Undergrads are Business Ready

How we adapt to employers' ever-shifting expectations

Early in her time as director of the Heavener School of Business, Erica Studer-Byrnes and her team saw a gap in the student experience. Undergraduate business students didn’t have a program that would guide them from their first day on campus until they were a well-rounded, career-ready senior walking across the stage at graduation.

With the backdrop of the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ eight career readiness competencies, the team created a program to ensure every undergraduate business student is equipped with the necessary skills by the time they graduate from the University of Florida and start their career.

They noticed employers shifting their expectations for new hires. The nuts and bolts of a business education are still expected, but on top of that, they want to see graduates who are ready for the real world because they’ve thoroughly experienced it as undergraduates. They want students who are experienced, globally savvy and showcase an array of soft skills.

That’s how Business Ready was born.

It’s an ambitious program that gives students clear, systematic objectives to develop eight main competencies and introduces them to how they can maximize the undergraduate student experience by infusing experiential learning opportunities throughout their time as a student. 

“We’ve seen great programs at other universities set students up for success, and we wanted to do that at a more comprehensive scale,” Studer-Byrnes said. “This is more complete than what anyone else is doing. Everybody is doing a little bit of it, but to have a system where it’s intentionally integrated at the curricular and co-curricular levels at the depths we’re targeting, that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

Previously, 15-20% of Heavener students were participating in dynamic student engagement events that were preparing them for the future. UF Warrington Dean Saby Mitra asked Studer-Byrnes what it would take to raise that number to 100%. His encouragement and support played an important role in getting Business Ready started, allowing the undergraduate business team to begin creating the program.

Beginning in the 2024–25 academic year, Business Ready will measure and track the growth of UF undergraduate business students in eight competencies—career and self-development, communication, critical thinking and problem solving, equity and inclusion, leadership, professionalism and work ethic, teamwork and collaboration, and technical acumen. Built from conversations with alumni and recruiters, as well as takeaways from NACE’s annual surveys, these competencies teach students specific learning objectives that are important to being business ready before graduation.

To track their growth, each student is scored on a 1-5 scale in each competency. It’s expected for a first-year student to score as a one in most competencies. By the time they graduate, the goal is for students to score at least a four in every competency.

Take communication for example. An entry-level student rates as a one in communication if they’re skilled at communicating in front of a small audience. Within each numerical level of every competency, there are multiple steps to help the student achieve it. For instance, to move from a level one to a level two in communication, students will be able to determine appropriate communication channels for professional communications and adapt communication methods to meet the goals of the audience. They will be able to develop those skills from what they learn in the classroom and through their participation in events, competitions and organizations outside of the classroom. There are programs and activities built into a student’s growth for every level of every competency.

The activities inside and outside of the classroom will blend together across many courses. The curricular programming will guide what a student is learning about and then ask them to step outside the classroom and participate in an on-campus event. When the event is over, they’ll return to the classroom and participate in a discussion about it. This furthers the learning process as students learn about a topic in the classroom, experience it firsthand outside of the classroom and then reflect on it with the group to better their understanding.

So how will a student know when they’ve moved up one level in a competency? That’s where data collection comes in. There are three key data points that influence how every student is assessed. The first datapoint happens in the classroom through their grades and faculty evaluations.

The second datapoint comes through SkillSurvey, a third-party platform that collects data from the student through quizzes and self-assessments, as well as recording feedback from their supervisor during an internship, program manager during a student organization or any other leader above them in an out of classroom experience. This data can then be used to compare a student with other UF students in internships or student organizations, or even compare the student with all university students in the United States taking an internship in that specific industry. Students will take an initial SkillSurvey quiz as a freshman in Warrington Welcome, the college’s introductory class required for all freshmen, which will provide a baseline score that can be used for the rest of their college experience.

The third datapoint comes from Gator Ready, the college’s undergraduate app which catalogs student activities and involvement. As students participate in events, Gator Ready connects the activity the student has completed with their skill development in a specific competency.

“Our ability to analyze the numbers and show what we’re doing is key,” Studer-Byrnes said. “The early reliability is really good based on the testing we’ve done.”

When Studer-Byrnes and her team started to build out Business Ready, one of her top priorities was a program that would benefit every undergraduate student, regardless of the knowledge level they have when they enroll. Some students walk onto the UF campus knowing exactly what industry they want to work in and already have many soft skills to help them get there. Other students show up with a very limited understanding of business and need help even understanding what careers could come with a business degree.

There are many students in between those two examples, and those students would succeed regardless of what the program looked like. But to be proud of what she built as the director of the undergraduate school, Studer-Byrnes wanted to make sure every student had a runway to success.

Now, Business Ready is poised to be a tone setter for incoming students who will use it throughout their four-year journey on campus.

“Business Ready grabs our advanced students and provides them challenges, but it also can take our less experienced students and help them,” Studer-Byrnes said. “It does so without being too trite to the advanced student or too complex for the less experienced student. We have something for everyone with how we’re deploying this.”

Business Ready is also inclusive of students no matter when they decide to major in business. For people who change majors and come to business after their first or second year, there’s an on ramp for them to experience the program benefits. Third-year transfers will also experience a system that helps them catch up on what they missed.

The goal is to maximize the way business students at UF are prepared for their future careers, no matter their background. And to ensure that happens, students will have plenty of opportunities to engage with major companies throughout their time on campus.

Interactions with companies are woven into the fabric of Business Ready, especially at the more advanced levels. Recruiters will have access to events where students are learning about the skills they’re looking for. If a recruiter is targeting a strong leader to fill a position at their company, they can host an event with students that helps develop leadership skills.

This will also extend to UF Warrington’s corporate partners. For instance, Procter & Gamble is set to host an event targeting students working towards being a level four in teamwork. The event comes from Procter & Gamble’s human resources team during their employer orientation.

“They’re happy to bring that type of education straight to our students,” Studer- Byrnes said. “It creates more organic recruiting opportunities.”

Business Ready is built to fit the current and future needs of employers by ensuring UF business students are ready to fill them. For students in other undergraduate programs, logical examples already exist. Engineering students have access to robot labs. Medical students have access to the frontlines of healthcare. But business students haven’t had a clear way to experience hands-on training.

By continuing to converse with recruiters, alumni and current students, UF Warrington is changing that.

“The next generation needs to be ready in a way that’s different than what business schools are doing,” Studer-Byrnes said. “To prepare the best, we have to give students the chance to try out new skills in more intentional ways so we can make learning better. That’s what we’re going to do.”