A head start for the workforce

by | Oct 13, 2021 | Fall 2021, Skill Set | 0 comments

Mines graduates are well known in industry for their sharp technical skills, outstanding work ethic and collaborative nature. Those qualities certainly stand out on a resume, but when first entering a competitive workforce, how can Mines graduates get that extra edge to make them the most desirable recruits and get hired right after graduation?

That’s the question Mines aimed to answer in partnering with Fran Vallejo ’87 and Scott Irvine ’87 to establish the Vallejo Irvine Program for Professional Development. The program aims to supplement Mines students’ technical skills with professional development opportunities that will teach them how to navigate their careers from the very first day of an internship or job. “If you have a better understanding of how to maneuver in the workplace, through these professional development skills, you become more effective more quickly,” Vallejo explained.

Vallejo and Irvine shared their thoughts on the inspiration behind the VIP Professional Development Program and how engineers can be better prepared when entering the workforce. These were our key takeaways.

Mines graduates have top-notch technical skills that make them highly qualified job candidates, but evidence of professional skills can take those qualifications a step further.

In today’s increasingly competitive job market, the skills necessary to perform well in the workplace go beyond the knowledge and capability to carry out technical objectives. These include skills such as effective written and verbal communication and interpersonal interactions, which proof of being able to do well can set candidates apart when vying for new opportunities.

“From a technical perspective, we think the engineers and scientists graduating from Mines are the best, but there are also other schools graduating other engineers and scientists who are highly qualified. We thought this would be an extra skill set that Mines graduates could have as they entered the workforce that would set them apart,” Vallejo said. “We believe that if graduates understand a little bit about professionalism, that would give them a leg up compared to their peers and be able to get noticed more quickly and be viewed as a leader.”

In her own career, Vallejo recognized how critical communication was for collaborating with others, in addition to being able to advance professionally later. “The communication element for me is so important, especially for scientists and engineers,” she said. “When you can match an engineer who’s a great communicator, that is truly unique in the technical world, and those people get noticed right away.”

And by learning more about the professional side of the workplace, new employees can avoid conflicts and errors that could be detrimental to their career. “With just a little bit of understanding, a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of training, you can avoid a lot of mistakes,” Irvine added.

Through workshops and resources available through the VIP Professional Development Program, students will be able to gain these professional skills from their first day on campus and have time to develop them over their four years at Mines rather than learning them on the fly after being hired. 

It was important to integrate professional development opportunities with the existing academic rigor to provide an enhanced learning experience.

Students often choose to attend Mines for the rich, high-quality technical education the school is known for, and it was essential that introducing new professional development opportunities wouldn’t take away from that signature academic experience, but rather enrich it. “We wanted to somehow do this without competing with the academic load, because you don’t want to denigrate the academics at all,” Irvine explained. “You still want Mines graduates coming out with the full-blown academic and technical prowess that they’ve always had.”

Through mentorship opportunities, guest lectures and other programming that can be easily added into classroom experiences—such as part of a CSM101 course—extracurricular activities, Career Center services and more, the VIP Professional Development Program will provide more opportunities for students to prepare for life after Mines and head into the workforce with a better idea of what to expect—all without having to sacrifice time or resources dedicated to their academics.

While professional development opportunities can help someone get a job right after graduation, they also have long-term benefits.

The ultimate goal of the VIP Professional Development Program is to ensure new Mines graduates remain the top candidates right after earning their degree, but the professional skills they learn through the program will continue to pay off long after. “We’re giving students a head start, but these skills are going to be skills that graduates will use and will evolve throughout their whole career, both professionally and privately,” Irvine said.

Ultimately, the skills gained through these new experiences will help prepare Mines graduates to take their place in the workforce and carry on the indelible reputation Mines has in industry and beyond. And a balance between technical knowledge and professionalism is the edge needed to make that happen and keep Mines graduates where they typically find themselves—ahead of the curve.