Photo | Lagniappe

Mayor Sandy Stimpson met last week with members of USA’s Student Leadership United about securing jobs for recent graduates in the local workforce.

Of their own accord, a group of student leaders at the University of South Alabama has come together to help their fellow classmates seize local opportunities and make a successful transition from scholars to young working professionals.

When Nikolas Hughey, a junior finance major, pitched an idea to start a clothing bank for USA students who may not have the resources to purchase suits and other clothes for post-graduation interviews, he was told the university didn’t have much student involvement in those areas.

“So I said, ‘What happens if I head this up and get students on board?’” Hughey recalled.

Hughey’s question launched Student Leadership United (SLU) at USA, and over the past year the organization has grown from a few ideas to help students prepare to enter the workforce to an organization with stakeholders from numerous campus groups.

Following education trends around the country, SLU aims to help USA students — especially those with limited resources — develop the soft skills needed to put their college degrees to practical use. The difference is that SLU is organized and led by students.

Hughey, now president of SLU, said he’s met students at multiple colleges who know how to get good grades and meet or exceed the requirements of a degree, but don’t know how to set up a proper LinkedIn account or build a professional resume or dress appropriately for job interviews.

Those elements may seem inconsequential, but Hughey said professional skills are crucial in the job search, especially for recent graduates making their first efforts to find employment after college.

“A lot of students get through four years of school and have no clue what they’re going to do next,” he said. “Many have the academics down but may lack the skills necessary to obtain that first job. Some don’t even know where to start or that they need to.”

For SLU, 2018 has been more about building the organization’s membership and making connections, but the group hopes to address some of those issues going into the spring semester by hosting resume workshops, mock interviews and business etiquette courses on USA’s campus.

USA already offers several other resources to help students transition into the workforce and Hughey said SLU plans to work “hand in hand” with the university so faculty members can refer students in need and the organization can get involved with freshmen orientation groups and first-year seminars.   

Hughey had nothing but praise for efforts already made by USA, but also said he firmly believes “students can reach other students better than faculty.”

“When it comes from your peers, it’s a lot more of a humbling experience,” Hughey said. “We have recruited leaders from around 17 student organizations on campus. We want to find people who are influential in their organizations and educate them about career preparation.”

The hope is those SLU members can help spread resources and information to the members of their respective groups. According to Hughey, some Greek organizations, the Black Student Union, the Pre-Law Society and the Student Government Association are already involved.

Outside the university, though, Hughey said SLU has also engaged with the local business community to establish connections and to fundraise for upcoming initiatives ranging from skills training to helping students with limited financial resources obtain professional attire.

He said SLU is already engaging with the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce groups Young Professionals of Mobile and Emerging Leaders. Members of SLU also had a meeting with Mayor Sandy Stimpson last week, who later reported the discussion focused on how the city of Mobile can better “retain talented young people” and “connect them to jobs.”

Hughey believes SLU can achieve that by connecting students to local employers and businesses to potential employees. He said he wants to help those already in Mobile find a reason to stay permanently and to see local businesses tap into the existing talent pool at USA.

“[Stimpson] always talks about the retention of workers in the Mobile community and those who leave after college or high school. With employers like Airbus here and others on the way, we need employees,” he said. “These students are members of our community, and we want to create a situation where [businesses] are able to begin engaging with that community. It’s a great opportunity to companies, not only to showcase themselves, but to give back as well.”