Today's blog is written by guest blogger Benjamin Miller, graduate student at the University of Ottawa.
It’s no secret that university students are feeling nervous these days. Youth employment of recent graduates has fallen from 80-85% in 1990 to 70-73% in 2012. It’s not just that the jobs aren’t forthcoming; Canada is facing an estimated skills shortage of as many as 1.5 million workers, but research would indicate graduates just don’t feel ready to fill this gap. It’s common to talk about encouraging people to go to other institutions like colleges and apprenticeships. Those are great for some: but what if you genuinely believe you belong at university, but are feeling apprehensive about your post-graduate outcomes? One solution is getting experience through university co-op programs, which are increasingly common- however, they can be slow to really get going at any given institution, and aren’t available in every program.
I want to talk about an option immediately available to every single university student, as long as they have the time. According to my research, in 2013-14, there were 7,488 campus clubs across Canada. These campus clubs were on practically every campus and covered all imaginable (and some unimaginable) interests. But what does a pancake club have to do with your future career? Campus clubs, (even "fluffy", interest based clubs like a pancake club), have three special advantages that will help prepare you for a huge range of jobs and help you get those jobs.
Advantage #1: Intrinsically and Extrinsically Motivated Learning
Intrinsic motivation is a term in psychology that basically means doing something for its own sake, whereas extrinsic motivation is when you do something to accomplish some external goal. Clubs combine both beautifully! Let’s consider the pancake club. You might join the pancake club to meet people or maybe if you’re particularly enterprising, to gain event planning skills. Those are all fine extrinsic motivations, but the fact is you could get those in any club. If you chose to meet people or gain those skills at the pancake club, chances are, you just like pancakes!
On the other hand, if you decide to be part of the pancake club, and especially if you take a leadership role, you’re quickly going to find yourself accidentally getting all kinds of skills, from cooking and event planning to promotions and design. You won’t get these skills because you wanted them from the outset, but because being able to perform these tasks is just a part of how you get more pancakes and more people to share your pancakes with! So even a pancake club could help build the same skills you’d need in an eventual career...be that an event planner, sponsorship agent, public speaker, administrative assistant, or you name it.
Advantage #2: Entrepreneurial Fever
The most innovative and cutting edge universities across Canada are investing heavily in entrepreneurial “incubator” programs. But you don’t need to be part of one of these amazing, but highly competitive, and comparatively small, programs to build entrepreneurial skills. After all, what does it mean to be an entrepreneur? According to one Forbes writer, it’s about identifying a need, figuring out how to fill it, investing in filling it, and making it financially viable to do so.
Of course, if you’re following the rules you shouldn’t be making any profit with your campus club, but the way that writer describes it, the true entrepreneur is someone who builds for the sake of building. Think about it. How many campus clubs do you think started as follows: “You know what this campus needs…” or “you know what I’d really like to be able to do…"? Through investment of time (and often some money), club founders can transform their idea into something that is real for others and will outlive their time on campus. Just like an entrepreneur makes a business financially sustainable by getting and maintaining customers’ interest, a club founder can make a club organizationally sustainable by getting and maintaining student interest. In short, every campus in Canada already has a huge and widely accessible incubator program.
Advantage #3: Get to Know the Non-profit Sector
You might be thinking, This is all really great for gaining skills, but how is it supposed to get me a job? The Philanthropist, a leading journal of the non-profit sector, has published some of my research on campus clubs and the non-profit sector this week. They’re very interested in the topic because they recognize campus clubs do much of the same things non-profit organizations (NPOs) do, and yet somehow NPOs are still having trouble hiring graduates with the right experience. Check out my article here, and you’ll see how many serious opportunities there are to connect with the sector professionally through campus clubs. We’ve only just begun to tap the potential of these relationships, and the first step is realizing that potential is there.
With all that being said my message is pretty simple: Keep calm and join a club! If you’re already a member of a club, don’t be afraid to invest yourself a little more and look for opportunities to connect with off-campus organizations working in a similar area. If there isn’t a club for what you’re interested in, start it- there are likely others like you. And lastly, don’t join a club to get a job. Join a club to join a club....It may just get you a job ;).
Graduate Student, University of Ottawa