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Get to Know HFC: Chad Austin, Career Services

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Headshot of Chad Austin

This story is one in a series about HFC employees. If you would like to nominate yourself or a colleague to be featured in this series, email with the person's name and a short statement about why you are nominating them.

This article is provided courtesy of the Michigan Career Educator and Employer Alliance (MCEEA), which brings together employers, colleges, and universities.

Our interviewee is Chad Austin – Career Services Officer at HFC. Chad began his tenure at Henry Ford College in the summer of 2009.

Joe Bamberger (interviewer): What brought you to HFC?

Chad Austin: Well, I had done three years at the Wayne State School of Business and their career planning and placement office. And a friend of the family mentioned that Henry Ford was looking to hire a new Career Services Officer, at the time was called a Job Placement Officer, and speaking with her about Henry Ford college, and the unique challenges that were there, as well as the unique opportunities, sounded like a dream come true kind of job for me. So, I submitted the resume and was lucky enough to get offered a chance to come on campus, had a chance to talk with some students, and then ultimately, when I got the job, I just found it was an amazing organization, amazing school, and I've been there ever since. No regrets there. It's been wonderful.

Tell us about your role on Henry Ford's campus?

Austin: Well, in Career Services, we really focus on three things, we call it the EPC. We help them Explore, we help them Prepare, and we help them Connect.

So, exploration, we work in tandem with the counseling office to make sure that students really know what it means to select a program of study and what job opportunities await them, whether it's a good fit, things like that, the job market, all those things go into exploration, we really want students when they come here, to not just take classes and hope that they stumble into a great fit for themselves. We want to actively work to help them get there. The exploration part of what we do is huge.

Preparation side is a lot of different things. But really, what it boils down to is all of the things that you do when you're ready to transition from a school environment to a professional environment. You have to get your resume together, you have to get your cover letter together, how to interview, how to dress. All that preparation - we try and give them cooperative education experiences, which is a chance to work in the field, and get college credit. All that falls into the preparation category. There's a lot more to it than that. But ultimately, it comes down to getting students ready to transition from college to a professional environment.

And then connect, that's really what we try and do for our students every single day. We try and connect them with employers in Southeast Michigan. Dearborn is a vibrant community. It's a very involved community. And we have a lot of local employers, but we have students that are looking for jobs all throughout Michigan, all throughout the United States. And we try and connect them with employers that can help them transition into those great opportunities. We work hard to bring jobs to campus, employers to campus, connect them face to face, you know, at least before the pandemic. Now we do it virtually. But the goal is always the same, it's to give students that chance to network directly with employers.

What would you say your favorite part of your job is?

Austin: There are a lot of things that I enjoy. I enjoy the times when you meet a student that doesn't seem to know where they want to go, and you give them some advice that seems to send them off in an interesting or satisfactory direction for them. The favorites for me are always when a student comes back and says, “Hey, you know, you helped me with this, you helped me with that, and I can't believe the difference it made in my job outlook.” I've had students come back and say, “I got the job” and give me a big hug. Other ones saying, “I didn't realize how marketable I was until we talked.” The ones that you come in, and you work with throughout the entire process, and you see them blossoming, and then they turn around and they go out and they get that kick butt job that they've been excited for since day one, that is extremely rewarding.

If an employer doesn't have a relationship with Henry Ford, what's your sales pitch? Why consider Henry Ford students?

Austin: Number one is the fact that we just have so many great programs. A lot of times people get fixated on the one or two things that they hear about Henry Ford, not realizing that we have a really broad spectrum of programs that can help students in so many different ways. So, if an employer comes in, you might not just have to hire for health careers, you might need office support, you might need a technical area, you might need something in your physical plant. All that can be satisfied by talking to some of the great students that we have. There are so many different programs there.

Then the other thing I'd say is - Dearborn is a unique and exciting community and the students that come to Henry Ford, come from Dearborn, they come from outside of Dearborn as well. We draw from a very large, broad section of Southeast Michigan. You're going to get the diversity; you're going to get unique students that have unique perspectives and unique lives. I don't think we're a cookie cutter college by any stretch. The fact that you can come here and talk with students from so many different backgrounds and have so many different perspectives. If you're looking for a chance to kind of break out of the norm, and meet some really, interesting students and alumni. I think Henry Ford is a great place to start doing that.

With your background in larger state schools with Wayne State and then in the community college side of things with Henry Ford, what do you see as the biggest differences when it comes to career readiness and Career Connection?

Austin: I think it comes down to preparation. When you talk about a four-year school, you're talking about students that come in as freshmen and have four years to begin that transitional process to becoming able, young professionals. From freshman year to senior year, there's a tremendous amount of growth there. But with Henry Ford College, because our two-year programs have a quick turnaround for those that are extremely motivated, you get students that come in and in two years from now, they need to be able to go out and get a job. Our preparation time is accelerated, but we also have students that are in all different stages of their lives, all different stages of their education, some take longer, some take summer classes and move through quickly. Others take a two-year program, and it might take them three years. But ultimately, the goal is to get them ready. We've got a new batch, we got to get them ready, we've only got a two-year window to get them as prepared as possible. That's a big part of it.

I also say that, when Henry Ford College took Community out of its name, a couple of years ago, the one thing we wanted to make clear to everyone is that community is still a huge part of what we do. We are there for the community, and we try and serve community needs. And the students that come through need to reflect that, and I think that they do, I think we've instilled a strong sense of pride in being a member of Henry Ford College. Our alums still come back as recruiters and say, “Hey, I went here, too.” That's a wonderful feeling. That's really exciting for us.

When you look at the current population of students, is there a part in the job search or career readiness piece of things that they struggle with the most?

Austin: That's a great question. I would say probably the formality of the job search process, writing a formal email, knowing how to address people, and it's not just, “Hey, I sent you my resume, hope I get the job.” It's – “Dear Mr. Austin, thank you very much for taking the time to speaking with me today.” Because of the instantaneous nature of communication these days, you can fire off a text, you can fire off a Tweet or Facebook post or Tik Tok or whatever, the communication happens fast. That's a good thing for a lot of reasons, but sometimes the students struggle with understanding that in the job search process, there is a formality to it, it might take a little bit longer, but you have to think about everything that you're putting out there and put it in a professional vernacular, because the interview doesn't start when you sit down and start answering the questions. The interview starts when you're connecting with the employer, what you're sending out there, what you're putting out about yourself. So, we work with students on that the formality, the dressing appropriately, the how to shake hands. We're trying to get that formality injected into everything that we do with the students.

Is there an event on campus that you enjoy the most?

Austin: There's a couple of them. I swear I'm not trying to just promote everything, but I can think of a couple that always kind of speak to me. Number one is our Career Expo. That's the big one we do every fall. It has trended up over the last couple years, we're now over 100 employers on campus, looking to recruit students face to face. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for students to network directly with employers, and we've got a lot of positive feedback about that. It's always a work in progress, and every year it gets better. I don't know what it'll look like going forward. But that's always been a big one.

Another one of the events that started out small, that's become a departmental favorite, is the IT speed networking, and it's kind of like speed dating, but it's IT students are paired up with IT employers and they do mock interviews, but it's not a half hour mock interview, it's a five-minute interview. Can you sit down? Can you engage with someone for five minutes, and get your point across about who you are and what you have to offer? The employers that recruit with us have been great about coming to campus, doing that sort of networking and understanding that while speed networking may not be all that common, it's extremely helpful for the students to have 5, 6, or 7 mini sessions, where they get that face to face with a different employer, and they have to sell themselves and they have to figure out how to connect and interact professionally. That's become one of our favorite events. There are so many others. I mean, I could go on and on, we have events where we give students discounts on suits at the local JC Penney, so many others that have just been great. You know, mock interviews, other job fairs, the nursing job fair. I list all these and now that I think about it, they're all the face to face, where we get to really either help students get jobs or give them some direct coaching that leads to a more professional mindset down the road. Those are those are always my favorite, those are big.

Is there a career pathway on campus, certificate, or degree you struggle with the most to find career connections?

Austin: There are so many of our programs that are designed to be set up to transition to a four-year college. So, if you go into pre-engineering, you're not going to be a ready to be an engineer after two years of taking pre-engineering courses, you're going to a four-year college to continue that. Some programs don't need career services as much because they transition to a four-year college, although we're always willing to help them no matter what. One of the ones that I always think is hilarious is anytime I see an electrical technology student come to me, I say, “what are you doing wrong?” because generally they are snapped up. I feel like a third of the way through the program, you've got job offers waiting for you. So, I don't really see a lot of employers directly with those because they reach out to the faculty and the students have connections through their previous employment. If they get that certification, they're gone. Very rarely do they come to me and say, “hey, I haven't found a job yet.” Generally, they're snapped up right away. So, maybe electrical tech, that might be one that just they're gone before I ever deal with them, I guess would be a fair assessment.

Do you have a least favorite part of your job?

Austin: I've had to have some tough conversations with students, and that is never easy to either try and correct behavior or confront inappropriate behavior. I think also, there are times when a student, due to family pressure, or what's expected of them culturally, can't pursue a program that might be their true passion. One of the things I always try and do is be supportive and let them know that whatever path they choose, we're here to help them. But that's never easy. Having a tough conversation with a student and admitting to them that I don't know if what they picked is going to be a career path that's going to be easy for them. Some students need to have a little bit more guidance than others. Some of them seek that out, and others don't want to hear it, and that's tough, and that's not fun.

Students come to me after they've been fired from a job they've had for 25-30 years, and they are starting over. They say, “hey, what's the magic bullet? How can I make sure this never happens again?” And I've never found a satisfactory answer to that. I try and give them as many resources as possible, try and be a shoulder to cry on, but at the same time there's a lot of unknown factors that you just can't control and that can be very tough.

If someone is considering a career in career services, what advice would you give them?

Austin: That's a great question. A little bit of a background: I never left college. I've always worked for colleges, so the college environment for me has always been so satisfying. I think the reason why Career Services resonated with me very quickly, was because of the complete lack of guidance that I received when I was in college, a long time ago. Not because it wasn't there for me, I just I didn't think to seek it out. I thought I knew what I was doing. And I got all the way to my senior year and realized the path I had chosen for myself was not a good fit through no fault of anybody other than my own for not using those resources. I wish somebody at career services would have been able to say, “Chad, maybe this isn't the best fit for you.” I was lucky I led myself in a different direction, it worked out and I very much enjoy the path I'm on now.

If you want to work in career services, you have to be willing to accept that no two days are going to be exactly alike. There are going to be victories and failures, and those are tough. And then also you have to, I mean it sounds cliche, you've got to like helping students, because the biggest difference between, what I would say, high school and college is the students come in because they want to come in. They need help, because they're asking for it, they want that. There's that need there. That doesn't mean that they're polished, that doesn't mean they know what to ask, or how to get to where they need to go. They know they need help, but they may not know how. So being willing to help students have a lot of similar conversations, but each one's unique. It can be trying. There are days when I'm tired at the end of the day, because you know, it's a lot a lot of emotional investment. But the successes make it all worthwhile. You have to shrug off the bad days and keep moving forward.

How long have you been involved with MCEEA?

Austin: I've been working with MCEEA pretty much since I started at Henry Ford college. Really the first couple years was just “let me just go see what this conference is all about?” What a wonderful group of people that really know their stuff. It's very much a collegial atmosphere. Everyone shares ideas and thoughts and works with employers. I've really enjoyed my time, being just a guy sitting in the crowd, soaking up all the great information from all the folks. Yeah, it's been wonderful.

Do you have a favorite event or program you've attended?

Austin: Oh, it's got to be the conference. I mean, you want to talk about the sharing of ideas, and you go to these sessions thinking, “well, what can these two ladies from so and so college teach me,” and then at the end, you're like, going up to them and asking “can you send me that PowerPoint? Can you send me that handout?” And you're just in awe of the awesome stuff that they're doing. I go with some of my colleagues from Henry Ford. And we just look at each other and say, “yeah, we're ripping that off, for sure.” I mean, I'm not even going to try and present it as this new idea. I go back to my boss says, “hey, I got this great idea, I want to steal from Central Michigan, they're doing something amazing, I got to do that.” So, it really is the conference, because there's so many great ideas. There's such a friendly atmosphere, there's so much collaboration. Quite honestly, I enjoy the lunches and the sitting around between sessions shooting the breeze with people, I get great ideas from that, too. I come back with his notebook filled with ideas. Some things work and some things don't, but it's such a fun and restorative experience, because to know that many people are going through what you're going through, and the challenges that they're facing, are the same that you're facing, and you're not alone. Everyone's going through the same issues. Very restorative for your energy level.

If MCEEA had unlimited time and funding, what would you like to see added to programming? What's missing? What can be improved on?

Austin: I certainly don't fault anyone in this year, we need to do a blitz of employers. If there's a central catching point for all these great jobs and everything, MCEEA should be it. We should have employers fighting for the spots to come to our conference. Fighting for the chance to come to these quarterly meetings and talk about what they have to offer. Because the MCEEA folks, we are the keepers of the talent. We've got this huge pot of students at every college that can fit every possible need, and employers should be fighting for the chance to work with us. You can't get a better connecting point to all these different resources than MCEEA. So, I'd love to see an employer Blitz 2022, where we bring in hundreds of new employers big and small. It doesn't have to be a big company coming in with their 50, 100, 200 jobs. It can be a small accounting firm that might have three or four needs, but we've got the talent. Couldn't ask for a better touch point than MCEEA for something like that.

Final thoughts?

Austin: I'm not going to name drop a bunch of MCEEA presidents, but I will say that we have been very lucky in the stewardship of MCEEA, that we've had some great organizational leadership. I have the most profound respect for all the ones that came before. And I know that it's going to be, despite all the different, difficult challenges that this year had, I really am excited about what MCEEA can do. I'm going to be a member of the conference committee, we're going to get this thing going at some point in some way, shape or form. I hope everybody sticks around because it should be a good one.