourself to get a job in public relations?

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