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The BYU-Idaho Advantage: Preparing Students for the Workforce

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Only 120 days. That’s the standard set by Brigham Young University-Idaho for its students in obtaining “meaningful employment” after graduating with a degree. 

A number of university resources are dedicated to increasing the percentage of employed graduates, including the Alumni Association. Ben Watson, alumni engagement manager, said the Alumni Association exists not to ask for donations as other universities often do but to help connect students with alumni on their career paths.

 “I think it makes us unique,” Watson said. “I refer to us sometimes as an enigma amongst the university ecosystem when it comes to alumni offices, because our main ask is not money. Our main ask is connections, and [to] help our students get into your network and ultimately find positions."

Building disciple leaders is the main mission of BYU-Idaho. As a part of that mission, BYU-Idaho focuses its disciple-building on four core themes: testimony, quality, reach, and affordability. “Quality” includes the specific 120-day goal for students to find a job. 

The Executive Strategy and Planning document states that one of the university’s priorities is to “develop a model that unites university efforts, identifies shared responsibility, and increases the percentage of students who obtain meaningful employment or other career outcomes within 120 days of graduation.”

When asked about how willing BYU-Idaho alumni are at helping new graduates find jobs, Watson said he’s seen a large positive response. 

“It's not just something that's appealing to us [at BYU-Idaho], but it's very appealing and intriguing to the alumni as well,” he said. “They want the students that we produce here at this university to be a part of their companies. They would love, in Kansas City, for graduates to look at Kansas City as an option for them to land and start their careers. People would like more BYU-Idaho grads to land in Nashville, in Raleigh, in Atlanta. You name it.”

Students don’t need to wait until they graduate to start making those career connections. Brecca Ponce, student employment coordinator at BYU-Idaho, said students should share the experiences they have at work and in class with their professional network. This could be on social media, a portfolio website, or their LinkedIn account. 

“We're striving to help students be successful academically and within their employment as well,” Ponce said. “We strive for them to do well and get good grades and do all these things while gaining experiences preparing them for post-graduation with those degrees they're finishing up.”

Steve Davis, alumni engagement director, said alumni want to see what students are doing now that will bring value and innovation to the workplace. 

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do,” Davis said, referring to a famous Steve Jobs quote. He added that employers also want to see what kind of work students enjoy doing. 

“If you love your work, you'll do great work,” he said. “If you do great work, you'll get paid better, you'll get promoted, you'll be happier.”

For students, finding passion in their work sometimes means asking for work they can be passionate about. Ponce said that students shouldn’t be afraid of asking their employers for resume-building opportunities, even if their current job has nothing to do with their planned post-graduate career. 

“The best way to do that is just be clear and upfront with your manager,” she said. “Go to your manager, tell them what you're searching for, what kind of experiences you're hoping to develop, and see if they have anything they can give you. If not, most managers are happy to search for something that could possibly fit that, so that you then could try and have that opportunity.”

Ponce said that BYU-Idaho is the ideal place for each of its 4,200 student employees to work with managers for resume-building experiences. 

“I've had students come to me and say, ‘Hey, I really would like to have more experience when it comes to using Excel and maybe making some sheets and programming,’" she said. 

As a part of the BYU-Idaho mission to help students gain meaningful employment, campus employers should be on the lookout for projects that would benefit their students in their career trajectory. Ponce said this kind of forward-thinking is one of the ways university employees can bless their students. 

When it comes to creating resume-building opportunities, Ponce said, talking with other managers is always a good idea. She encourages employers to brainstorm, delegate, and initiate projects that are meaningful and fulfilling for students. Other campus resources are available if needed. 

“Reach out to Human Resources,” she said, “even potentially reach out to the Career Center and ask, ‘I have students involved with this potential career. Do you happen to know what sort of skills people are looking for in those fields nowadays?’” 

Working closely with the alumni network has allowed Davis and Watson to get a sense of what employers are wanting potential employees to know. That knowledge is then shared with students through participation in events like the Power to Become conference, Ignite Your Career, employer visits to campus, and career fairs. 

“We were very intentional in ensuring that [these] events would support the goal here at the university to help our students land internships or jobs,” Watson said. “Basically foot-in-the-door opportunities upon graduation.”

Davis said early engagement is key to getting that career momentum going. Students shouldn’t wait until graduation to attract employers, and employers shouldn’t wait until graduation to see what students are doing to prepare for their careers. 

“Do an internship early, maybe do a second internship,” Davis said. “Have a mentor. Have a vision.” 

With a strong career services program and a focus on preparing students for the workforce, BYU-Idaho is well-positioned to help students find jobs after graduation. That’s the vision that every student and employee are working toward.