Business leaders boost UCCS Career Coaches Program

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As director of the Career Center at UCCS, Bev Kratzer spends most of her time assisting students in their search for employment following graduation. She knows that hosting job fairs is important, but also realizes the importance of the college’s Career Coaches Program, which connects students with local community leaders.

“It’s nerve-wracking for a lot of students to approach a professional, but that is the way you start building your own confidence and ability,” Kratzer said.

Scott Pann is president of Middle Market Entrepreneurs, a group of local professionals who are mentoring UCCS students through the Career Coaches Program.

“These are individuals who’ve nearly completed their academic career and are ready to move into their professional career,” said Pann, who is a UCCS graduate. “Our goal is to help prepare them for that transition and to introduce them to top professionals in the community who are in their career interest.”

Pann, a senior vice president of UBS Financial Services, knows that jumping from a college campus to the workforce isn’t easy.

“When they make that transition from their academic career to their professional career, they’re all really, really nervous,” he said. “I see that because I sit with them almost every single week and we spend hours together. I basically tell them I’ll walk the path with them and try to help them be better. My goal, when they’re in a meeting with an employer, is to make them a rock star, to make them really shine.

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“What do I get out of it? I get the satisfaction of knowing I’m giving back to my profession, to the community. One of our goals is to keep these young, bright minds in our community and not have them go some place else after college.”

Kratzer said most employers who recruit on the UCCS campus are local companies.

“Even if the companies are large firms with headquarters elsewhere, most all of them are recruiting for their local office,” she wrote in an email. “I don’t really have Denver companies recruit here, with the exception of some computer science firms and maybe some business development firms, so the students don’t have a lot of exposure to outside companies. And, in fact, when larger firms without specific ties to Colorado Springs come to campus to recruit, they don’t have a lot of interest from the students because the students primarily want to stay here to live and work.”

Kratzer said UCCS is host to formal career fairs, networking events and information sessions, to allow students an opportunity to get to know potential employers. The school also advertises internships and jobs through an online job board.

While companies want prospective employees to have specific job skills, soft skills are also important. Kratzer said those include leadership, teamwork, communication, flexibility, adaptability, problem solving and critical thinking.

“All of those things we sometimes take for granted because we’re so concerned with the tangible skills that we forget about the other things it takes to be a successful member of a business or a team,” she said. “But the soft skills are showing up as important components for employers more and more all of the time. Some of it is generationally driven — Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are doing the hiring but they’re hiring Millennials — and those workplace values are really different. Some of it has to do with what is happening nationwide all over the country — our young people have a hard time understanding that everything doesn’t always go according to their plan but that doesn’t mean the end of the world. It’s why adaptability and problem-solving skills become so important to employers, so they don’t have to teach resilience.”

Pann and his MME associates — he said that other board members are also part of the UCCS Career Coaches Program — help students prepare for life after college. They do that, in part, by setting up informational interviews where the students can ask questions of local professionals.

“An informational interview is designed to help the student explore different career opportunities,” Pann said. “A finance major usually thinks they need to go into finance. Well, my job is to help expand their vision as to what they can do with their career. So I will introduce them to financial advisors, to CEOs and CFOs of companies, different business owners, consultants and maybe the head of a financial analyst team. Usually after they’re done with 10 or 12 interviews, they’ll have a much clearer understanding of the direction they want to go with their career.”

Pann said the relationship with UCCS’ program also benefits the local business community.

“Middle Market Entrepreneurs sponsors several of the students and we mix it up and have some of them at each breakfast [panel discussion on business-related topics],” he said. “Our goal is to introduce the students and the business community to each other, and to make a stronger tie of the business to UCCS. So when an employer has a new position, they’ll think of the individuals they know in the Career Coaching Program at UCCS instead of recruiting someone from Denver.”