Student employees are an irreplaceable asset to most student affairs offices. Most of us rely on our student employees to do menial tasks like answering our phones, greeting customers, and filing, which allows us time to work on more in-depth responsibilities. We definitely notice the days when they don’t come in.
Yet, student employees work in our offices for a purpose. They are there to learn new skills, gain on-the-job experience, and build their résumés. It does take a significant amount of time out of our day to help build these skills. However, investing that small amount of time to train can end up saving your office hours of lost productivity.
It’s possible that the office I work in is an unusual anomaly, but out of the 20 full-time staff in our building, 12 of them began their careers in higher education as student employees. The majority worked as student workers in our office and worked their way up, but others gained experience in other offices which taught them the skills they needed to be successful in their current positions. There is a reason they’ve stuck around—my predecessors and I took the time to train them well and make them feel like part of a team.
Nearly a year ago, the supervisors in our building got together and decided that there were some similar problems with student employees across the board and that we wanted to do something to help them become better employees and better people. We scheduled a weekly student employee training session every Friday morning to help disseminate information and share experiences with our student workers.
At first, the topics were general—updates on any changes within each department, customer service skills training, and training on new technology within the office. Over the past year, however, our training has evolved—it is now partially training and partially team-building.
Throughout the week, the other supervisors and I take notes on any issues we notice coming up repeatedly with our student employees. We discuss how we can best train our student employees to improve on the issues we’re seeing and try to make the training as interactive and fun as possible.
Next, we search through the plethora of team-building activities online and in team-building books to find a creative way to help the team learn how to work better together. The goal is to make them think they’re only playing a game, but the truth is that they’re connecting with each other and building work relationships.
When we first began our training sessions, the students were not engaged. They took notes on the topics, but didn’t seem interested in what they were learning. As we began integrating team-building activities into the sessions, they arrived early to the meetings, their eyes filled with excitement about what activity we would be doing that week.
I’m sure my boss thinks it’s strange when he walks by the training room and sees a group of student employees making a tangled web out of a ball of yarn, but I know at the end of the day they’ve subconsciously learned a lesson—that it takes everyone holding their part of the string to make the web work. If one person lets go, the web is ruined. More importantly, they’re having fun while they’re learning.
Over the past few months we’ve noticed positive changes in our little group of student workers. When one of them is struggling with a task, another will step in to explain an easier way to do it. Before, a struggling student worker would seek help from a supervisor or make their best guess, resulting in time spent cleaning up messes later.
When they come in to work they greet each other with a cheerful, “Good morning!” And when they talk about the training sessions, their eyes light up and they say things like, “Remember the time we played that game about…”
Yes, it takes time every week to come up with these topics and to find new, creative ways to elicit learning in a work environment. In the end, however, we have saved time by giving them the initiative and knowledge that allows them to stand on each other’s shoulders or at each other’s sides to seek success. More importantly, we are providing them with a priceless skill—an excitement to learn.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Tyler Miller on Student Development Theories, Part I