Career Discovery


Many signs point to a breakdown in the current U.S. labor market. Hiring companies cannot find people with the necessary skills, from truck driving to data mining. Workers at all levels, meanwhile, find it more and more difficult to climb a career ladder, or even to get onto the bottom rung. The rapid evolution in technology and business practices accelerates and intensifies the need for new approaches to career awareness, preparation, and retraining.   In a series of industry planning events, graduate courses, and discussions with students, we have deployed a simple yet effective tool for beginning and maintaining the career planning discussion: a skills grid tool, with roles chronologically listed as rows and key skill/experience categories as columns. The student can readily see both existing strengths and patterns of success as well as gaps that can be proactively addressed. It is useful for initial career planning as well as long-term career management. We have found that students gain much from sharing their evolving grids with their peers and mentors. Further, one of us (MA) has used this approach in industry for >35 years and found the grid to be an excellent tool for career planning. During the past year, we have also been working with Burning Glass Technologies, a Boston-based big data/machine learning company that has built a substantial database of job postings, resumes, and government jobs data. Matt Sigelman, the company’s CEO, argues that rather than a jobs market it is more insightful to analyze how companies are looking for skills. We licensed Burning Glass data products to identify opportunity areas for Penn State campuses to engage local hiring companies: what skills are in short supply, how might the campuses respond at undergraduate, graduate and continuing education levels to help ease the shortage, how can companies more effectively recruit? We seek feedback from a wider audience at Penn State beginning with students and other interested groups at Penn State.


  • We are piloting new student group discussions from professional societies and university organizations to have evening event to discuss skills, jobs and careers.
  • Prior to the session students will review online background content on skills, jobs and state of the market
  • A one-page skills grid template is available and each student will draft his or her personal skills grid and share during the discussion session.
  • The Career Discovery Module is at:


  • Each student will present their skills grid and have a chance to learn from others in the group.
  • Session feedback will be collected and will help improving sessions for greater student benefit.
  • Students will learn more about the jobs market, skills required to secure a job.
  • Future: we will engage employers to be part of the session discussion and feedback using ZOOM.
  • Other ideas or suggestions for improvement will also be captured during the session.