Graduating AmeriCorps Members and Career Transition Needs

For a course in training needs assessment, I have been researching the career transitions needs of AmeriCorps members in Oregon the past couple of months.

Happy AmeriCorps Week! Drawing by Matt Honore - Oregon State Service Corps staffer + AmeriCorps alum

So far I’ve:

  • looked at extant data, including past pre-workshop surveys, interview transcripts, and studies like Diana Epstein’s The Long-Term Impacts of AmeriCorps on Participants and
  • conducted a pilot study, specifically a survey of 41 Oregon AmeriCorps and VISTA members who are within four months of ending their terms of service.
The pilot study focused primarily on career pathing and networking — skills, attitudes, and performance needs. It’s interesting what is rising to the surface.
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The first thing that jumped out at me in general was that members are thinking about their post-AmeriCorps plan far earlier than I had anticipated. 81 percent were thinking about next steps by Day One of their term. I was thinking the majority would hover around the 6-month mark, once they got a handle on their service project.
Networking
A paradox emerged from the data on networking. The majority of members who responded to the survey rely on networking (with people more established in their careers, as well as with friends and family members) as their top strategies for investigating next steps.
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However, the vast majority of members also find networking problematic in a range of ways — from not knowing whom to network with, to feeling like they are bothering the people they want to network with. In fact, only 24 percent of members said networking was unproblematic for them.
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Strikingly, networking skills correlate with a more positive attitude toward the transition. For the 24 percent of corps members who find networking unproblematic:
  • 88 percent are optimistic/hopeful about the end of their term and their transition to next steps (compared with 65 percent who find networking problematic, and 70 percent overall).
  • 50 percent are “anxious/worried” (compared with 59 percent who find networking problematic, and 56 percent overall).
I’d love to know whether people with a good attitude towards their next steps also happen to have a good attitude towards networking — or if there’s a causal relationship (in either direction) among the two.
Career pathing
The other skill area I looked at included career pathing. I started by looking at survey results for people who report having their plans “firmly in place” — but the arc of their responses for all other questions looked really similar to overall responses.
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For people who are thinking primarily in terms of the role or job function they’ll play:
  • More are optimistic about the impending transition — 91 percent vs. 45 percent who aren’t thinking in terms of role (and 70 percent overall)
  • Most plan to search for jobs after AmeriCorps (versus planning to go to grad school, travel, or do another term of service)
  • The overwhelming majority — 92 percent — plan to find a job when the term ends (versus 36 percent of others)
  • 58 percent started thinking about their post-AmeriCorps career move before they started their term (versus 39 percent of others)
  • More than any other strategy to prepare for next steps, this group relied on reflection (92 percent — most other groups relied most on networking)
  • This group also relied on the widest variety of resources — 8 of those I listed as options in the survey
What’s fascinating to me about this set of numbers is that if I just look at people who are planning to get a job after the corps, a huge number are anxious (72 percent for job seekers overall; 54 percent for those focusing on their professional role) or at least uncertain (64 percent for job seekers overall; only 45 percent for those focusing on their role).
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On the other hand, among members who are focusing more on the issue they care about in their career:
  • 69 percent are excited about the transition! No one else is excited about it. Well, only 26 percent of others are excited about it.
  • 69 percent are heading to grad school (might explain the excitement) — whereas only 19 percent of others are going to grad school
  • 100 percent started thinking about next steps by Day One in the corps
Hmmm…
It appears that focusing on the role you’ll play in the workforce ain’t a bad strategy — at least if attitude is a good indicator. It may be that when you focus on role, you’re relying more on yourself and leaving less to chance or others.
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Literally, this group relied relatively less on networking (though they did network!), more on reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses, and took advantage of a wider variety of career resources available.
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An area for further investigation is, do the frequent opportunities for in-service training offer additional benefits to people entering their career through the lens of role? — because training is often more tied to specific job skills (like grant writing, for VISTAs) than issue.
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These initial findings are really tempting me to keep researching (beyond the scope of my class).
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Happy AmeriCorps Week, by the way!
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Your Service Networks Really Can Help with Your Career Transition

A story about how networking during Peace Corps reaped rewards after my service term ended.

I’d been back in Atlanta for six months, living off of my $5,075 Peace Corps readjustment allowance—at my parent’s house, of course—and also the pocket change I made working at an amphitheatre during the 1996 Olympics, and a very unpleasant week as a temp (who knew you needed office skills to work in an office?), before I scored my first job interview. It was for a Program Assistant position at an education non-profit in Atlanta.

I had never worked for a non-profit before and I would never have looked in that direction had it not been for connections I’d made while in Guinea.

I’d met Charles soon after arriving in Guinea two years earlier. He worked for USAID and lived in Conakry, Guinea’s capital city. A former Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV), he understood the travails of volunteer life, so he let PCVs house sit whenever his work took him elsewhere.

For two years, I’d lived in a small village roughly seven hours north of Conakry. Although my house was only 15 kilometers off the main road, it took an hour — via bush taxi or on my Trek mountain bike (that road was so bad, the mode of transportation Continue reading