‘Engage in Preparation to Be Exceptionally Employable’

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I’m well aware of the conversation and debate regarding the difference between education and training. Many people who have heard me speak about being “exceptionally employable” have gently suggested that perhaps a focus on helping to produce “exceptionally employable” graduates is not a good aspiration for a liberal arts university.  

You’ve no doubt heard the tales of liberal arts graduates who have to find work in the food or retail industries because they’re not employable elsewhere.

You have also probably heard the other side of the argument: The university is always resistant to change and prepares students for a world that passed 20 years ago or more, when its professors were graduating from college.  

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I would like to respectfully disagree with both of those ideas.

I have spent more than 30 years in some form of pastoral ministry. Over the years, people have asked me, “In the Great Commission, which is more important: evangelism or discipleship?” 

My answer is always, “Yes!” 

Both are absolutely vital. You cannot have discipleship without evangelism—and evangelism without discipleship violates the biblical exhortation in John 16 to “bear fruit that remains.”  

I think the same way about university education. A university education equips students with the ability to think, read, write, and speak well, along with other important life skills.

At William Jessup University, where I serve as president, we believe in what we call “the miracle of ‘and’.” We believe we can help students develop character, become life-long learners, and serve those around them. 

We refuse to simply prepare students for jobs: We are preparing them for life.  

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Some research suggests that as many as 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in the next nine years do not exist today!

I had the privilege to attend a WASCUC (our accreditation agency) briefing some years ago, during which research was shared regarding what employers are looking for when hiring new employees. In my view, these skill sets have only increased in their importance—and people in the workforce with these capacities will be exceptionally employable:

  • Critical thinking and analytic reasoning: 81 percent
  • Complex problem-solving: 75 percent
  • Teamwork skills in diverse groups: 71 percent
  • Creativity and innovation: 70 percent
  • Information literacy: 68 percent
  • Quantitative reasoning: 63 percent

Let me share what I would call the “triple-braided cord” for how students and graduates can be exceptionally employable in this economy and in future economies.

Here it is.

One: Engage your academic pursuits fully.  

Progressively grasp general studies and major focus across the span of your collegiate years.

Two: Engage in a series of increasingly challenging and focused “real world” internships, work experience, and practical settings over your four years.  

Progressive exposure to a “real world” application of knowledge is the singular key to becoming exceptionally employable. Employers want to see increasing capacity, motivation, and results.

Three: Engage with a community of relationships where you are mentored, encouraged, held accountable, and growing in and over time.

If you do those three things, you will not only be exceptionally employable after graduation, but you will have multiple options to pursue. 

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Employers are looking for people who can think and communicate well, collaborate with others, and integrate head, heart, and hands.  

Now more than ever, employers need a workforce that carries these qualities and skill sets—an exceptionally employable workforce.

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Dr. John Jackson, Ph.D., is president of William Jessup University. Prior to becoming its sixth president in March 2011, he served as executive director of Thriving Churches International and as a senior leader of Bayside Church, Granite Bay, Calif. He is the founding pastor of LifePoint Church in Minden, Nevada, and previously was the executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest (now Transformation Ministries), where he was responsible to serve more than 270 churches in four western states. He also served as senior pastor and in several staff roles at First Baptist Church of Oxnard and as youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Buena Park. Dr. Jackson earned both his Ph.D. and M.A. in Educational Administration and Organizational Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara; his M.A. in Theology (Christian Formation and Discipleship) at Fuller Theological Seminary; and a B.A. in Religion (Christian History and Thought) from Chapman University.

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