Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities – Florida Politics

Michael Preston: College grads can enhance prospects by learning additional skills

Welcome to March Madness! Sixty-eight college basketball teams are vying for a national championship.

These teams will struggle to score against fierce defenses, try to maneuver for the perfect shot, and hopefully draw a foul and a chance for an “and one” scoring possibility.

“And one” refers to the free throw awarded to a player who is fouled and still scores the basket, thus giving the player a chance for a three- or even a four-point play.

It can be quite a game changer when add the foul-shooting points.

March Madness also refers to the period when many soon-to-be college graduates are returning from spring break.

After four years of classes, tests, lab reports, student-organization meetings, homecoming events and papers, the time has come to enter the working world. Getting that first job can be scary. The fear of the unknown can be daunting for even the most seasoned job seeker. For the first timer, it can be downright paralyzing.

But fear not! According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2016 is supposed to be a great year for new graduates. NACE anticipates that the labor market will be up 11 percent from 2015, offering the best labor market for new graduates in years.

However, it is important to note that just because there are more jobs, the employment landscape is changing, forcing graduates to change with it.

According to the employment-trend experts at the Boston firm Burning Glass, more and more jobs will not only require a degree but also additional credentialing focused on a number of skills, including information technology, sales, graphic design, computer coding and programming, and assessment.

These skills can enhance not only your job prospects but also your earning potential. For example, according to Burning Glass, a student coming out of college this year with a liberal arts degree will find nearly 1 million job opportunities tailored to his or her degree.

That sounds like a lot. However, add one certification and the job prospects nearly double to 1.8 million anticipated openings.

And it does not stop there. Students who achieve specialized badges and certifications in areas such as coding and programming can boost their earnings by up to 27 percent over just having a degree alone.

Fortunately, additional certifications and credentialing can be your “and one” in the job market.

The great thing is that many of these credentials can be acquired through a number of sources. LinkedIn is now offering certificates and training and many companies such as Microsoft, IBM and Cisco are offering their employees access to certification bundles to boost productivity and support their growing need for credentialed staff.

Of course, higher education is also getting into the certification game. For example, the University of Central Florida offers programs such as Web Development Boot Camp, which teaches students how to develop and maintain websites using Javascript, HTML, CSS and other coding languages in just 24 weeks.

This certification can have a tremendous boost for students looking for that great job.

It used to be that just getting a degree was enough. But today’s labor market demands that students commit to being lifelong learners. That will mean that from time to time employees will need to return to the classroom to learn the skills needed to stay valuable to their companies. Of course, certifications can also lead to new opportunities and expand horizons by allowing graduates to juggle multiple offers as their skill portfolio expands.

Think of that expanding portfolio like that basketball team making a deep run in the tournament. Every great basketball team needs a point guard to control and distribute the ball, a shooting guard to nail the deep shot, a center to rebound and defend, and two forwards to go strong to the hoop – and all of them to get that “and one.”

Only when all of those parts are working together can a team win and advance in basketball.

And likewise, your skill portfolio can be made up of a great combination of a college degree and the various certifications necessary to land any job and make yourself an invaluable asset to your company and yourself.


Michael Preston is executive director of the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities based at UCF. He can be reached at michael.preston@ucf.edu. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Michael Preston: If you want to be on time, make sure you end on time

Welcome to 2016! It is a new year and, of course, a new you.

Many of us have taken the rollover of the calendar as a chance to make changes and reaffirm commitments. Usually these decisions take the form of the New Year’s resolution.

We are great at making promises, but unfortunately are lousy at keeping them. Likely you are one of those who have made and failed to keep your resolution.

But here’s one resolution I’m going to try to keep this year: End meetings on time.

A recent Harris poll points out that 47 percent of all resolutions express some sort of desire to improve productivity, with improving time management being at the top of the list. It is commonly accepted that most of us value being on time.

If you are running late, you are usually anxious and forced to apologize once you arrive, and if you are waiting on someone who is running late you are usually annoyed and feel the offender is disruptive and rude.

But a closer look at the data reveals what we really hate about poor time management.

A 2010 Ipsos market research poll found that the most common pet peeve of workers was poorly run meetings that either start late or end late because of poor planning or structure. The reasons the polled workers were annoyed included: cutting into personal time, making them late for their next meeting, or meetings were unproductive and provided no direction.

With this information as a backdrop, my resolution is simple: End on time.

In 2016 when I am leading a meeting, then my No. 1 goal, structurally, will be to end on time. In many ways we cannot help if participants arrive on time. Everyone is responsible for their own time management.

But what each one of us can do is commit to ending meetings on time so they are not the reason someone is late to another meeting.

Ending on time has value for everyone involved.

In a 2014 Inc. magazine article, workers and managers who committed to ending meetings on time found that their meetings never felt as long as they did before being committed to ending on time. If you know when you will finish, then you are more efficient with your time. Participants arrived on time more frequently. Managers reported that they became better at building agendas and leading more efficient conversations.

Another good outcome was that participants felt more positive about the meeting and the outcomes. Because the meeting is confined to a set time, participants began and ended with a better attitude.

Intuitively having a time limit makes sense.

Think about the last two minutes of a closely contested basketball or football game. Usually both the offense and defense play with more urgency and more efficiency, and the play is more thrilling. Because there is less time to get a positive result, the need to produce under the threat of running out of time creates excitement. Meetings can have that same energy, however it is important to keep a few things in mind.

The quality-improvement office at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) suggests the synergy created by ending meetings on time only works if participants are well aware that ending on time is a priority that will be followed. Once participants have accepted the meeting will end on time, then they can reduce the number of meeting “killers,” including going off topic and planning an agenda with too many items to complete in the allotted time.

At the University of Wisconsin they also suggest appointing a timekeeper, placing a visible clock in the room, and if the meeting does need to go over, allowing participants to leave if they need to be at another meeting.

All of these suggestions can keep you on task and working efficiently. In addition, it can help to curb the lateness domino effect, in which one late meeting results in all your meetings and appointments running late the rest of the day.

I’m going to try to maintain this resolution this year for another big reason. Perhaps it will influence others—whose meetings I’m sometimes invited to—to finish on time so I can get to lunch before the lunch crowd.


Michael Preston is executive director of the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities based at UCF. He can be reached at michael.preston@ucf.eduColumn courtesy of Context Florida.

Michael Preston: Criticism — We hate it the most but it makes us the strongest

I’m not much of a crier, but when a colleague critiqued a draft of my dissertation years ago, I cried like a baby.

I was progressing through my dissertation process when I asked a friend to read it and tell me his thoughts.

I was in the market for a nice review with a few edits: My friend gave me what seemed like pages of corrections and criticisms, from grammar issues to organizational concerns – even a flawed research premise.

I was devastated and didn’t take the review well. I even questioned whether I was cut out to earn my doctorate.

However, after I got some tissue, downed a big bowl of ice cream, and took a night off, I returned to his notes. I quickly found that his recommendations helped improve my dissertation by leaps and bounds. After incorporating his suggestions, the paper flowed better, I was able to refine my study to be an appropriate measure of my research questions, and I became Dr. Preston, after all.

That moment, no matter how painful, changed my life.

The truth is, we don’t take criticism well. Usually when someone gives us a critique, even if we know it’s true, we tend to meet that critique with anger or fear. We not only don’t like hearing criticism, it has a profound effect on our psyche.

Researcher John Cacioppo of the University of Chicago found, unsurprisingly, that the brain reacts much more strongly to negative stimuli, be it a negative picture or a criticism. Plus, although we’d like to take Taylor Swift’s advice, it’s hard to just “Shake It Off.” We tend to hold those negative images, and they diminish our confidence and personality.

To make matters worse, according to researcher Tiffany Ito of the University of Colorado, we then tend to fixate on those negative thoughts to the point they often dictate our work product for some time after the contrary critique.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Learning to take and use a solid critique is an important skill all professionals need to learn and utilize.

Chances are if you are human, you are flawed. And although most of us are aware of our more overt flaws, many times we may be operating in a flawed environment and not know. Criticism brings to life such shortcomings in a much more efficient way. When we try to be overly positive, even when giving criticism, we can mislead or provide an inaccurate evaluation.

No one likes to hurt another’s feelings, but when criticism is done well it can be more effective than praise. That’s because at bottom praise is the confirmation to continue down the same path. Deft criticism, though, usually is paired with an inspiration to change your path in a positive way.

Like all other workplace competencies, though, there’s a skill to be mastered.

Taking criticism will likely always be a challenge, but a Forbes management series outlines steps you can take to combat the natural rejection of criticism.

First, check your initial reaction because it’s likely to meet negative information with either poor body language or a defense. The best route is to remain calm and take time to process it.

Second, ask for feedback in the form of how to perform better or improve. Likely the critic has an idea of advice on how to fix it.

Third, be sure to understand the “why” of the criticism. That requires a good set of ears to listen for key words and usable advice.

Fourth, ask questions and follow up. To truly address the criticism it’s important to get positive acknowledgement that you’ve addressed the issue in question.

Taking criticism is never easy, but mastering the art of taking criticism can improve your performance and be seen as a positive influence in the office or any other organization.

Michael Preston is executive director of the Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities based at UCF. He can be reached at michael.preston@ucf.edu. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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