In 2022, two large public universities, the University of Cape Coast (UCC) and the Accra Technical University (ATU), adopted a student-driven peer-coaching model to expand their career services outreach to more students within their respective institutions.
“We realized that most of the models available for career services development were tailored to the needs of smaller universities,” shared Dr. Edward Amarteifio, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Small Enterprise Development, University of Cape Coast. “There was a need to design a model that would work for larger universities like UCC, which has a student population of about 70,000.”
The career peer coaching model they adopted leverages student-to-student relationships to extend and scale career guidance services that otherwise, proved difficult to deliver effectively for large institutions. As an extension of the Career Services office, the program is led by student coaches called Career Peer Coaches (CPC) or Career Peer Advisors (CPA), who provide services including CV and cover letter writing and editing, and interview prep to students who otherwise may not proactively seek help from the career services office. They also serve as liaisons in communicating career programs such as workshops for increased participation
“Our CPAs are a driving force for our Career Services office,” shared Najeeb Mohammed Ibrahim, Assistant Director of Career Services at Ashesi University, where the CPA program is integral to the institution’s Career Services unit. “Aside from acting as an extension of our office, providing low-level career guidance to other students, they support us in gauging the pulse of our student body and serve as a feedback loop in determining what works for students.”
Regardless of the institution’s size, the CPA program allows institutions to expand the reach of their career services offices. Typically open to graduate and undergraduate students, candidates for the CPA program are selected based on coachability, good leadership skills, and other criteria set by the respective institutions. The career service departments may offer incentives to encourage promising candidates to sign up for the program, including stipends, mentorship and training, direct access to career service personnel, and job-shadowing opportunities. At Ashesi, coaches receive a stipend, access to training on group dynamics, mentorship, and job shadowing opportunities. At UCC, CPAs get direct exposure to employers through highlighted placements in CV directories and access to job opportunities and internships. Career service units can be as creative as possible by providing rewards for students who sign up.
“By the time a CPA has completed their tenure with us, they will have additional insight into themselves and are self-aware of their career path,” shared Najeeb.
To ensure a successful program, tailored and practical training is essential. When students express interest in the role, they receive extensive training to equip them to become CPAs. The coaches undergo a thorough selection process, followed by a comprehensive training program. While the Career Services office within each school has its rubrics and guidelines for selection, students who become successful coaches typically demonstrate excellent time management skills, an aptitude for executing assignments effectively and efficiently, and a sense of leadership and service. They should also be proactive and curious and demonstrate a spirit of continuous learning.
In their role, and based on their experience, CPAs are expected to execute several tasks, including reviewing CVs and cover letters, providing mock interview assistance, and internship search help under close monitoring and supervision of the career office.
“While the coaches generally provide support services to their peers, it ends up being a mutually beneficial experience,” shared Dr Edward Amarteifio, who also leads the Education Collaborative’s Systems Change Program, Entrepreneurship at UCC. “Students evaluate the coaches and vice versa. And at the onset, we try to be present in meetings to provide guided feedback. Eventually, with time, they build the skill; they can work more independently and report to us when needed.”
Depending on the institution’s size, the career services office needs to develop a way to monitor progress and provide feedback. Larger-sized institutions can hold group feedback sessions, while at smaller-sized institutions, one-on-one feedback, where feasible, is helpful to ensure the service CPAs offer to their fellow students is at a high level.
While it’s a worthwhile program, setting up a career peer coaching program is not without challenges for every institution. In some cases, institutions may be unable to provide attractive enough incentives to coaches. Coaches might also be unable to make adequate time for the program from their studies and college life. In other cases, the number of CPAs cannot administer the program correctly. Nevertheless, the CPA program can be an invaluable asset for institutions when executed effectively.
“While executing the coaching program requires a good amount of work, in the end, it pays off in helping to reach more and more students who would otherwise not come to the career office,” shared Madam Salamatu Mahamah Braimah, Accra Technical University. “If not all, most institutions should adopt the Career Peer Coaching System.”
If you’re considering setting up career peer coaching for your institution, here’s a checklist for developing an effective one:
- Define the goals of your career peer coaching program and how they fit into your overall strategy.
- Determine how many peer coaches you need within the pilot year based on how many students you expect to reach
- Outline CPA roles and responsibilities to track progress and effectively monitor outcomes.
- Develop a standard rubric to select, monitor, and continuously evaluate the jobs and roles of CPAs
- Design a training schedule, train CPAs, and assign clear roles and responsibilities.
- Develop a feedback loop between students and the CPAs to improve overall programming and effectiveness in their role.
- Institutional management buy-in is crucial to success, so be sure to rope in your leadership team from the get-go.
- Identify and leverage systems and resources within the university to make it possible, e.g., computer labs and training rooms for the program.
- While the program is beneficial, it can be tasking. So make sure you hire students who can balance with extracurricular activities.
- It should not be an academic program but an experiential one
- If resources are available, draw a CPA budget to determine training costs and stipends for CPAs where applicable. Be sure to think about sustainability in designing a budget. It is still possible to run the program if your institution does not allocate funds finances set aside for this initiative. It can still be run as a volunteer program. In several cases, students have welcomed the opportunity to build skills and be responsible for leading and supporting their teammates.
- Ask for support, take your time, pace yourself, and listen to the students. This empowers them to bring their input and creativity to the program.
For more information about the CPA program, or to learn more about other how your institution can benefit from programs at The Education Collaborative, email email@example.com
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