When finishing my university degree, like many other students, I was faced with the dreadful question: “So, what do you want to do after you graduate?” While the question was once intimidating, through experiential learning, I was able to affirm my aspirations and begin my career.
While career pathways are not always as clear cut as some claim them to be, it’s important that while students are building a theoretical framework in school, they also obtain practical work experience to prepare for their next move. Thankfully, during my undergraduate degree, I had one experiential learning experience that inspired me to go into the education sector: my time in the John Toth Experiential Learning Program at Workforce WindsorEssex.
I came to the realization that experiential learning helped set me apart from my fellow graduates through these three lessons:
1. There are some things you can’t learn from a textbook
Having the academic background of being in a classroom gets your foot in the door, but there is only so much you can learn from a textbook. It’s equally important to acquire hands-on experience to discover your work habits and preferences for the types of environments you like to work in, as well as the kind of responsibilities you want to take on.
The utilization of experiential learning opportunities gives students a more realistic outlook as to what to expect in the workplace when it comes to behavioural norms, employee and client interactions, as well as the different career pathways that may exist in their line of work.
2. Soft skills are irreplaceable
Experiential learning provides students with the opportunity to learn transferable and soft skills that are not necessarily developed in school. Soft skills are vital assets that help improve graduates’ employability. Examples of soft skills include: oratorical communication skills, time management skills, and intrapersonal and interpersonal communication skills. Developing these skills can give students a stronger understanding of how to improve their emotional intelligence in the workplace and how to manage deadlines.
3. Networking is key
Lastly, experiential learning is a vital asset to students’ career development, as it allows them to build connections within and outside of their career field. Building connections with those who are like-minded can lead to the development of mentorship relationships. Creating a network also gives students the opportunity to build their personal brand, which can lead to further volunteer or employment opportunities down the road. You never know who you could end up working with or for when it comes to the next step in your career pathway. Formulating these connections are key – the more people you speak to, more often than not, you will realize that their career pathway was about the journey and not about the destination.
When approaching this realization of implementing hands-on experience, I was able to strengthen my soft skills and my networking capabilities so that when it came to interacting with community partners and colleagues in the workplace, the transition was easier for me than my classmates. Therefore, as education makes one qualified for the job presented, it is the connections and reputation that one builds in the community that lead to the advantage of getting oneself acquainted with the working world.
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