SAGE Musings: Preparing Students for the Geoscience Workforce

Carol Ormand, SERC, Carleton College
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published Nov 28, 2016

Today's topic is preparing students for the geoscience workforce. But what does that actually mean? Preparing students for the workforce in Texas is different from preparing students for the workforce in Oregon or Florida. And preparing students to join the workforce with an Associate's degree is different from laying the groundwork for students to join the workforce after they earn a Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctoral degree.

Recognizing the breadth of what falls into this category, the SAGE 2YC website nonetheless has valuable resources for facilitating students' professional pathways: This website includes links to information about what geoscientists do, what degrees lead to what kinds of career options, and how to integrate career or workforce preparation into your geoscience program.

Browsing through the links from those SAGE 2YC resources, a couple of things caught my attention. One, a page on the InTeGrate website that frames workforce competencies in terms of tiers of skill sets. Foundational competencies are those that would be valuable in any career -- professionalism, communication skills, analytical thinking, teamwork, etc. Technical competencies are specific to a particular industry. This would include geoscience knowledge, skills such as GIS, and so on. You can read more about that here: I find this to be a very useful framework.

Related to this, I saw a diagram on a page in the American Geosciences Institute website that shows that students are, in general, very well prepared (perhaps even over-prepared) on technical skills, but significantly underprepared on non-technical skills. Here's the page with that diagram: Caveat: The diagram is based on data about Master's students, not 2YC students.

Taken together, these two pages got me thinking about a couple of questions, which I pose to you:

  1. As you help to prepare your students for their future careers - whether with an Associates degree or with additional degrees - what balance do you aim for between developing their non-technical skills and their technical, geoscience-specific skills?
  2. How explicit are you, with your students, about how your course assignments and activities are designed to help them (your students) develop career-related competencies, either within the geosciences or more broadly?

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