Guttman Community College Puts Careers in the Curriculum

Published jul. 23, 2018
Preparing students to navigate the workplace may seem like an obvious role that higher education institutions can play, but this hasn’t typically been the case. It is essential for students to learn not just the particulars of their field, but also greater concepts, such as where that field fits in the labor market, job trends over time, and the role of social networks in a workplace.

This practical education should be an integral part of any core college curriculum, but most post-secondary institutions don’t offer it. This knowledge gap is a significant disadvantage to students, especially those without the family connections or networks to provide these important lessons, making it more difficult for them to make the leap from college to career.

Guttman Community College in New York City is advancing the way institutions, students, and employers think about career pathways by putting career-focused learning at the heart of the curriculum. Through a required first-year course called Ethnographies of Work (EOW), Guttman is preparing its students to make informed decisions about their careers.

After completing ethnographic studies of the workplace, students are better equipped to choose the major that will best suit path.

EOW addresses the world of work in both an academic and experiential way. Students enter workplaces as researchers, using the tools of ethnographers, who are trained to observe society from the point of view of the subject of study.  The students observe people doing jobs that interest them as well as conduct interviews with those they observe. After completing ethnographic studies of the workplace, students are better equipped to choose the major that will best suit their passions and intended career path. In turn, when students start exploring workforce opportunities upon graduation, they are better prepared to take on the job search and make informed decisions about their chosen career.

Now, HERE to HERE is partnering with Guttman and JFF to expand this successful program and adapt it to other educational contexts. High schools and other community colleges in particular could benefit from experiential work-based learning that helps students visualize where they want to be and show them how to get there. On June 26, the two organizations hosted the Ethnographies of Work Social Capital and Equity Convening, a full-day event sponsored by HERE to HERE. Among those attending were high school and college educators from around the country. The attendees learned about the Guttman course and philosophy and explored ways to bring it to their students.

Ethnographies of work

During a panel discussion, Angie Kamath, CUNY university dean for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, highlighted the university system’s efforts to increase student experiences that build social capital and introduce students to new networks through internships and career exploration opportunities like EOW. JFF Vice President Michael Collins noted EOW’s valuable role in empowering students to navigate the workforce system—and the biases that may exist within it.

Ethnographies of Work helps to break down barriers among employers, educators, and communities to open career opportunities for young people. And students aren’t the only ones who benefit.  Working with local institutions like Guttman, employers can strengthen their talent pipelines over the long term. Education innovations like EOW set up students for lifelong success and are crucial for advancing social mobility. This work started at Guttman, but the June convening was a crucial step toward bringing its benefits to more schools, students, and communities.

In the coming months and years, the conference hosts will stay in touch with those who participated in the convening as they adapt EOW to their own settings and spread the word about it. While replicating EOW may not suit all educational institutions, it makes a very important statement—"work” is a central human endeavor that should be brought from career services to the center of the curriculum.

To learn more about the Ethnographies of Work project, go to Guttman Community College

Abby Jo Sigal is CEO of HERE to HERE, a Bronx-based career pathways nonprofit