Crucial Aspects of a Great Student Training Program

By Josh Frahm posted 09-17-2019 08:26


One could argue that training students is much more difficult than training full-time staff, making it important for you to create a dynamic training program. When working with students, it is crucial to remember that this may be their first job or professional experience! Whether you signed up to be or not, you are a teacher! Consider this your “other duties as assigned” on your job description.

Today, we will touch on five key aspects of a successful training program:

  1. Defining what is in the program for students
  2. Determining why you should invest in training
  3. Combating the unique challenges of a student work force
  4. Establishing a conceptual training model
  5. Determining what goes where within your training

Define What’s in it for Students

If you ask students the #1 reason they work, they will almost always start with money. While not surprising in today’s landscape, it is our job to educate students on the professional development benefits of working part-time.

Focusing on their development starts with how you advertise the role. Are you treating it as “just a part-time job” or are you focusing on making it a mutually beneficial experience? Make sure to discuss—in the job description and during the onboarding process—how transferable skills are important and why their future employers care what they are learning (use the NACE core competencies!).

Other benefits that should be considered to motivate students:

  • Building their professional resume/profile
  • Establishing future job recommendations/references (from you!)
  • Building connections and professional relationships
  • Building self-esteem and confidence in the professional setting
  • Learning to take skills learned in the classroom and translate them to the workplace
  • Learning what they like and dislike about work environments (e.g., working alone or on a team)

Whether their job for you is within their field or not, they are learning crucial developmental skills. Help them realize what it takes to exceed expectations in the workplace and ensure they know the skills they are showcasing each day. 

Unique Challenges of a Student Work Force

Students don’t stay students forever. That creates an inherent challenge if you rely on them as part of your work force.

Turnover: Turnover is automatically going to range between 33 to 100 percent each year. If you can stick to a 33 percent turnover rate, that is very healthy for a student work force and should be the goal you set whether you have three students or 150.

Part-Time Nature: In most campus departments, three or four students equal one full-time professional. This increases the complexity of your operations and makes training more important. Students are going to be students first, so scheduling conflicts will arise. This is where communicating expectations with your students early and often is crucial. You know they are going to have busy times of the semester; make sure they know to communicate time off they will need more than 30 minutes before their shift!

Background: As mentioned above, this may be your student's first professional experience. They may need training on things we take for granted, such as answering the phone, taking messages, or sending campus email. Be patient with them! Their limited past knowledge and partial commitment of working part-time can be challenging.

Other challenges may include:

  • Varying experience and skill levels
  • Investing in training, then they quit
  • Much of the training is “on the job”
  • How do I find time to train?
  • Providing clear expectations that differ from full-time staff

While these challenges will always exist, creating a great training program minimizes their impact.

What’s in it for You: Why Invest?

So why should you invest your time and energy training a population that may only be with you for six months, a year, or even less? The question really should be, can you afford not to invest in training these students?

For many of us in a university setting, we rely on student workers to help us achieve our objectives. If you are like us at the University of Iowa, we do not function as a university without our 6,000-8,000 strong student staff. That doesn’t even include the countless other volunteers.

While a great pre-employment process and training program takes time to develop, the long-term benefits far outweigh the initial costs. Without a solid training program, retention challenges are magnified, causing you to spend more time and energy constantly hiring and training instead of developing your staff. Creating a positive culture starts right away, and helps establish the following benefits:

  • Promotion of your culture and positive image
  • Establishment of trust and respect within your staff
  • Gains student buy-in getting them to take ownership of their role
  • Improved retention, lowering your “unexpected” retention issues
  • Increased quality of service you provide to your stakeholders

Students play an important part in the operation of most universities; take the necessary time to establish a training program that reflects their importance. Treat them like “real employees” and watch their performance exceed expectations. 

Creating a Conceptual Training Model—What Goes Where?

When creating your student training program, I encourage you to conceptualize first, then execute the specifics. A good training program has four parts:

Step 1: Determine WHAT student employees need to learn.

What do you want the outcomes of your training program to be? The focus needs to be on three areas: knowledge, attitude, and skill. Do your students know the standards of acceptable performance? Do they know how their job connects to the big picture and why they have been hired? You need to answer those questions through your onboarding process.

As for attitude, do they understand the expectations for treating customers and co-workers with respect? Do they feel comfortable and supported on the job? These questions will help you conceptualize what your training program should look like.

Step 2: Identify WHEN student employees need to learn it

There are five parts to an onboarding process:

  1. Pre-employment
  2. Orientation
  3. Job specific training
  4. Follow-up training
  5. Ongoing training

The key for each of you is figuring out what needs to be done within each category.

Step 3: Determine HOW Information Will Be Communicated

My advice is to mix up your training. As I will discuss in next months' blog, not everyone is going to learn the same way or at the same pace. Below are ideas on different training methods to try:

  • Classroom or instructor-led training
  • Creating documents/handouts or quizzes
  • On-the-job or hands on training
  • Blended learning
  • Role play
  • Student-led training

Step 4: Identify WHO Will Participate and How They Will Participate

If you are like me, you want to be in full control of your training. However, if you have a lot to cover, it is crucial to get different perspectives and people in front of your students. Consider the following people participating in your training program:

  • Supervisors
  • Seasoned employees
  • Other departmental staff
  • At least one person from another department
  • Veteran students—Let them help!

The crucial aspect of training your students is the need to mix it up to help keep them engaged. Make sure to consider what ongoing training is needed as well. You have the tools, now go create a dynamic training program! 

Additional Professional Development

Does your school offer additional professional development training for students? If not, please feel free to reach out to me regarding the UI STEP (Student to Employed Professional) program at the University of Iowa which offers additional professionalism training for both student workers and supervisors alike. 

See Previous Series Post: Choose the Right Students for Your Department | Organization—Preselection Necessities

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