The concept of the Applied Skills Program developed during a strategic planning discussion within the College of Liberal and Applied Arts at Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA). The committee considered how students within liberal arts disciplines could demonstrate the professional skills they have acquired to potential employers and graduate schools in an objective manner. While employers consistently rate the skills of liberal arts graduates as the credentials sought in making employment decisions, the reality is that students with these degrees experience a difficult time lining up meaningful jobs immediately after college. As such, a gap exists between the hiring priorities of employers and their actual candidate selections.
The Applied Skills Program strives to validate the workplace readiness of liberal arts graduates. A pilot project was launched during Spring Semester, 2018, at SFA in the form of an internship mentored by two high‐level business executives who assessed the performance of students on seven skills relevant to the contemporary job market. The final event of the internship involved an on‐stage competition among the students as they presented solutions to a real‐life workplace problem. Liberal arts deans, or their representatives, from fourteen universities attended the event and afterwards were invited to form a consortium to expand the applied skills initiative on a regional basis.
For 2019, the Deans at three institutions agreed to establish The Applied Skills Consortium to move this program to the next level. The three institutions were:
The 2019 Competition had on-campus competitions using mentors from the business community to select two representatives from each campus to compete in a regional final. The host company provided the judges for the event where all participating students presented their solutions in a poster session and then finished the competition with a boardroom style teamwork exercise to come up with a joint solution to the business problem and deal with a unknown twist to the problem.
For 2020, the competition is up to five universities with the addition of Sam Houston University and Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. Competitions on each campus in the spring semester will be used to select the finalist that will compete in the boardroom competition judged by the corporate sponsor. Students in the Professionalization with CLASS program are eligible to participate in the program during their junior and senior years.