Re-envisioning the role of alumni in post-secondary career education

Several years ago, I bumped into an instructor from my undergraduate alma mater at a coffee shop. After catching up, he invited me to guest lecture on my career pathway and vocation for his students. Like many alumni I have spoken to since, I had a moment of skepticism that – as a first-generation graduate – I could provide meaningful career guidance to students. However, I agreed to the opportunity.
At the end of the semester, the instructor forwarded me a student’s report that my guest lecture was the “most useful insight that came from our class,” providing the student with insight on a prospective profession. As alumni, we can offer students information and advice on all aspects of career development: exploring career options, searching for work, maintaining our jobs or pursuing lifelong learning. We can bring our perspective and personal experience to perplexing aspects of career development, such as atypical or innovative career trajectories and strategies for navigating uncertainty in the labour market.
Historically, post-secondary alumni engagement has centred on financial giving and endowments. However, alumni engagement can be broadened to contributing time, experience and social capital to career education efforts.
This article will explore how alumni can enrich students’ experiences through a range of roles, including mentorship, career support and providing work experience.

This is the final blog in a four-part series by Liana Thompson, Gena Hamilton and Dr. Candy Ho that examines the role of different stakeholder groups in promoting career education and development in post-secondary institutions. Check out the other blogs in this series:

Widening jobseekers’ views of education-to-career pathways
The target market for career centres may not be (just) students
Helping and then hiring: Employers as key stakeholders in career education

Mentorship
By mentoring one-on-one or in small groups, alumni can help students connect pathways from education to employment. Alumni have lived experiences and are well positioned to offer advice and information to prepare students for their professional roles and requirements, such as campus resources, professional association membership and networking events, research and publication opportunities, and extracurricular clubs and activities.
Career support
Alumni can offer career support in teaching and learning from the classroom to the community, through:

lecturing in class as a guest
participating in podcasts, speaker series, workshops, panels, job clubs, case competition judging, student-initiated philanthropic and social justice activities, social media, book clubs, newsletters and job fairs
consulting for curriculum delivery and content

Alumni can be instrumental in informing their alma mater with industry experience and advice on the currency of curriculum. They can provide an insider perspective for career-relevant case studies, portfolio projects and networking assignments (e.g. informational interviews).
Additionally, alumni can advise their employers on enhancing hiring practices, such as revising job descriptions to be approachable for current students or recent graduates.
Work experience
Alumni can be a learning resource to advance students’ experience, developing their career skills and professional networks through:

virtual job shadowing
advocating within their organizations or network to hire student talent and provide work placement or internship opportunities
networking activities to connect students with employers prior to graduation
integrating employer-designed projects for courses and providing coaching and feedback to students

The benefits of broadening alumni roles: Win-win-win
Expanding alumni roles in career education offers many benefits for students, alumni, post-secondary institutions and employers. First, students gain career capital – industry-specific knowledge, skills, network and experiences – to take forward into their profession. Alumni can also be visible role models to embolden equity-seeking students.
Alumni benefit by developing skills in teaching, facilitation, mentorship and leadership while widening their network. They can broaden their perspective on workplace and recruitment trends, as well as invest in the future of their profession. Overall, supporting the careers of students and graduates presents an opportunity for alumni to make a personal difference.
Post-secondary institutions and employers also benefit by creating authentic learning experiences for students to prepare for workplace roles and demands, connecting students to professional networks prior to graduation and informing employer practices.
Potential challenges
Alumni are a finite resource. Post-secondary institutions need to consider interdepartmental structures, operations and resources to expand engagement without exhausting alumni. Integrating a variety of alumni roles into career education involves collaboration between career services, advancement offices, alumni associations, faculty and employers.
An additional challenge is that alumni may have difficulty perceiving how their skills are transferable to career education, inhibiting their own career growth. As career practitioners, we can help our organizations and alumni overcome functional fixedness to recognize alumni’s experience and expertise as an asset to students. Additionally, we can instill this perception in students when they transition to alumni.
To help make engagement in career education feel more accessible for alumni, institutions can:

provide alumni with a list of engagement options to choose from;
appoint alumni ambassadors;
recognize alumni engagement and achievements;
write job descriptions for alumni volunteer roles;
develop a training program; and
ask alumni to share their career story via print/video

I hope that our four-part series examining the role of different stakeholder groups in promoting career education and development in post-secondary institutions has provided you with ideas and strategies to move forward. As career educators, we build meaningful relationships with career influencers, employers and alumni to connect students to their education-to-career pathway.
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