First, I have each of my students print out a few future positions that they picture themselves working in. Then, I have them list the skills that are being asked for in these positions. What are these employers looking for? We then map out these skills and match them up with tasks and projects that can be assigned to them in our office to build their skill set. For example, if a position lists “superior communication, planning/coordinating and administrative skills” as a qualification, I might have the student employee writing and editing copy, coordinating meetings and planning events.
Secondly, as supervisors we need to be willing to provide undergraduate student workers with more difficult tasks and the autonomy to complete them. While many of us employ students to answer the phone and sort the mail, it is also beneficial to develop student employees to take accountability for challenging assignments. This can be daunting; as a supervisor, we have to be ready to answer questions that they may have, while giving them room to fail and not completing the assignment/task for them. The student employment experience is a place where this can happen as they are building these skills towards their future goals.
Third, having time for constructive feedback with student employees on their performance is crucial for their development. Feedback isn’t negative; rather, giving balanced feedback with both constructive criticism and positive reinforcement builds trust in your student employee that you are honest and invested in their development. They, in turn, build professional communication skills.
Finally, model goal orientation yourself. Be willing to be open and transparent about how you are achieving your goals everyday and how you are implementing focus and discipline. In our office, we have a shared task-management system that we use to keep track of the work that needs to be completed. I set goals on tasks to be completed for myself and make that known to the rest of my team, including the student employees. I also am vulnerable about my challenges in the workplace and how I navigate them.
Student employees have been a wonderful asset to our department and watching them develop into working professionals is an amazing adventure.