Communicators Needed in the Workplace

Communicators Needed in the Workplace

Professional Communications program leads to multiple different careers

| By: Daley-Hinkens, Carmelyn M

Employers say the types of communication skills needed in the workplace are evolving. Today, graduates armed with expertise in content writing, social media, video editing and public relations are in high demand in the workforce. As a result, Fox Valley Technical College is refocusing its efforts on what students who pursue an associate degree in Professional Communications will learn.

 Sarah Rivet, department chair of Professional Communications, was recently interviewed by Hayley Tenpas during WHBY's Focus on Careers segment. Sarah explains why the program puts so much emphasis on refining students' writing skills. She also shares future plans to add another educational pathway that will get students ready for a career in PR.

Listen to Sarah and Hayley's conversation by clicking on the video or you can read the transcript of the conversation below.

WHBY Focus on Careers

Tenpas: You're listening to Focus Fox Valley and WHBY. It’s time now for our Focus on Careers, an opportunity to highlight careers of promise through Fox Valley Technical College. And I'm going to be honest, this one has a bit of a soft spot for me because it's basically what I went to school for. I decided to go with a four-year degree from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. But had this program been in place at Fox Valley Tech, knowing my love for the college, I might have gone a different route. You never know. We have Sarah Rivet with us today. She is the department chair for the Professional Communications Program, a program that helps you really hone in on what I do every day or public relations or communication media there. The sky is the limit. With this, I'm excited to talk about it. Hi, Sarah.

Rivet: Hi, Hayley. Nice to be here today.

Tenpas: Thanks for being here. All right, so let's start with your background on the program. I've just skimmed the surface. Explain… this is an associate degree, correct? In the professional communications program.

Rivet: Yes. So I became the department chair for this program just this past summer. So this is a new adventure for me, one that I've felt passionately about. I love the program. I've been with the college for about 12 years now. So it's really, I think, a great program. It is a two-year associate degree program and it started off… so, to give you a little bit of history, it started off as a technical communications program and we still have a lot of technical communications within the program, but it really has evolved based on industry trends and the need for PR, the need for social media content writing, the need for storytelling. And it has evolved into the professional communications program. So within the program, students are learning the technology side of communications and those interpersonal, and intercultural communication skills so needed in today's workplace.

Tenpas: I love that. So talk about the classes that you offer… a wide variety, I would assume. What does the curriculum kind of look like for this?

Rivet: So students learn a little bit of marketing within our program, so they take some regular marketing courses and some social media marketing courses. We have web graphics, so they're learning the website, writing content for the web, so they're learning how to write blogs, how to write and create websites, and how to specifically reach those target audiences. They take some media courses, so they're learning some public relations video publishing. They're using technology such as Adobe Products, and InDesign. They're learning some web graphics, they're learning how to do technical writing and grant writing. That's a big part of our program. We have a lot of our students who become technical writers or grant writers, or they do some of that technical reporting and the research, and they really come out as strong writers and strong communicators from those courses.

Tenpas: That's amazing. And career opportunities, of course, come to mind when you're talking about all these different skill sets. And as I'm listening to you go through the course load, I'm thinking, my goodness, there's opportunity in public relations, of course, but also grant writing and nonprofit organizations look for voices and communications. Of course, there's radio, too. Where are you seeing students headed off to work after graduation?

Rivet: So we are seeing a lot of students in that technical writing field. Our employers are telling us that's still a very high-demand field. We have our students doing a lot of social media management where they're managing communication projects for companies. I have a couple of students who are in public relations, video editing, and training specialists. I know creating training documents is really big for a lot of our students and graduates as well.

Tenpas:   We're walking through some of the careers that might be possible with this type of degree. I know there are many different ways grads can go. Are you seeing any area that sticks out over the others where grads are headed?

Rivet: So employers are telling us right now that grads really need to be able to tell stories, Right? So the storytelling aspect of communication and storytelling happens on social media. So I think a lot of our students are gravitating toward those social media jobs. I also have a lot of grads going still into that technical writing field. So I'm really seeing that there's a high demand for content writers, editors and those PR areas.

Tenpas: Interesting. And it's interesting. You use the term storyteller, because from my time in the media world, specifically when I was a reporter in local television, a lot of reporters that I admired in bigger markets wouldn't call themselves reporters anymore. They'd call themselves storytellers because they were looking to do just that, tell a story versus kind of tossing facts into your face. Creativity is kind of something that is needed in this industry.

Rivet: Absolutely. And that's one thing employers are telling us, that creative writing side and being able to communicate creatively when you're doing that is important.

Tenpas: Excellent. All right. So who might be a good fit for this program? The potential student? I suppose.

Rivet: One thing to know about our program is students have the ability to take this program 100% online. So although we do have some of our general studies courses available face to face, the core curriculum is an online program which we're very proud of. It's really well-built. So a good student would be an independent learner, be really self-motivated, somebody who really loves to read and write because there's a lot of reading and a lot of writing within this program.

Tenpas: I can attest to that as well. All right. I know that every program at Fox Valley Tech is also kind of guided by some advisory committee with local voices who are involved. I love that. What kind of feedback are you getting from that committee about the status of hiring and the worker shortages that we are seeing in just about every industry right now?

Rivet: Yeah. So our employers on my advisory committee for professional communications are talking a lot about the need for PR. So based on that discussion, we're now working on a PR certificate to be coming up in the future and that is really to help the need for those PR communication skills. There is a gap in qualified candidates for that area. In this area. That's what our employers are telling us. Employers are also telling us some of the things that they need are those writing skills. They really need people who can write well. And when they come out of our program, they have the ability to write pretty well.

Tenpas: So that's great. And writing for media is a little bit different than writing maybe for print or other areas, correct?

Rivet: Absolutely. And that's why we're working on expanding the program to include more of that media writing, that Associated Press style writing versus just traditional academic writing.

Tenpas: I love that. I know a couple of other things mentioned... when you go in search for the professional communications program at Fox Valley Tech that pops up web graphics design for those who maybe enjoy graphic design or creating images for social media use, how do they shine in this program?

Rivet: You know, I think that that and video editing are really big right now. So employers have told us we're desperate for people who know how to place. It's so much more than just designing. But how do you place this on a website or on social media? How do you create videos that make sense, that catch attention, that really grasp the viewer of those videos? So employers are telling us that as well. If you like video editing, if you like to create short Tik Tok-type videos, that's really big in the industry right now.

Tenpas: Yes. The Tik Tok stuff comes to mind and oh my goodness, the different video layouts. And now it's all about the vertical video versus the horizontal video and it's ever-changing. So this is an interesting career field for sure to get into.

Rivet: Yes.

Tenpas: Are you noticing any people in the professional world may be coming back to refresh their skills as well?

Rivet: Yeah. Yes. So actually, one of our former graduates just came back to the program. I met with her this morning and she said, I'm so excited to come back, get the skills in video publishing, to get the skills and research methods to be able to have the ability to learn how to write specifically for the Web. So she had graduated a few years ago from another program, and she came back after working for five, six, seven years at her own business. She's coming back to our program. A lot of our students have bachelor's degrees and they come to professional communication to enhance the technical side of their skill set.

Tenpas: Amazing. So if someone's listening and going, hmm, interesting. I'm intrigued. How do we go about connecting them to the program?

Rivet: So they can definitely reach out to me—again, my name is Sarah Rivet. My contact information is found online, otherwise, reach out to Fox Valley Tech.

Tenpas: All right, and search professional communications. Sarah, good to see you. Thanks so much for coming in today.