As a rising college senior, I was enormously confident about my odds at finding employment following graduation. Yes, I knew it was a tough economy and that unemployment was high, but I had good grades, plenty of relevant experience, and strong references -- I figured I was going to be just fine.
I was wrong.
Hundreds of resumes and cover letters later, April had rolled around and I was facing a black hole of uncertainty. I had received countless rejection letters from companies telling me I needed more experience or wasn't qualified enough. I understood where they were coming from -- but how on earth was I going to get experience if I was blocked from opportunities, because I lacked experience? It was a quandary I had trouble accepting.
Luckily, the winds of fortune changed course and blew my direction. I applied for and was ultimately offered a job as a paralegal for the U.S. Department of Justice. The position was exactly what I had been searching for all those months: geared at recent college grads who wanted to get real-world experience before eventually returning to graduate school.
The position has a four-year limit, so it is by no means a career path, but instead a learning opportunity and a means to gain relevant work experience. You can't imagine how relieved I was when my interviewer informed me that they didn't expect me to have any skills upon arrival -- that the program was designed to take bright and motivated students and teach them how to work in the legal sector.
Although I haven't been working long, I already can appreciate just how valuable this opportunity is. I'm handed real responsibilities and am able to make significant contributions to the work of the DoJ. While most of my tasks are too basic for the attorneys, they present me with great experiences and the ability to adapt the skills I gained in college to a "real-world" setting. And the attorneys don't have to worry about a burnt-out paralegal support staff -- they are constantly surrounded by bright and energetic employees who are eager to prove themselves. The four-year limit on the program ensures that the pool of paralegals is dynamic and consistently enthusiastic about their work.
What's more, the structure of the program allows for less investment in training resources. While I have completed some generic training led by the DoJ, most of my learning has come from the hands of other paralegals, as I shadow their work. Having recently been a new-hire themselves, they understand what information is valuable and can anticipate what questions I may have about the work and what is expected of me. The revolving nature of the program allows the Department to take a more hands-off approach in training, and ultimately allows fewer resources to be devoted to new-hire training.
While undoubtedly, the federal government is in a unique position to offer such a program, this revolving training program is a unique concept that could bring great value to both public and private sector companies. By creating a pool of new-hires that is constantly rotating, thanks to a program time limit, companies can ensure a consistent support staff without investing too much in training resources.
Furthermore, such a program creates strong networking capabilities. Many new-hires will inevitably leave to go back to school or to a different job, a good experience with the program will render them more likely to support the company further on in their career, either by working for them or by seeking out ways to partner with them or support them indirectly. A positive work experience is something most people will remember for the rest of their lives, and a company could form legions of loyal former employees who can offer valuable professional relationships down the road.
Previous generations tended toward a highly stable career path -- many people stayed with one company for their entire career. However, the times have changed, and my restless generation is looking at a future scattered with 3,4,5 -- maybe more! -- career changes. The growing importance of a graduate degree further renders it less likely that an employee will stay with the company that hired them out of college.
Companies should embrace this new pattern, and focus on creating programs and opportunities that will train recent college grads, without the expectation that they will stay onboard for years to come. Ultimately, society will be better served by having more experienced and well-qualified young professionals in the job market, and companies will benefit by scattering their influence far and wide, leaving a strong impact on developing professionals in their industry.