Podcast

How Career Services Can Innovate for the Future of Work

Joe Catrino of Trinity College talks about how career services and higher education can innovate and prepare students for the future of work. 

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Joe Catrino, the Executive Director of Career and Life Design at Trinity College, talks about how career services and higher education can innovate and prepare students for the future of work. 

Much of Joe’s philosophy is inspired by the concepts of life design and design thinking and how they can be applied within career services. He even wrote a chapter on “Design Thinking and the New Career Center” in the 2022 textbook Mapping the Future of Undergraduate Career Education

In this episode, Joe shares what the future of work means for higher education, how career services can embed life design into career coaching, what it will take to make sure today’s students are ready for tomorrow’s workforce, and more.

“Jobs that our students are going to have, they don’t even exist yet. So how do you prepare students for that? How do you prepare for this future of work, this disruption? Well, you focus on skills,” Joe says. 

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Meredith Metsker:

Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Career Everywhere podcast. I’m your host, Meredith Metsker, and today I am joined by Joe Catrino. He’s the executive director of Career and Life Design at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Thank you for being here, Joe.

Joe Catrino:

Thank you, Meredith, for having me. I’m really excited to talk to you today.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, likewise. I’m really glad you’re here, and I’m excited to talk to you today about life design and how we can innovate and prepare students for the future of work. So for those of you listening, Joe has worked in higher education for 20 years in admissions, career services, marketing, and even as a part-time professor. And for the last several years, he’s kind of gone all in on this concept of design thinking and life design and working both of those things into career services. So he even wrote a chapter about design thinking in the 2022 textbook, Mapping the Future of Undergraduate Career Education, which I believe you can get on Amazon if you’re interested. So I am really excited to have Joe on the pod today to talk about how we can use design thinking and life design to really innovate for the future of work. So before I get into the questions, Joe, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your background, or your role at Trinity?

Joe Catrino:

No, no, I’m excited to talk about all of those things you just mentioned. We are situated actually rather uniquely at Trinity as I don’t just oversee career and life design, I also work really closely with our retention and transition programs and the Office of International Students and Scholars. And so we’ve actually developed a pretty unique structure here. So I’m looking forward to sharing a little bit more about that as well.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Well, I’m looking forward to hearing about it. Before I get into the more specific questions, I do want to ask you the first question I start every interview with, and that’s what does Career Everywhere mean to you?

Joe Catrino:

Oh, what does it mean to me? I mean, it’s essentially what drives the work that we do here at Trinity. To me, Career Everywhere is embedding career, and in our case at Trinity, career and life design into everything across the institution. So meeting students where they are. Are we partnering with faculty as best we can? Can we actually partner with parents? We see parents as partners, and that’s really critical. Engaging alumni, engaging the administration, engaging community based organizations. So for us, it’s everywhere. So as much as we can get the conversation started around career and life design, the better. So to me, Career Everywhere means just deeply embedding, finding partnerships, creating this common language that we can help students transition smoothly into Trinity, have them not so scared about career because we want to engage early, but we don’t want to have like, “Oh, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Meredith Metsker:

Right.

Joe Catrino:

That’s overwhelming for a first-year student. They are like, “I just got here, you want to talk to me about leaving here?” But it’s not that. It’s just having those really impactful, meaningful conversations so that students can make informed decisions about the path that they take, whether it’s graduate school or job or prestigious fellowship. We just want to talk to them about how they can leverage these skills later. And so for us, if we can embed and be Career Everywhere at Trinity, it really helps later on for when it’s a critical time for students as they’re embarking upon graduation and leaving Trinity.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. And I was kind of chuckling when you were saying how it can be intimidating to get that question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Joe Catrino:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

I remember getting that high school graduation. I’m going, “I don’t know. I don’t even know what’s possible yet.”

Joe Catrino:

But that’s the point. And as we talk about life design, it’s like you don’t know what’s possible because you’re not trying stuff, you’re not putting yourself out there. And what we call testing and prototyping, that’s the design thinking process. We want you to get out there and try stuff because how do you make informed decisions? You experience things. And so that’s why we want to engage students. That’s like a pillar of everything we’ve built within career and life design here. The pillar is early engagement. We want to engage with students early and often.

So again, when it comes time to those career conversations, they’ve gotten to know us, we’ve gotten to know them, but they’ve also gotten accustomed to trying things so that they can cross this thing off of their list. I mean, that’s how we tell students to pick a major, right? You have 41 majors. But are you really considering all 41? Don’t let that 41 number daunt you. It’s one of those things where you can go through a process of elimination, cross things off, then jump into experiencing the handful of majors that are left. So for us, it’s absolutely like, “I don’t know what’s out there.” “Well, good. Let’s go try things so that you can figure it out.”

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Yeah, for sure. I know when I was considering a major, I knew engineering was definitely a no-go for me. So I could go ahead and cross those out.

Joe Catrino:

And that’s exactly what we say. We have students come in who are not of the science mind, so you can cross off like neuro, bio, chem, and then now you’re down to humanities and social sciences. Now you can actually start to make, again, informed decisions. I keep going back to that. I’ve already kept going back to that, but it’s about informed decisions and trying stuff.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So on that note, I would love to dig into the life design and design thinking concepts. So for those listening who may not be as familiar, can you just give us a quick overview of what life design and design thinking mean?

Joe Catrino:

Sure. So this all comes out of, and I’ve told this story a lot, and I’m sure those that might be listening to this podcast, watching this podcast, I’ve heard this story, so I apologize for overwhelming you with the same story. But it all started for me in February of 2017 when my former boss came to me and said, “Joe, I want you to read this book.” And it was Designing Your Life written by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. And I don’t know about you, Meredith, but if your boss were to hand you a Designing Your Life book, you start to wonder what the message is they are trying to send you.

Meredith Metsker:

What are you saying?

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, and should I be looking for a new job once I read this book? What’s the deal? But all jokes aside, so my former supervisor, mentor, friend, Angel Perez handed me the book and said, “I want you to read this. It’s amazing.” So I took the book and read it, and I was like, “You’re right. This book is amazing.” And his whole thought process was he wanted to go to Stanford. So Bill Burnett, Dave Evans are two Stanford D-School faculty members. They are designers by trade. They are really in the deep parts of design thinking and designing products and technology and essentially lives. And so they wrote this book as designers using design thinking. And so what design thinking is, to many people, it’s called wicked problem solving, or to many others, it’s creative problem-solving. That’s what design thinking is. That’s what designers do, is they solve problems. There’s something that designers are doing because they’re trying to solve a problem. And what we have to remember is design thinking is a human-centered approach to solving problems. It’s about the people. It’s multi-disciplinary.

Where design thinking came from was engineers and designers, they were speaking a different language and they had to collaborate. And so it was like, “We’re talking about the same thing, but it’s coming out different.” And so came up with this design science, this human-centered approach, which is ultimately what design thinking is. And it’s a five-step process. It starts off with empathy, define, ideation, prototyping, and testing. So what that means is empathy for who you are trying to solve the problem for. So if I’m designing chairs or desks for university, my people are my students, the people that are going to use that. So what I want to do is I want to develop empathy with them, and I want to learn about what they’re experiencing with the desks or the chairs. So what we do is we want to dig in with them and really get to understand what the problems are.

Then we define that problem. From there, once we have defined this clear-cut, deeply empathetic problem, we start to ideate. We brainstorm for what options are out there for making more comfortable or more movable desks, whatever that problem ends up being. And then we build some prototypes. And then once we build prototypes, we put out and test. And that’s where we try stuff. That’s how we try stuff around what the problem is we’re trying to solve. So that’s design thinking. And so Burnett and Evans took design thinking and said, “Well, we solve all these problems in technology and furniture and video games and all that kind of stuff.” And basically said, “Well, we can apply this to people designing their lives.” And that’s ultimately where the concept came from. And so going back to my initial story with Angels, the D-School was actually for the first time putting together what they called the Life Design Studio for Higher Ed Professionals.

And, poof, we applied. I believe we were one of the first dozen schools that attended this design studio. We spent a week at Stanford learning, and it’s great how they do it. I really love what the D-school does because you sort of wear two hats. The first couple days, you’re wearing the hat as a student. You’re a student of life design and design thinking, and you’re learning all this stuff. And then what they do is you kind of get to that critical midpoint of the week and they flip you to, “Now you’re the higher ed administrator, so let’s think about how you can embed this at your institution.” That’s really what Stanford wanted to do. That’s the vision of Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. They wanted to spread this across the country. They wanted other institutions to try this, and so that’s what they did. So we went, spent the week, and came back with a million ideas on how we can embed this. So that’s a really long version of what design thinking is and how it came to Trinity.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So let’s talk about how you’ve applied it at Trinity. As head of Career and Life Design, how are you applying those concepts to career services, to helping students, preparing them for the future of work, and so on?

Joe Catrino:

So what we’ve really tried to do is our goal… So what happened was we came back from Stanford and had a million ideas, and we just tried some stuff. We tested a lot of different things. We implemented it first in the… We have a pre-orientation for first-generation college students. And so one of the first iterations of Life Design at Trinity was we embedded this in that orient… It’s got like a pre-orientation, so it’s like orientation before the real orientation. We actually created a Design Day. And so what we wanted to do is we wanted students to be able to learn about life design as they start this college process where they don’t have a lot of information because, again, they’re the first in their family to go. So we kind of just did little tiny implementations of different design projects and different programs and services.

But as I moved into the role of Director of Career Development in October of 2017, I started to think a little bit more holistically about how we at the time were advising students. And to me, when it comes to career, I don’t know that advising is the right terminology or the right process because it’s sort of like you’re constantly just giving the student information, they go and do it, and they come back so you’re advising them. The vision I had was that we are coaches. We coach students, we support them along the way, but they’re the ones doing the work. We want them to be proactive in their career process. And so what we wanted to do was we wanted to flip this a little bit and engage students in a way where we coach them, but used life design in how we coach students.

And so we spend a lot of times engaging with the student with empathy. You might go Meredith, and you might Google life design activities, or you might use the book and you might see Odyssey maps, or you might see worldview, work view, life view, different activities. Yeah, we do use those, but it’s not like you come in and meet with me as a coach and I just hand you an activity and say, “Go and then bring me back the results.” It’s not that. At some point, I might get to that activity with you, but what I really want to do is I want to get to know you, but I want to get to know what drives the decisions you make. And so what we do is we help students become designers. So we want them to start to think about, to be curious about what’s out there, to radically collaborate with other people, find your people, be ready to reframe at a moment’s notice when things aren’t going the direction you want to go.

So what we’ve done is we’ve tried to embed, not tried, we’ve embedded life design into coaching. And so it drives with empathy. And then what we do is we then start to define what their problems are. “How might I decide between history and psychology as a major?” Well, right there we’ve defined the problem. It’s not just major, it’s, “I’m torn between two things.” So we are able to dig in with students, and then what we do is we work with them to ideate on how they can actually figure this out to make that informed decision. So it’s ideating around different things, like, “Okay, maybe go talk to faculty in each of those. Go talk to alums, go talk to current students. Take a course in each, find out what internship options are tied to each,” things like that. And so it doesn’t sound super unique, but I think it’s just the beginning part of really encourage students to get to know themselves so that they can develop their own empathy.

I think today’s students are really impacted and influenced by their families, and sometimes they make decisions based on what other people want, not necessarily what they want. And so we want to challenge that a little bit. So we want students to make that informed decision for themselves, not for anyone else. And that’s really where life design has taken off for us. And then listen, we do the other traditional career stuff, but really what drives us at the end of the day in the Career and Life Design Center at Trinity is we have deeply embedded all of this life design into everything we do. When we do retention, we have design components to it so students are ready for prototyping and trying stuff at Trinity as new students.

International students that are coming to the States for the very first time and are going to study here for the first time, what’s that like for them, how can they design an experience for themselves as a student from Pakistan? So those are the things that we are doing as a center, and it’s all built around this idea of, “We can help students design the lives.” So we focus on the transitions into, through, and out of, and it’s built on early engagement, experiential learning, and then life after Trinity.

Meredith Metsker:

So it sounds like it’s different from traditional career services in that it’s more holistic. It’s not like you’re talking about career in a vacuum. It’s your career and your life and how those things fit together. As we all know, they intertwine.

Joe Catrino:

Yes, they do. And it goes back to something you pointed out that I said was when you think about students, first-year students especially, you don’t want to talk career with them. It’s overwhelming. They’re already overwhelmed. They want to get to know people. They want to fit into this new environment. They need to get their classes figured out. They might be athletes, they might be first-gen students, they might be BIPOC students who are leaving different environments to come to a private school. Whatever it is, it could be any of those things, but if we throw career at them at orientation or early on, you’re going to lose them. So what we try to do is we try to take a little bit of a step back and try to engage them with, “Let’s give you those life skills.”

We really focus on, Meredith, the executive functioning skills like task initiation, planning, time management organization, and then ultimately problem-solving. And that’s really where we’re jumping into those skills and helping students develop those skills. And then as we build a relationship with them, we can then go to those traditional, “How do I find an internship? How do I apply to graduate school?” Whatever it is. So we do the traditional career stuff, we don’t want to jump into that early on it. Again, students aren’t necessarily ready for that.

Meredith Metsker:

So with some of those skills you just mentioned, I can’t remember all of them, but they seem a little more nebulous. I’m curious how you go about helping students develop those.

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, that’s a great observation. So we take them through different activities. We have conversations. We try to humanize a lot of it because sometimes students, they think they’re the only one who’s going through it. And really, honestly, it all ties with belonging. Students just want to belong. They just want to fit in. They want to be a part of the community. And so what we do is we’ll have students do time management tasks. We might just give students journals and just encourage them to plot their schedule. I just met with a student earlier today who didn’t have the semester, I think, that they had intended. And so I met with her, she’s one of my academic advisees, and I was like, “All right, well, let’s make a schedule.”

So I’m meeting with her again on Tuesday, and I said, “Just bring a sheet of paper with your schedule, your regular weekly schedule. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to plan, we’re going to come up with how you’re going to use your time in a strategic way.” Because that was her biggest issue, she wasn’t doing her schoolwork at a good time. She was not fitting it in, she was not being mindful of the work that she had and she was rushing to do things. And so what I’m going to do is I’ll take her through a bunch of different activities so that she can actually pay attention to how she’s using her time.

So it’s really paying attention to paying attention. So through a variety of activities, through group advising, we do a lot of different events and programs for students. There’s a great design activity called Energy Management, not time management, energy management. Why don’t we pay attention to how we’re feeling from an energy perspective when we do certain activities? We got to pay attention to that because why are we doing things that drain our energy or how can we do things that drain our energy differently?

So there’s a lot of different ways to map these activities out so that students can, again, focus on… What we’re focused on is student satisfaction and student wellness. That’s what it comes down to. We want to provide an experience that satisfies those two things. And that really is through building and finding community and connections. We’ll bring different groups of students together so that they know, “You’re not alone. Look at all these people here that are doing the same thing, that are experiencing the same things.” So that’s really what we focused on. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but there’s a really great illustration. So this really encapsulates the work that we do and it’s a graph and it’s a straight line, and there’s an X and Y axis, and there’s a straight line, kind of diagonal from where X and Y meet, and it says, “What I planned.”

Then there’s another illustration on the right of that, same thing, X and Y axis. It comes up from the X and Y connection, but it’s a squiggly line, loop de loop. And that’s what actually happened. And so the way I define what we do in Career and Life Design is we thrive in that chaos where the students are struggling, where the students are having a hard time. So again, like you said, we’re a little bit more holistic. For example, we have students who may have to take a withdrawal for a variety of reasons, whether it’s something they’d planned or they’re required withdrawal because of academics.

We meet with them, we connect them with a coach when they return. And the big part of that, Meredith, is we want the student to come back with a plan. We want them to help them formulate a plan. There aren’t a lot of schools doing that. You just come back from leaving and it’s like, “Welcome back to X Institution.” We are actually saying, “Come back and here’s your coach. And that coach is going to help you be more successful because you took a leave because of a variety of reasons.” Whether it is personal, whatever the reasons were, we’re able to help that student come up with a plan.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, how big is your team? If you’re doing this kind of in-depth work for all of those students, I’m curious what the size of your team is?

Joe Catrino:

You’ll be surprised. I mean, we’re a small liberal arts institution, we’re just under 2200 undergrads. So I have two people in retention and transition programs. I have two people in the Office of International Students and Scholars. And then on the Career and Life Design coaching side of things, we have about six people. I think in total with operations and marketing team, we’re about 14 people. I think 16 with a grad assistant. And then we have two part-time people. So about 16 total when you count those.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. And so it sounds like a lot of work to do that kind of holistic coaching for so many students.

Joe Catrino:

It is. But again, I think what we do is sometimes they come to us and that’s the goal. Either we get referred to or we refer out. And so we partner a lot with academic advisors and academic affairs. We partner a lot with the dean’s office and student affairs to ensure that there’s a connection between maybe something that came up in a residence hall or something like that. And I think that’s, again, going back to the definition of Career Everywhere, that’s what we want. We want to be everywhere. Students come to us and then we can refer or we can be either referred to. So we get a lot accomplished for I think a small, mighty team.

Meredith Metsker:

Sounds like it. And I imagine you’re probably using some tools and technologies to help scale up and-

Joe Catrino:

Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Reach more students.

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, absolutely. Obviously we’re using uConnect, we’re using Handshake and People Grove. I always make a joke. As you mentioned in my introduction, I’ve been 20 years in higher education. And I always like to say that I’ve done the Connecticut Tour of Duty. I’ve worked at University of Hartford, Quinnipiac University, and Yale. But I will say the alumni community at Trinity College is just unbelievable in a way that I’ve never experienced in any other institution. And I’m an alum of three institutions myself. It’s just a really, really committed group to maintaining the brand of Trinity College that they care so much. And we rely on that heavily. We run mentorship programs where we match students with alums for industry-specific things. We just launched a BIPOC mentorship program. We’ve a number of other mentorship programs in the hopper but those connections are critical because those are people you’ve shared experiences with. These people can help you again. And it’s all about that empathy. It’s all about designing the Trinity experience for yourself. Not for anybody else, for you.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I mean, alumni are an important part of the whole Career Everywhere process. If you want to be everywhere, that’s a huge group of people you can turn to for sure.

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, a hundred percent.

Meredith Metsker:

I kind of want to pivot us now towards talking about how we can apply all of this for the future of work and what that means. And so I think to kind of just establish some context, what do you mean when you say the future of work? Because I feel like we all hear that phrase a lot. So in your mind, what does that mean?

Joe Catrino:

Well, the future of work is here, Meredith, right? It’s all stemming from disruption. There’s disruption everywhere. I mean, think about artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, technology is disrupting how we work. I mean, go back to 2019, beginning of 2020 and how we worked. I was on Zoom. I could probably count on one hand how many times I had been on Zoom prior to that. Now think about it-

Meredith Metsker:

I wasn’t in office. I was at home.

Joe Catrino:

Right, right, exactly. So my point is, there’s disruption happening and it’s impacting how we work, what kind of work is getting done, what kind of jobs are around. Some jobs are being lost to that automation, but some are being created because of that technology and automation. And so what’s happening is because of that disruption, so we’re talking about technological disruption, we’re talking about economic disruption, we’re talking about ecological disruption, and pandemic disruption. So there’s this litany of disruption happening and it’s impacting everything. So what I mean by that, really what it comes down to is, again, jobs are shifting and changing. And how we work is shifting and changing, how we live and how we make decisions is changing.

So as we think about helping students across the globe think about the future of work, it’s important because jobs that our students are going to have, they don’t even exist yet. So how do you prepare students for that? How do you prepare for this future of work, this disruption? Well, you focus on skills, and that’s why I teach a course called Designing Your Future Work. So it’s basically life design plus the future of work and I smash them in. And one of the things that I talk about is the value of a liberal arts education, because I think a liberal arts education really provides the skills for students to be versatile, to be ready for whatever the future of work holds for them. And so when you think about critical thinking and communication, those are oftentimes the skills more sought after by employers.

And so I deeply believe that a liberal arts education, coupled with life design skills, really make Trinity students attractive to employers, but also helps students navigate whatever the future of work holds for them. They’ll be ready to define problems. They’ll be able to learn self-empathy so that they can dig in and define the problems that they have so they can ideate around those things. So to me, the future of work is here, it is a lot of disruptions, but students have to be ready to articulate, define, and share the skills that they have. And we’re working on that, actually. We’re starting to build out some tools that students can actually identify those skills because a lot of times students don’t know how to define skills or even share the skills they have. They talk about experiences they have. But what we want them to do is really want them to dig into the skills they’ve acquired in internships.

Like I told you, one of the middle pillar that supports what Career and Life Design is is around experiential learning. Yes, we want students to go do experiences, but what are you getting out of those experiences? Yeah, I mean, I think a resume is a resume, but you have to be able to articulate and talk about the skills you’ve acquired and the skills you use on a regular basis. And then at some point you have to assess those skills, Meredith. You have to say, “My skills aren’t what they used to be. I got to sharpen them.” There’s a great book written by Michelle Weise, it’s called Long Life Learning. Lifelong learning is a commitment. I know some people don’t like the words upskill and reskill, but that’s what it is. We have to be able to reskill and upskill and adapt to the way work is changing in the fields that we’re in.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. It was funny, I was listening to your answer, and it was kind of making me reflect on my educational experience because I got my degree in journalism, which I don’t know if you count that as liberal arts or not.

Joe Catrino:

It’s a line.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, it’s kind of more vocational, but also sort of liberal arts. But I was just thinking a lot of the skills that I learned, especially critical thinking, communication, even storytelling, has come in handy all throughout my career.

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, absolutely. A hundred percent.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah.

Joe Catrino:

That’s what it’s about.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s valuable.

Joe Catrino:

And there’s a great piece too that Strada Education put out back in, I think the fall of ’19, it was called Robot Ready. And in there they talk about human skills and technical skills, not soft and hard skills. I don’t like that. I like how they define it, human skills and technical skills because that’s what they are. Those human skills of communication, of teamwork, of listening, critical thinking, those are skills that are really necessary to be successful, I think, across… And then you learn the on-the-job technical skills. There are trainings. All of those trainings happen in the workplace. And so if you have really good human skills and you can articulate those and you can share them and you can talk about them, you’re ready for the future of work.

Meredith Metsker:

It’s funny you bring up that report, because I actually worked at Emsi, now Lightcast-

Joe Catrino:

Oh, yeah, yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

When they partnered with Strada on that report. So I’m very familiar.

Joe Catrino:

Actually I think Michelle Weise wrote on that too.

Meredith Metsker:

I believe she did. Yep.

Joe Catrino:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, small world.

Joe Catrino:

Indeed.

Meredith Metsker:

So I’m curious, you sort of touched on it a little bit earlier, but life design and design thinking, how does that play into preparing for the future of work, specifically preparing students?

Joe Catrino:

Yeah. Well, I did hit on it a little bit, but when you think about, when I talked about the future of work when you asked me, I think it’s important that when you get to a point in your whatever future of work is, having that ability to think a designer is going to be critical. So you have to be able to, again, be ready to reframe and pivot. You want to think about what’s your curiosity, being curious, and being out there. And those are really important skills to have. But again, I think being able to go back and empathize with yourself if the future of work isn’t what you want it to be. And that’s sometimes hard to do. You get to a certain point in your degree, in your life and you’re like, “I’ve been successful, but I’m not really love what I’m doing. There’s no meaning.”

And that’s what Burnett and Evans talk about in the book is designing a life of meaning and purpose. And so for me, when you think about skill development and lifelong learning, also developing those skills as a designer, just keep designing the life for yourself. And so empathy, defining those problems, ideation, that process is so important. And not being afraid to redesign. They actually put out a second book, which is Designing Your Work Life. And they talk a lot about specifically the world of work and how things are changing. They actually have two versions of the book. There’s like a pre-pandemic version and then a post-pandemic version. And it’s great for that because it talks about the disruption from the pandemic and how things have changed and how we work differently. And so having that ability to design and create opportunities for yourself is just really important and I think powerful in whatever direction you go in the world of work.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, in your role as the head of Career and Life Design there at Trinity, are you talking a lot with employers about this concept of the future of work, life design? And if so, I guess what’s their response been?

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, I mean, I think not as much as I’d like. It’s hard. It’s hard to talk to employers. And I think that’s even in the Robot Ready piece, that’s the rub, right? The rub is between employers and colleges. Employers don’t think we’re setting students up for success and not giving them the skills that they’re ready for, or they need to have to be ready for the world of work. And we’re saying, “Well, where’s your responsibility to getting them trained to what you want?” So again, there’s like a rub there. So I am talking to some employers about it. I think there’s some great employer partners that we have in and around the Hartford area. I think the work that we do with a lot of our alums has been important. And so they have grown appreciative of how prepared students are when they come out of Trinity.

They have reflected on that. So the response has been good, but you just don’t talk to enough employers. It’s very transactional for the right reasons. They need students for internships and jobs. We need to get students internships and jobs. So it’s very transactional. And so I think there’s some great organizations out there like NACE, the National Association of College and Employers, who does a really good job of connecting employers and institutions of higher education. I think there’s just a lot of work to be done. There’s got to be a lot of time and energy invested into workforce readiness and career readiness from both perspectives. And I think if we could get a lot of people in the room, it’d be great to do that.

But again, I think sometimes it’s conflicting interest to a certain extent. They just want to, again, transactional, getting students jobs and internships and hiring students for jobs and internships. But the response has been pretty good. I mean, we have had employers remark about this, and we do a lot of reflections, especially when we send a student out for an internship and getting their feedback on what type of student they had in the internship and what the process was like, if the student was prepared. And so we really try to hone in on ensuring students are going out and using those skills in the best way they can.

Meredith Metsker:

So what would the, I guess, ideal graduate of Trinity look like? Someone who has life design, design thinking, all incorporated? What does that ideal graduate look like?

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, I don’t think it’s that. To me, an ideal Trinity grad is someone who can go out there and knows what they want. So they’ve got that empathy and they’re making the informed decisions for themselves. That is first and foremost. Secondly, is a Trinity alum or Trinity student graduates and walks out of here being able to articulate, communicate, and be able to, I guess, share the skills that they have acquired. What are those skills? What do they have? What do they bring to the table? Being able to identify, articulate, communicate, that’s what I’m looking for. I think that’s the ideal student, who understands who they are and what they bring to the table. And how that education has prepared them, right? This is a true definition of the liberal arts student. We have an alum in the class of ’20. She was an intern here in the office. She was a religious studies major, okay? She’s absolutely killing it in tech sales.

Meredith Metsker:

Huh. It’s not the linear pathway you would expect.

Joe Catrino:

Because there is no linear path. That’s the beauty of us.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s true, not many are.

Joe Catrino:

Right. But that’s what we do. So that’s the essence of the liberal arts when we are just talking about this. We don’t see bridges to major. We don’t want to see that. We want to see students focus on their skills and bring those skills to whatever they want to do. Listen, Meredith, if I go to see a nurse, I hope that that nurse has studied nursing. If I’m going to drive over a bridge, I’m hoping to God the person who engineered it studied engineering.

When I go do my taxes, I hope an accountant has studied accounting. Yes, there are natural bridges from major to career, but when you look at the bulk of our majors here at Trinity, we don’t want to see the bridges. We want them to look at the skills. That’s what it’s about. And that’s why we get a little bit frustrated sometimes because students come in and they say, “I’m going to work in business, so I have to be an econ major.” But I’m like, “You know, you could go do whatever you want.” I mean, I was a history major, Meredith. In my first job out of college, I was working at ESPN in advertising. Most people would think, “Oh, well he was a communications major.” But to us, you get into your field through experiences.

She was a religious studies major, but she had a bunch of different experiences, a bunch of different internships. And that helped her, again, to make an informed decision about the path that she wanted. So that’s that experiential learning. It’s not just internships, it’s about getting experiences outside the classroom and using the skills you learned in the classroom. That’s what it’s all about.

Meredith Metsker:

In other words, designing your life.

Joe Catrino:

Bingo.

Meredith Metsker:

So Joe, why is all of this so important and kind of what’s at stake if higher ed or career services can’t incorporate these kind of things or innovate fast enough for this future of work?

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, I mean, we have to. We don’t have a a choice, Meredith. I talk about it in the chapter that I wrote in the book, Mapping the Future of Undergraduate Career Education. So I wrote a chapter on design thinking in the new career center. And a majority of my chapter talked about innovation and the fact that most people wouldn’t attribute higher education and innovation. It is not synonymous. I actually say that, I think that’s my first or second sentence. But because the pandemic and because of things that are happening out in the world, people are becoming more and more critical of higher education and the value because of the cost. It’s expensive. It’s an expensive endeavor for four years. And I think that really pushes us to the forefront around career because I think the number one reason for students going to college is to get a job.

I forget the percentage, but it’s up there. It’s the number one reason. And so as career development individuals, we have to innovate, we have to adapt. We cannot stick to what has always worked. We have Gen Z in the classroom now. They’re a different generation. They have different needs and interests. And I think we need to listen to our students and ask them what they want. Because Gen X or whatever wanted this, we can’t assume Gen Z does. And so we have to be ready to be versatile, be nimble, and not be afraid to try things. And that’s, I think, the beauty of the stuff that we’re doing is we’re trying stuff. I’ll tell you, I had a design thinking program that I ran here that flopped. But it taught me so much about what I could do next.

Now that program’s in its fifth year. So we’ve made some different judgments and changes and listened to our students. We survey students a lot, a lot. We ask students questions. We do focus groups because we’re curious. We want to know what they want and that’s how we have to serve them. And we have to talk to employers more. I think that’s something else we need to do. But overall, we got to make a move. We got to save higher ed because higher ed is under attack. And I’m not trying to be dramatic, but it’s happening. And so from a career perspective, it’s important that we up our game and we start to innovate, we start to try things. I think for us, like I said, we’ve landed in design thinking and life design, and that’s been really good for us in the community here at Trinity.

And so that innovation has been good for us, but that’s not where we’re stopping. We’re doing a lot of other things, like I talked about. We’re talking to students who are on leave. We’re looking at retention data to inform some of our pre-college programs. We’re building bridge programs prior to students starting in their first year. We’re engaging parents in a different way, parents and families. So we have to be willing to try things, even if it didn’t work before or if it’s something we’ve always done, maybe it’s time to innovate around that particular program. So that’s, I don’t think the answer, but I think there’s some pieces in there that I think will empower some of us in career development.

Meredith Metsker:

For sure. So on that note, what advice do you have for other career services leaders who want to make sure they’re innovating and that they’re preparing students for the future of work?

Joe Catrino:

Talk to your students. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they want. I mean, student experience, we can’t lose sight of that. We have to understand that it’s about providing a really meaningful student experience that’s built on student wellness and student satisfaction. Don’t be afraid to try stuff. I mean, one of the lessons within IDO, one of the largest design firms is fail fast to succeed often. We can’t be afraid of failure. If it doesn’t work, scrap it. Obviously when they talk about prototypes, they talk about cheap, short-term, little tests that you can go out there and do. Don’t be afraid to try some stuff. Don’t be afraid to just prototype your way through. It’ll help you become more informed about the type of student experience you want to provide for your students. Also, focus on curiosity and interests for students, not just a career plan. You’ll get to career eventually, which is why we talk about… I talked about this earlier. We talked around that early engagement. Focus on interests, focus on their curiosity, not careers. Careers is overwhelming, it’s heavy. You’ll get to career by starting with that personal stuff.

Meredith Metsker:

Love it. Well, I think that’s a great place for us to start wrapping up. I want to be cognizant-

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, sure.

Meredith Metsker:

Of your time here. But Joe, is there anything else about this topic that she would like to add?

Joe Catrino:

No, I don’t think so. I think in career development, career services, whatever your institution calls it is just we got to be ready to innovate. We got to be ready to try new things. We’re doing a couple things with admissions, which is really fun, to bring the value of Trinity degree to the forefront as students make decisions about where they’ll attend. But for me, it’s just get out there and try stuff.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s great advice for anyone. So Joe, if people want to learn more from you or connect with you, where’s a good place for them to do that?

Joe Catrino:

LinkedIn, that’s where I live. Great way to-

Meredith Metsker:

You and me both.

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, I love it. So yeah, LinkedIn is great.

Meredith Metsker:

All right. Good to know. All right, so the final question. At the end of every interview, I like to do this answer a question, leave a question thing. So I’ll ask you a question that our last guests left for you, and then you’ll leave one for the next guest.

Joe Catrino:

Oh, okay. Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

So our last guests were Megan Baeza and Maribea Merritt, both of the University of Texas, Permian Basin. And they want to know about your career journey. So they asked what brought you to career services?

Joe Catrino:

Yeah, that’s a great question. I frankly stumbled into career development. I was working at Quinnipiac, and as you mentioned in my introduction, I actually spent the first part of my career in higher education in admissions and was working in admissions. But I was also a part-time faculty member in the School of Communications. I was teaching media courses. And at the time, they have a decentralized approach. They have assistant deans embedded in each of the schools. And the assistant dean for the School of Communications left the institution. And they approached me and said, “Would you ever think about career development?” And I was like, “No?” I said, “Why?” And they said, “Well, someone’s leaving and we’d love for you to think about the role.” I’m like, “You know I’ve never worked in career before?” And they said, “No, but you’ve been teaching in school, the students know you. We’d love for you to think about it.” And so I thought about it and, poof, I did that for about almost five years, and that’s how I got into career development and essentially made my way here to Trinity.

Meredith Metsker:

Because you had those transferable skills.

Joe Catrino:

There it is. See!

Meredith Metsker:

Curiosity, resiliency.

Joe Catrino:

That’s right, right.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, I love that.

Joe Catrino:

That’s a great question. Yeah, so I kind of stumbled this by… My teaching really is what got me there.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. And a little hint of ESPN advertising mixed in there early on.

Joe Catrino:

Well, that too. I mean, I did a couple internships in the media industry and I started my career at ESPN. So I definitely knew the media industry and I think they saw that too, as understanding the field.

Meredith Metsker:

Well, that’s always good knowledge to have. So Joe, what question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Joe Catrino:

Oh, the next person. Okay. So I want to know, and I think we’ve all had this experience where we’ve really worked with a student, I want to know, tell me your best student story. What made you know that career was the jam for you? What keeps you going? Where is that meaning? I want to know that student story because I think we all have one or some variation or iteration of that. I want to know that student story. What made you do this work or what’s kept you in this work?

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, I love that. And I’m excited to hear the story.

Joe Catrino:

Me too.

Meredith Metsker:

Well, you’ll just have to tune into that next episode.

Joe Catrino:

There we go.

Meredith Metsker:

All right, well thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Joe. This was a great conversation and I think our listeners are going to get a ton of value from it. So thank you very much.

Joe Catrino:

Thanks, Meredith. This was great. I love talking to you and obviously I enjoy talking about this area. So thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

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