Bulletin of Dental Education

Carl Sandburg College’s Employability Skills Academy Prepares Students

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Dressed in business attire a few weeks before graduating, students in Carl Sandburg College’s Dental Hygiene Program in Galesburg, IL, are peppered with questions about their strengths and weaknesses, why they chose this profession and what makes them a good fit in the workplace.

But these are no ordinary job interviews. The students are participating in mock interviews that are part of Sandburg’s Employability Skills Academy (ESA), a soft-skills training program devoted to helping students gain and retain employment once they graduate.

At an advisory board meeting for Sandburg’s Dental Hygiene Program a few years ago, one dentist noted the need to train incoming hygienists on office etiquette and professionalism. That sparked the idea for the ESA to be included as an option for students.

“We have a lot of dentists now that look for that,” says Stacy Kosier, M.Ed., Coordinator of the dental hygiene program. “I've had some call and actually tell me that they can tell a difference in our students who have graduated from that program and that they do look for that on their resume.”

The 16-hour program is led by Tracy Engstrom, the College’s Coordinator of Career Development. Students are schooled on resumes, cover letters and customer service while also evaluating their skills in communication, listening, teamwork, problem-solving and leadership. After completing the program—which starts during their second semester in the dental hygiene program and runs through the end of their fourth and final semester—students receive a certificate they can include in their portfolios as well as a badge for their resumes.

Ms. Engstrom said it’s not uncommon for students to start the ESA wondering why they should be there or thinking it’s a waste of time. By the end of the last session, they’ve often made a “180”, saying they found the experience enjoyable, interactive and informative.

“They knew they had the technical skills to do the job. They had the knowledge to do the job. But they were lacking the soft skills, those subtle things employers are looking for,” Ms. Engstrom said. “Employers, knowing this program is occurring on this campus, are starting to look for that certificate of completion, which is pretty awesome.”

Because Carl Sandburg College has an accredited dental hygiene program, it couldn’t add or remove courses from its curriculum to make room for the ESA, so students are not required to participate. However, many do because it could mean the difference between a classmate getting a job and them not getting a job.

“That is one question I always throw out to them,” Ms. Engstrom said. “You’ve been to school together. You’ve forged these friendships. You’re all going to have the same degree. What makes you stand out from your peers?”

Vanessa Gibbs, a second-year student in the program, said the ESA has been more in-depth and valuable than she anticipated. She’s been surprised to learn how important body language and facial expressions are, and she was fascinated to learn how much people can remember in seven seconds. Ms. Gibbs said she believes the experience will give her a leg up on other job candidates once she graduates, and she’s even applied some of the things she’s learned to the jobs she currently has while attending Carl Sandburg College, sharing lessons with co-workers and family members.

“This will help me in the future and has already helped me,” Ms. Gibbs says. “I have learned to be more empathetic to my patients, really listen and understand and try to build a rapport with my patients. We want our patients to come back, and if I can show I am a great employee, employers will love to have me on their team as an asset.”

The program is highlighted at the end with students taking part in a mock job interview with a college employee who evaluates them on their presentation, posture, body language and responses. When the interview is over, the employee gives the student immediate feedback, with Ms. Kosier and Ms. Engstrom following up as well.

“Some have never had a job interview, and this is their first one,” Ms. Kosier says. “It's great that they can sit down, do that and then they get feedback. Then they know then what to fix before the real thing.”

Courtesy of Aaron Frey, Public Relations Specialist, Carl Sandburg College.

Published on August 10, 2022

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