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Students prepare to be ‘workforce ready’ in new partnership

SDSU students and staff along with Brookings community leaders discuss being workforce ready.
SDSU students and staff along with Brookings community leaders discuss preparing for life beyond college during the Work Ready Bootcamp.

South Dakota State University students are participating in a new program designed to prepare them for their careers while marketing the Brookings community as a place to live and work beyond graduation. 

The SDSU Office of Career Development and the Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce developed a free, four-session “Work Ready Bootcamp” to provide real-world training and encourage SDSU students to pursue careers in the Brookings community. 

A survey of SDSU students conducted by the Brookings Chamber indicated 20.9% of respondents would like to stay in Brookings following their graduation, but 9.3% of students planned to stay. 

“Our goal with this program was to help these students get connected with local businesses to hopefully see an increase in that planning-to-stay percentage,” Casey Stickland, outreach coordinator for the Brookings Chamber, said. 

Four topics

The Work Ready Bootcamp covered four main topics including career preparation, professional communication, financial literacy and offerings in the Brookings community. 

The program was designed around feedback from Brookings-area businesses on what they are looking for out of new graduates including academic and professional skills, according to Kelsey Doom, executive director and CEO of the Brookings Chamber. 

“Many students on campus learn this kind of information in classes, with student organizations, perhaps in Greek life, but it is important to hear these topics reiterated by people in our community who are engaging with these same topics daily,” Kevin Fullerton, SDSU director of career development, said. 

During each session, the 12 participants had the opportunity to hear from and network with Brookings business and industry leaders. Additional SDSU and Chamber staff assisted in the facilitation and programming. The program’s two-hour sessions started on Feb. 26 and conclude March 25. 

“The Work Ready Bootcamp program serves as a testament to the shared commitment of SDSU leadership, local businesses and the community to invest in the professional development and success of our learners,” Doom said. 

Speakers from Brookings-area businesses included representatives from Mills Property Management, SDSU Alumni Association, Burlage Peterson Auctioneers and Realtors, Guaranteed Rate, Dakotaland Federal Credit Union, Best Choice Real Estate, Legacy Financial Partners, Downtown Brookings, Visit Brookings, Brookings Area United Way and the City of Brookings Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. 

Students who attend all the sessions will be invited to join in the chamber’s annual Taste of Brookings celebration on April 4. 

Town-and-gown partners

This partnership is the product of the chamber’s desire to keep SDSU students in the Brookings community and to continue to build its workforce. SDSU’s Office of Career Development seeks to provide resources to students as they prepare for their future careers. 

“All of us benefit from participating,” Fullerton said. “Students are hopefully learning that the Brookings Chamber and community members are very interested in them staying in town after graduation.” 

The Work Ready Bootcamp serves as an additional offering to the many programs and services the Office of Career Development provides. The office also hosts large group events such as career fairs and classroom workshops as well as individual guidance and training on topics such as resume writing, interview preparation and career exploration. 

“Their commitment to ensuring the success of their students beyond the classroom was inspiring, and their readiness to partner with us to make things happen was so valuable,” Doom said. 

Student feedback

Jakob Burckhard is a concreate industry management student who grew up in the Brookings area and joined the Work Ready Bootcamp to better prepare him for his career. 

“I think that it was a great learning opportunity for moving forward past college and into the work environment,” Burckhard said. “I love when we are able to get experts who are very knowledgeable individuals in an industry or on a topic, and they are able to come in and share their knowledge.” 

Burckhard said some key takeaways for him included the financial literacy session where students learned more about credit scores, among other financial topics, as well as learning more about various organizations in Brookings. 

Ainsley Bennett is a senior communications major at SDSU from Belle Plaine, Minnesota. She joined the Work Ready Bootcamp to learn more about the Brookings community as she looks beyond graduation. 

“I was in the middle of kind of deciding whether I wanted to stay in Brookings. I’ve since decided that I’m going to,” Bennett said. “I wanted an opportunity to see what else I could learn about the community that I didn’t already know through my internship.” 

Bennett has enjoyed the opportunity to network with business leaders in the community and to practice her interpersonal and relationship-building skills. 

“Through this program, I can tell that this is a very people-centered community,” she said. “Just because we are part of the college doesn’t mean we’re in our own entity. They are truly trying to get everyone more involved.”

Using her past internship and resume reviews from the Office of Career Development, Bennett has secured a job following her May graduation. 

“This type of program functions as a good supplement to our offerings that provides students a structured yet informal space to lean into professional development topics, get to know new people who they haven't interacted with before and learn from different campus and off-campus community members,” Fullerton said.