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NOCE Partners with Career Launch to Improve Students’ Job-Seeking Skills Programs

November 24, 2020
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Finding a job is no easy task, especially when you consider just 20 percent of open job positions are posted online and 80 percent of all positions are filled without being advertised to the public at all, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

“Our students were completing certificates in their programs and we knew they were capable of working, but they lacked the confidence to reach out to employers—they simply didn’t know how,” explains the North Orange Continuing Education (NOCE) director of career technical education programs, Raine Hambly. “Many of these students struggled with written or professional English, which added to their timidity. They tended to begin and end their job searches online, assuming that all open positions were posted.”

Enter Career Launch, a program designed to address the confidence issue and give job seekers targeted and personalized instruction on landing an internship or job. After a presentation from Career Launch Founder and Director Sean O’Keefe, NOCE launched a pilot program with funds from the Orange County Regional Work-Based Learning and Job Placement Project .

“We saw a need we couldn’t fill. But when we saw what Sean was outlining in terms of building confidence and connections as well as practical skills, we knew it was something that could directly help our students,” says Hambly.

Funded by a regional Strong Workforce Program grant and managed by North Orange Continuing Education (NOCE), the Orange County Regional Work-Based Learning and Job Placement Project is a focused effort to develop and implement a sustainable, regional approach to career services, work-based learning, internships, job placement, and employment engagement activities for students, employers, colleges/schools, and community partners.

“Career Launch will help students tap into that hidden 80 percent job market,” promises O’Keefe. “We partner with colleges to give students the skills they need to launch a search for a job or internship, and we do it by creating a holistic, high-touch experience through each step of our career launch method.”

Tailored specifically for students who lack professional connections in their chosen fields, the program will be offered free to Orange County community college students this spring and can be completed online and on their own time—NOCE students have access to it now.

“It doesn’t matter what field of study you’re in or what your level of education is,” says O’Keefe. “The same formula that helps a student get a job at a big accounting firm will help a student who’s been driving a forklift and now wants to transition to a new field.”

Career Launch was born out of O’Keefe’s own experience twenty years ago as a communications major with a mediocre GPA and no connections in a very competitive industry. Despite this, O’Keefe managed to land two coveted internships by the time he graduated—with the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland A’s—the latter of which resulted in a full-time job.

“I’ll always be grateful to a professor I had who emphasized the value of building relationships from scratch and coached me to be proactive,” says O’Keefe, who now teaches business communication at Santa Clara University, where he focuses on pragmatic skills such as networking, business writing, presentation, and developing a personal brand.

Building on his own background as well as his years of teaching and coaching job search skills to students, and fueled by a grant from Santa Clara University, O’Keefe founded Career Launch several years ago to help colleges and universities effectively improve students’ ability to launch internship and job searches.

The Career Launch program is comprised of three parts, explains Denise Mora, special projects coordinator at NOCE’s Career Resource Center.  

“First, students get 28 days of micro learning. That’s about 10 minutes a day of reading or video with practical advice on building relationships with professionals,” says Mora. “An interactive workbook and live group coaching sessions (which are currently conducted via video chat) encourage students and empower them to follow through on their goals.”

Lucina Yamez was just the type of student for whom Career Launch was created. A Los Angeles resident, Lucina was studying quality assurance management at NOCE and searching the internet for a job with little luck.

“I never received a response of any kind. Nothing,” says Lucina. So, when she saw a notice for Career Launch posted, she was eager to give it a try.

According to Yamez, learning to research a company, getting advice on handling questions during an interview, and practice reaching out to potential employers—all part of the Career Launch curriculum—was game-changing.

“I researched five companies that I wanted to work for, and searched LinkedIn for the right people to contact,” recalls Lucina. “I sent out five emails, and one person responded.”

That initial correspondence resulted in an interview, then another, and finally a job offer with a pharmaceutical company.

Thus far, Career Launch has “graduated” four cohorts of students at NOCE, and the program is on track to be rolled out to students in all nine OC community colleges this spring.

“The coaching sessions were especially helpful,” says Lucina. “Each student would be asked about their progress over the past few days, which helped make them accountable for initiating a certain number of contacts with employers. The coach answered questions and then gave advice to each person on next steps. If a video interview was coming up, for example, he or she would advise us on how to look at the camera, how to handle the pressure of multiple interviews, and how to follow up afterward.”

Students also receive the kind of practical tips that are generally not covered in classes, such as creating a professional email signature and how and when to make small talk.

Thus far, 96 percent of program participants report significant gains in self-confidence related to career readiness, while 91 percent say they have improved their ability to network and maintain potential or current employer relationships, according to Career Launch student evaluations.

“We’ve noticed they have a broader understanding of the job search and how to go about it. They understand what stepping out of their comfort zones and reaching out to employers can lead to and they have more confidence about doing that,” says Hambly.

“Basically,” says Yamez, “I learned to be more aggressive and professional in my search, and it worked!”

To learn more about Career Launch and the many educational opportunities offered by NOCE, visit FutureBUILT.org and click on the NOCE logo.