As university career centers, we constantly have to consider how we are preparing students for the work-force. When doing this, we cannot look at what skills employers are seeking right now, instead, we have to anticipate what their needs will be one, two, and five years from now. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, the emerging skills for 2022 include active learning, critical thinking, complex problem-solving, leadership, and creativity. The expectations for a university career center to teach such skills can seem like a daunting one, considering that, for most institutions, students self-select to use the center’s services. If career centers were to offer a lunch-time workshop focused on developing problem-solving skills or critical thinking, would students volunteer to attend? It’s not likely. Universities need to think outside-the-box to create ways to help students develop these skills in a way that is interesting and engaging to them.
Michigan Technological University
Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech), located in the very Northern parts of the United States, is using a unique approach to teach students the emerging employment skillset an escape room. Escape rooms are a popular entertainment trend in the United States and are gaining traction in larger cities around the world. These are themed rooms focused on interactive, hands-on group activities. The rooms typically consist of a series of puzzles, clues, and riddles requiring people to work as a team to solve all within a set time-limit.
In order for groups to be successful in “escaping” (or completing the set goal), they need to use skills such as creativity, leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking.
Michigan Tech launched its first escape room in the fall of 2017 with a copper mining theme. The goal of the room was to solve the clues and riddles as a team in order to unlock a treasure chest filled with copper. Over one hundred students, staff and faculty participated in the room over the course of a month. After each group completed the room, a facilitator from the career center leads the group in a conversation about the skills they used in the room, why those skills were important and how those skills could apply to life in the working world post-college. 30% of the students who participated had never engaged with the career center before.
In the fall of 2018, Michigan Tech took the escape room to another level by theming their newest room around an industry that students may have misconceptions about; in this case, the steel industry. Students not only used the skill-set that employers want to see, but they also learned more about the steel industry through themed puzzles and exercises.
Over the course of the past year, close to 400 people have gone through Michigan Tech’s escape rooms, making it one of the most popular events the career center offers.
By stepping away from traditional lecture-style workshops and focusing instead on active learning opportunities, universities can engage students around the emerging employment skill-set in a way they won’t soon forget.
About the Author:
Ms. Beth Williams is an Associate Director of Experiential Learning and Career Development Education at Michigan Technological University.