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Beyond the Classroom: Preparing for the Future

Beyond the Classroom: Preparing for the Future


By Nancy L. Jones, Senior Director of Student Affairs, Graham Nott, Vice President – Academic Affairs and Koula Foura, Student Affairs Manager, Concorde Career Colleges, Inc.

For over 60 years, Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. has worked to prepare students for successful careers in healthcare. In fact, their mission says it all; Concorde prepares committed students for successful employment in a rewarding health care profession through high-caliber training, real-world experience and student-centered support.

Concorde, comprised of 16 campuses located in 8 states, has worked since inception to identify employer partners looking for well trained and skilled students ready to enter the workforce.

One thing that they found in talking to employers was that they were struggling to find employees who not only possessed the knowledge to do the job but also had the soft skills necessary to succeed.

This wasn’t something isolated by any means to Concorde students; employers were focused on recruiting employees with the primary soft skills needed to provide stellar patient care. The difficulty was finding employees that could carry on professional business conversations, apply critical thinking skills, utilize interpersonal disciplines, interact with patients and co-workers using nonverbal and listening skills, understanding professional behavior, practicing self-management and being a team player. We had a challenge before us to further develop the soft skills delivery within our curriculum.

In 2012, the Academic and Student Affairs teams saw an opportunity to partner with the employers and develop a solution to create better paths for success and growth for the students and alumni. They committed to teaching and assessing soft skills that mirrored and complimented their technical or “hard” skills to provide a better opportunity for employment – not just a graduate, but a professional, career ready employee. A cross-functional program was created called Pathway to Placement. Each term and every program would have a soft skills component delivered to the students in a variety of formats.

Nancy L. Jones, Concorde’s Senior Director of Student Affairs, explains, “Graduate Employment Specialists visit the classroom to host Professional Development Seminars throughout the students’ matriculation. These would include hosting mock interviews, skill match profile cards and conversations on career preparedness.” The Skill Match Profile component of the Pathway to Placement program is completed early on by the students as their employment “wish list” – the type of career job upon graduation, salary, location, etc. This was helpful because Concorde’s team could identify what their students were expecting early on and could then partner with them to help them find career opportunities that met their needs. This allowed the student to be set up for success early in their journey and better understand when their expectations may not be realistic.

This program, still in place today at all 16 campuses, is led at the campus level by the Academic Dean, Director of Student Affairs and Campus President. The program helps build the relationship between the students and the Graduate Employment office, while in school, so that students understand the available resources and how to access them after graduation. Students receive a certificate of completion, once they have attended all three Professional Development Seminars, to add to their professional portfolio.

Says Jones, “While we did see an improvement in the relationship between Student Affairs and the graduates, we needed more to help build soft skills with our students and motivate our students to be out in the community helping others.”

As an organization, we felt Phase 1 was in place, but needed to identify additional ways to articulate to employers about the graduates’ soft skills training.

Concorde began working with an outside organization that had recently completed a survey of over 750 employers nationwide. This survey examined employer needs and the current situation of soft skills in business and found that:

  • Only 31 percent of employers said that they offer soft-skills training,
  • But 97 percent agreed that soft-skills impact job performance,
  • Only 31 percent stated that their job candidates have satisfactory soft skills, and
  • 90 percent said that they see soft-skills training as a way to develop and evaluate employees.

Concorde saw this as a tremendous opportunity and wanted to address this for their graduates to give them a running start beyond the classroom. So, collaboratively, with data from the survey they decided to provide additional training designed around seven identified soft skills that employers had said that they needed.

The training partner developed a comprehensive online assessment that covered each of these seven competencies. Prior to beginning their externship experience, students are expected to take this General Employability Measurements (GEM) online assessment that measures their skills. The results of the assessment give the student the opportunity to earn digital badges that can enhance their resume and social media platforms when marketing themselves. With Pathway to Placement and the GEM assessments, we saw the impact these programs were making in hiring metrics and graduate confidence.

Graham Nott, Vice President – Academic Affairs explains that Concorde partnered with their Program Advisory Committees and also received feedback from graduates to build six 15-hour for credit online courses and merged those into their diploma programs. These online courses, called Career Path Success (CPSO) courses, provide students with knowledge on the basics of professionalism, customer service, financial literacy, and other professional life skills. The CPSO courses include the community service component because Concorde is exclusively health care based, and we added information on working with special needs populations. As these are for-credit courses, students must pass all 6 courses in order to proceed to an externship. Successfully completing the final assessment resulted in an opportunity to earn digital badges.

The academic programs’ delivery is designed so that students take one programmatic ground course (a “hard skills” course) and one online CPSO “soft-skills” course at the same time. They are “paired,” and ground instructors have a blending guide that has been developed for each course.

The blending guide allows the instructors to meld the soft skills content into the hard skills course. Campus labs and Learning Resource Centers have extended hours to meet the needs of those students without home computer access.

Many times, the assessment outcomes directly correlated to the behaviors displayed in the classroom; Concorde staff used the additional information for interview matching and mock interviews. Graduate Employment Services partnered with the graduates on customizing their resumes for employer needs. When students master a competency, they can use the enabling objectives to speak to their abilities when interviewing with a hiring employer. They feel empowered.” Says Koula Foura, Student Affairs Manager. Says Jones, “The digital badges affixed to their resumes show proficiencies and set our students apart to a hiring employer.”

As with any new program or delivery, it is imperative to seek continuous improvement to assess the effectiveness. Says Foura, “We are currently in the process of reviewing the assessment outcomes and evaluating the improvement data from the CPSO courses and Pathway to Placement programs and their correlation to the increase in employer hiring. Once we identify additional areas of opportunity, we will revisit as needed. It is nice to have the data readily available and partner with the program directors on our continuous improvement cycle.”

If you would like any additional information from this article, please contact Nancy Jones at nljones@concorde.edu.

Nancy Jones

NANCY L. JONES serves as the Senior Director of Student Affairs for Concorde Career Colleges, Inc., headquartered in Mission, Kansas, and is the corporate liaison for placement, retention and student satisfaction outcomes for the organization’s 16 campuses. Nancy previously served as the National Director of Graduate Employment, Regional Director of Student Affairs – East Region and Director of Student Affairs for the Arlington and Dallas campuses. Nancy joined Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. in July 2008. Before joining Concorde Career Colleges, Inc., Nancy was employed for 12 years with DeVry University in Irving, Texas. With over 20 years’ experience in proprietary post-secondary education, Nancy is a strong proponent of education and volunteers in her local community in Irving, Texas.

Nancy holds a Master’s Degree of Arts – Professional Development from Amberton University in Garland, Texas. Her undergraduate degree is a Bachelor of Science – Business Administration, with an emphasis in Marketing, from California State University – Long Beach.

Contact Information: Nancy L. Jones // Senior Director – Student Affairs // Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. // 5800 Foxridge Drive, Suite 500 // Mission, KS 66202 // 913-375-4806 // nljones@concorde.edu // http://www.concorde.edu/

Graham Nott

GRAHAM NOTT has spent the majority of his career in education. Originally from Canada, in 1995 he accepted a position supporting students and faculty at a public university in Washington State and then in 2001 moved to the private sector with a small for-profit school in San Diego. That school was acquired by Kaplan Higher Education in 2003. His career with this multi-national education organization spanned over a decade and 32 campuses in the United States as well as four in Australia. With Kaplan, he gathered experience in the for-profit sector through successful positions as instructor, Academic Dean, Campus President, Group Director of Education, and, in Australia, National Director of Operations.

In 2015, Graham left Kaplan after being offered the position of Vice President of Academic Affairs at Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. He now oversees all aspects of academic quality and operations at this 16 campuses nationwide organization focusing on healthcare education.

Along with his Master of Arts in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University and a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, Graham has acquired multiple technical certificates over the years including ones from Microsoft and CompTia.

Contact Information: Graham Nott // Vice President – Academic Affairs // Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. // 5800 Foxridge Drive, Suite 500 // Mission, KS 66202 // 913-831-9977 // Gnott@concorde.edu // http://www.concorde.edu/

Koula Foura

KOULA FOURA joined Concorde in 2009, serving as the Student Services Specialist. Koula currently serves as the Student Affairs Manager for Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. headquartered in Mission, Kansas, and is the Student Ombudsman for the organization’s 16 campuses. Koula was awarded the Torch award in 2012 for staying true to Concorde’s Core Values and Mission. Koula serves on the Executive Board for Concorde’s Military Central. Koula obtained her Master’s in Education Administration from the University of Kansas in 2017. Koula’s undergraduate degree is in Communications from the University of Kansas. Koula truly enjoys providing tools and resources to the 16 campuses to help achieve student retention, re-entry, and placement outcomes.

Contact Information: Koula Foura // Vice President – Academic Affairs // Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. // 5800 Foxridge Drive, Suite 500 // Mission, KS 66202 // 913-831-9977 // Kfoura@concorde.edu // http://www.concorde.edu/



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