SAN MARCOS — Business students have a new requirement starting this year at the California State University of San Marcos.
Dr. Jim Hamerly, dean of the College of Business Administration, instituted the business professional development program, which brings soft skills to students. In addition, he recruited 29 C-level executives as mentors and instructors for the students who started the semester on Aug. 27.
At CSUSM, 85 percent of business students are local and remain in the area after graduation, Hamerly said. Additionally, 85 percent work and half of those work full time.
“They are working and paying their way through school,” he said. “They have the best work ethic of any college students I’ve seen because they want to be here and they are working to pay their way through school.”
Because of the requirement and upperclassmen electing to take the class, Jill Laing, CSUSM’s director of student services, said the college is offering 13 sections this fall. Each section is represented by one executive in residence (EIR) plus a course instructor.
With the EIR, they must commit 100 hours per year in both the classroom and volunteering with the students. The two-credit class also gives students one-on-one coaching with an EIR, while the instructor develops the class’ content, according to Laing.
“It helps them create goals that are fluid,” she explained. “They’ll also work with them on some of the basic things like resume writing and mock interviews.”
Although students are given plenty of practical and hard skills through their traditional studies, Hamerly saw a hole, the soft skills. For example, business etiquette at lunch or dinner, resume building, following up after interviews, networking skills, measuring career confidence and many others were missing.
When Hamerly took over as dean, one of his first questions was why the students were not doing better landing jobs. He said the number of students at graduation is “embarrassing low,” and after interviewing graduating students and meeting with the advisory board, Hamerly discovered some startling statistics.
Eighty-five percent of those graduates, when on location for a job interview and asked if there was anything they wanted to tell the interviewer, said nothing. In addition, 85 percent never followed up, even with a thank you note.
Hamerly realized the students, through no fault of their own, did not possess professional and soft skills, the traits needed to stand out during an interview and receive a job offer.
“When I talk about professional skills, I mean, do you know how to break into a conversation?” Hamerly rhetorically asked. “Do you know how to have a business meal? These are really simple things our students simply don’t have.”
Hamerly said he relates to many of the CSUSM student body, as he was a first-generation college student and also did not have those soft skills. Fifty-five percent of CSUSM students are first generation and come from blue-collar and low-income backgrounds, as Hamerly did growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and ‘60s.
The EIRs have been recruited as instructors. They will be spending about 10 hours per week coaching the students, Laing said.
“It doesn’t matter what your background is or who you are, everybody can continue the soft skill development,” Laing said. “Eighty percent of our students say that the program and EIR have contributed to their career confidence level and what direction they are going to go.”
The class, meanwhile, is required for every business student and conducted during their sophomore year. Of course, this year’s crop of juniors and seniors are not required the class.
Hamerly started the business professional development program two years ago as a pilot program with eight instructors. Last year it grew to 15 C-level executives and this year is the first year it is required for credit.
“Things like business ethics, business etiquette, how to do career exploration and how to be an effective communicator,” Hamerly explained. “They will have done a lot of instruments and a psychological profile of what are their strengths and weaknesses, and we will actually connect them with a couple disciplines that we think are ideal jobs for them.”