Campus News

Enabling Career Development

The third strategic initiative in Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good focuses on faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Becci Menghini by the Old Well
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Important career development work is happening across Carolina’s campus, and Strategic Initiative 3, Enable Career Development, is a chance for the University to bring it all together.

“Our greatest asset as a University is our people,” wrote Becci Menghini, vice chancellor for human resources and equal opportunity and compliance, in the introduction to Initiative 3. “Developing our people must be at the heart of what we do as an organization, particularly in a post-pandemic world.”

Carolina strives to foster professional development and growth opportunities for students, faculty, staff and alumni. “While the pandemic has softened the external job market and changed the way we work, we can use these changes to inform our training content and the ways we deliver it,” she said.

For an overview of the efforts to update Carolina Next, which Provost Bob Blouin calls Carolina’s “living, breathing, evolving strategic plan,” read Updating Carolina Next, a Q&A with Blouin and Assistant Provost for Institutional Research and Assessment Lynn Williford.

When the pandemic happened, Carolina pivoted some of its focus to helping people keep the jobs they had and helping them figure out how to do them with the changes in University operations. Carolina’s priority became trying to be innovative in being resilient and responsive to employees’ needs in the pandemic, not in how the University was developing careers. The pandemic brought a temporary suspension of HR actions, such as promotions and salary adjustments. While these changes have slowed progress, some work, like how technology is used, is rising to the surface. One project that has evolved throughout the past year is the implementation of Carolina Talent, the University’s new learning management system.

The Well recently talked to Menghini, the strategic initiative’s team captain. She leads this work, which focuses on faculty, staff, students and alumni. While there may not be many commonalities across them, there are places where they intersect.

Where are those intersections?

We’re all better when everybody is getting the opportunity to learn the most that they can in the areas they want and the areas they need. That’s a uniform concept. But the idea that the same tools will be of the same value across employee types, students or alumni doesn’t work. There are some interesting intersections. Carolina Talent is going to allow employees and supervisors to engage in a way that they haven’t before. Performance management will assume a bigger online presence, and employees and supervisors will be able to formally link training requests, training advice and performance more directly.

Likewise, one project they’re putting together on the student side helps students connect, interact with and learn from alumni, whose organizations and companies will ultimately benefit from the talent pool coming out of Carolina. The same platform being used there may also be valuable for faculty and staff in ways that we’ve not realized before.

The initiatives first objective calls for integrating career preparation into all students’ experiences and extending career development opportunities to alumni. How does that combination work?

A lot of student career development happens by pairing them with alumni. We’re tapping into resources across the campus and with the UNC General Alumni Association to capture these opportunities.

Todd Ballenger, director of alumni and career networks for Honors Carolina, and Anna Millar, assistant dean of undergraduate business program at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, are championing Project Lagro, a partnership between LinkedIn’s online education space (formerly Lynda) and Microsoft. It combines training and networking. The Honors Carolina program was one of 10 university pilot sites nationally for this platform.

Students can use the platform to do a skills assessment in career areas of interest. Training and certificate programs that can be completed through the platform might be recommended. And the students can network with Carolina alumni who may share their interests and offer mentoring opportunities. As students build a profile, the platform filters Carolina alumni with similar backgrounds and interests.

For alumni, the platform provides access to a broad talent pool and a common connection, Carolina.

As a result of Carolina Next and our collaboration on this strategic initiative, we realized that this could be available to everybody. The platform will be rolled out broadly to campus in April, for anyone with an ONYEN.

How are we integrating career preparation across the campus to help students?

Across our campus, schools and units are running their own career development programs and leveraging alumni in their own ways. A wide network of career services for students exists across the campus. What we’ve learned is that we need to use technology in new and different ways. We also need to have the individual career services folks in various units work more collaboratively, which will happen as a result of just pulling these people together. And we also need to integrate some of that experience into the academic setting.

We’re developing the UNC Success Network with technology from PeopleGrove that will act as a single database across the University to better connect students and alumni with internships and career opportunities. This will be based centrally at University Career Services but will be available to the entire campus.

How will you use Carolina Talent, the new learning management system, to provide staff with professional development opportunities?

Carolina Talent is one module of a multiple module system. This offers supervisors opportunities to assign training to an employee and for the employee to request training that will help with career development. Training opportunities could range from LinkedIn learning courses to compliance-based programs, like sexual assault training, and courses for things like how to have difficult conversations in the workplace.

We are in the process now of implementing Carolina Talent Performance, which will become the new mechanism by which we conduct performance reviews. The goal is to someday reach the point of offering certificates and a transcript of everything you’ve accomplished in your learning. Through the Performance module, employees can identify training interests and track courses taken, including those assigned by supervisors.

It’s a platform, and it’s only as good as what we put in it. This is not going to change the performance management itself, which needs some work. But that’s coming too. The idea is that we’re going to make a connection between how we evaluate performance and where people want to be in their careers. That’s really exciting, because the idea that we’re connecting performance management more to where employees want to go and how we can help them get there is a good shift in mindset.

How do you plan to develop faculty careers and address the changing needs of today’s professoriate?

All of the higher education workforce has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic and will continue to experience major change. Our faculty have had to think about new ways to teach and new ways to engage their students.

A number of things are underway, largely driven by the Center for Faculty Excellence. There are also some major initiatives underway to look at who’s teaching in our classrooms and whether our faculty reflect the students in their racial and ethnic backgrounds — and in their broad-based diversity, whether that be veteran status, disability, sexual orientation, whatever it may be. We have a National Science Foundation grant called Team ADVANCE that is focused on promoting effective mentoring across campus, particularly for some of these underrepresented groups. There’s a group looking at promotion and tenure policies, and they’ve made 40 recommendations that I think could change how we manage our faculty moving forward.

What we’re seeing more than ever — and I think this is true across all employee types — is the recognition that the lines between workplace and life are more blurred than ever. And there is an element of how we support the overall well-being of our workforce such that they can be successful no matter when, how and where they work.

There’s a big wellness piece that we’re seeing on the faculty side and on the employee side. That has a lot to do with career development, because if people feel supported when they may have to deal with elder care or child care issues, then that means their careers can continue to develop.

Encouraging and promoting work-life balance for both faculty and staff has been more critical than ever during the pandemic. How will Carolina encourage balance?

It’s important that we recognize the wellness aspects of career development and acknowledge that the lines are more blurred. But we also appreciate that there needs to be some boundaries. It’s a balance, and the balance looks different for lots of different employees.

We’re going to reexamine the way we work. What we have defined as boundaries in the past may look different now. The ways people work will look different. Some people have come to enjoy working from home, and some jobs are appropriate for that. Other jobs are not appropriate for that, but there may be different schedules that make sense.

I do think that the boundary posts that we’ve set up may need to be shifted to accommodate some of the other wellness needs of our workforce. For some people, having some flexibility with their work time is going to make a lot more sense than working more traditional hours like 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

We need to evaluate whether our systems, our structures and our policies can support that — and how. The University doesn’t always have local authority to make those decisions. We’re going to have to do so in accordance with others, like the UNC System. And they’re helping us think differently about the remote work policy moving forward. They’re going to come up with a policy that has some guardrails, and then we will work within that framework.

To read other stories in The Well’s ongoing series about the eight strategic initiatives, visit Updating Carolina Next.