Today, I’m going to make a bold claim about career services in athletics departments. (Surprise, surprise, right?)
I’m going to put forth a new way of looking at your athletic department’s career services/life skills/career and leadership division (from here on, I’m going to call this your “Career & Leadership department”).
I’m going to show you how one critical variable in your department's plan can either derail or save your department's mission.
I’m going to leverage my 15+ years of experience interacting with athletic departments— as a recruit, as a student-athlete, as an alum, and as a service provider for those departments. I’m drawing from the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with the staff of these departments— people who are passionate about the success and well-being of student-athletes.
But my experience aside, this new perspective is probably still gonna rock your world.
Here we go…
Your Career & Leadership department’s choice of technology will define the reach of its mission.
Tech isn’t a downstream decision that you can punt until later; instead, getting the tech choice right is the foundation of being able to fulfill your mission.
That’s right. Choosing the wrong technology will significantly limit your ability to fulfill your mission. Tech isn’t a downstream decision that you can punt until later; instead, getting the tech choice right is the foundation of being able to fulfil your mission.
Here’s what I mean.
Meet the Career & Leadership Value Pyramid
By the end of this post, I hope that I will have shown you how the right technology supports and enables all of the values, strategies, and initiatives that you come up with to serve student-athletes. Conversely, with the wrong technology, you'll be perpetually limited in the ways you can achieve those objectives.
Let's start at the top of the pyramid with MISSION.
All right, let’s start at the top: the mission of your Career & Leadership department.
For starters, we’re only talking about the Career & Leadership subdivision of your department. Not the athletic department as a whole, and not the university’s broader academic mission.
Here’s a representative mission for Career and Leadership: to secure meaningful career outcomes for 100% of graduating student-athletes.
Some divisions come at career prep from the angle of lifelong career fulfillment (like UNC); others focus on discovery and development of skills (like USC). But regardless, unifying feature of Career and Leadership missions is to prepare students for careers after graduation.
In order to fulfill that mission, departments formulate a handful of overarching strategies. All Career and Leadership departments pursue the following at least one of the following strategies:
- Provide 1-on-1 career coaching
- Coordinate meaningful internships for student-athletes
- Leverage alumni network to create opportunities for student-athletes
- Leverage employer partner network to create opportunities for student-athletes
- Leverage technology to create digital engagement
Every single initiative from a Career and Leadership team funnels back to pursuing one of these strategies. Or at least they should…
Let’s talk about three relevant initiatives for most Career and Leadership teams in 2020. Our unique cultural moment has demanded a response, and these departments have responded.
1) Level the playing field to ensure equitable access to career services.
Affluent student-athletes in the so-called “country club” sports believe in the power of career services and thus leverage the department’s resources; less-resourced student-athletes in revenue-generating sports tend to be less aware of the value of career services and thus go without.
Career and Leadership teams need to figure out how deliver their services to all student-athletes. In most athletic departments, students with the least need for career services receive the lion’s share of attention. Affluent student-athletes in the so-called “country club” sports believe in the power of career services and thus leverage the department’s resources; less-resourced student-athletes in revenue-generating sports tend to be less aware of the value of career services and thus go without.
In order to change this trend, departments need to change their go-to-market strategy. The problem isn’t necessarily with the content or the purpose; the problem lies in how it’s being delivered to the user (the student-athlete). After all, if you know that student-athletes aren’t using your services now, it’s time to ask the question, “What would they respond to?”
2) Create a diverse and inclusive network of career allies.
It is important that the people providing career advice to your student-athletes reflect the cultural, racial, and socioeconomic diversity of your student-athletes. Career and Leadership tactics need to align with your university’s commitment to social justice in part by broadening the base of people who have access to “the mic”-- that is, who are able to share career knowledge with student-athletes.
This initiative requires first building meaningful relationships with alumni and employer partners of all backgrounds and then providing them opportunities to pour into your student-athletes.
3) Respond to the demands of a post-COVID university landscape.
Athletic departments as a whole are having to do more and more with less staff and financial resources, and Career and Leadership teams are not immune. Whether impacted by furloughs, staff cuts, or budget reductions, your team is struggling to achieve its ambitious objectives with limited resources.
COVID has also forced departments to move online and transition their primarily-offline resources to a digital landscape. This means finding online solutions for career fairs and 1-on-1 coaching appointments, and it also means struggling to match the engagement of on-campus events in an online environment.
RISKS AND CRITICAL CAPABILITIES
In light of these various initiatives and the strategies they support, what are the biggest risks that Career and Leadership teams face?
- Inability to appeal to all student-athletes means diminishing returns on career services. Without being able to reach more athletes (especially those in high-profile, revenue-generating sports like football and men’s basketball), career services will become a resource for the privileged few.
- Even if the services appealed to all, departments don’t have the personnel power to meaningfully serve every athlete. Even the largest Career and Leadership team in the country cannot serve the needs of all its student-athletes with 1-on-1 coaching and concierge-level service. There aren’t enough hours, offices, or staff to care for athletes manually.
- Inability to engage Letterwinners in a meaningful way means they fall out of touch with the athletic department. Continuing down the path of value extraction exhausts alumni and limits the scope of alumni who are willing/able to engage. The less opportunity you provide them to give back time, the less they want to give money.
- Investing in the wrong tools could cause you to waste your one shot with alumni and student-athletes. If you don’t deliver an engaging user experience on the first try, you may squander the opportunity to engage alumni at all.
As such, Career and Leadership divisions must obtain three critical capabilities in order to serve student-athletes and alumni well. You need to be able to:
- Transition your constituents (student-athletes and alumni) into a digital community in order to create meaningful interactions and shareable experiences. Community that relies on proximity to in-person, on-campus events isn’t sustainable. That means investing in online community that actually engages your users.
- Leverage data to make strategic decisions. With limited staff, you need to be able to identify the students who need/want career coaching before they come to your office.
- Foster decentralized engagement at scale. In other words, you need to figure out how to not deliver all the career coaching yourself. You need to become a vector that connects student-athletes to the people who can help (and vice versa) rather than the sole provider of those services.
THE TECHNOLOGY: FABRIQ
The infrastructure that supports all of the initiatives and strategies of the Career and Leadership department is the chosen technology. In this way, the technology that you choose will define the limits of your mission. Inflexible technology will prevent you from responding to the challenges of a post-COVID, fully-online world. Similarly, if students and alumni don’t want to use your technology because it’s clunky, complicated, or uncool, you’re able to provide less career coaching.
The technology that a Career and Leadership department relies on creates the boundaries for the services that department can provide.
Here’s why Fabriq is the best-in-class technology platform for Career and Leadership teams.
1) Fabriq is an essential tech partner for your team.
- We’ve got a firm grasp on the future of career services. We were preparing for online career services community before COVID and 2020 - our partners benefit from our foresight.
- The speed of our development is unmatched in higher ed. We release multiple updates each month responding to partner feature requests. Without the red tape of a massive company, we’re able to move quickly to keep our apps at the front of the pack.
2) Fabriq offers the best tech stack by far.
- Our tech is API-based, meaning that the potential data integrations are endless. You can track every single user touch, which allows you to focus your attention on the student-athletes most in need of your services— even before they call you.
- Our tech is mobile-first. You will never, ever find a feature that you need a desktop to access— every aspect of our apps is built to be highly engaging to the mobile user. We’re mobile natives… and it shows.
- Our apps are designed for maximum user engagement and enjoyment. The Fabriq platform is video-centric, unbelievably easy to use, and built in the style of TikTok rather than LinkedIn. Less profiles, more stories.
- Our built apps are highly customizable. Create custom onboarding sequences, story groupings, branded engagement emails, and more in your custom-built mobile app.
3) Fabriq knows athletics first-hand.
Fabriq was built by two former student-athletes and current Letterwinners who have experienced the problems first-hand. As a result, we’re highly in-tune with the athletics landscape.
The right technology empowers your Career and Leadership team’s initiatives, brings your strategies into focus, and expands the reach of your mission. When you leverage a platform designed for this space, the difference shows.