Revolutionizing Career Success: The TDS Approach to Skills Alignment with Businesses Today

April 15, 2024 • By The UCI Paul Merage School of Business

The UCI Paul Merage School of Business Career Center recently launched its Talent Design Studio Innovation Hub (TDS) to move business school career services into greater alignment with today’s top talent conversations. Emphasizing this new era of career development the Merage School Career Center also unveiled a new student pilot program focused on emotional intelligence (EQ) development in partnership with RocheMartin, the world’s EQ assessment and talent solutions leader. The strategic partnership with RocheMartin is the first of several initial strategic moves around career services to support the school’s 2,300-plus students and the employer partners who hire, promote, and invest in them.

CynthiaRude-crop.jpgMerage School Career Center Executive Director, Cynthia Rude, is behind the new TDS initiative along with her career team of 17 professionals. Through her previous work as the global COO of a successful integrated marketing agency, Rude has deep experience across business disciplines, including business development, client service, P&L management, strategic communications, talent development, and employee engagement. “Our team applied a strategic process by looking at the market,” she says. “We looked at how we work with students and the talent needs of businesses today and concluded that the legacy way of looking at career services primarily through the job search lens wouldn’t be enough to serve the diverse needs of our students and employer partners in the long term. Being a full-service Career Center, we believe we have a unique opportunity to evolve our service offerings in a way that provides additional support to all Merage School students while adding greater value to our employer partners.”


Maintaining Student Success While Enhancing Employer Value

TDS was built within the Merage School Career Center as a systemic approach to innovation focused around three pillars, including staff development, supportive technology, and strategic partnerships. “TDS supports the Merage School Career Center’s Assess/Design/Propel success framework, putting the whole person at the center of the process to help students achieve greater personal and professional success,” says Rude.

TDS was created to become the engine for career services evolution by looking at services and resources through the larger talent development lens. “Traditional job search skills have become more commoditized, so we’re automating things like resume development, career exploration and interview preparation so that we have more time to advise and coach students around career design, as well as provide them with additional resources to expand select skill sets that matter to employers,” says Rude. “We believe this is a key differentiator for students who want a personalized and high-touch career journey with ample on-demand support.”

Merage School students typically reach a collective, six-month, post-graduate employment outcome rate of around 90 percent1, and TDS-driven innovations are designed to maintain that rate over time within economic, industry, and admissions variations. “EQ is a great example of an employer-identified need, especially around digital disruption,” says Rude. “The EQ strategic partnership with RocheMartin made sense as the way to launch TDS with more innovations coming in the future around Career Center staff development and supportive technology.”


New EQ Pilot Showcases Student Development Potential

The inaugural TDS and RocheMartin strategic partnership is centered around an innovative social and emotional intelligence development pilot program funded by a grant through the Merage School Dean’s Leadership Circle (DLC). The pilot follows 45-plus Merage School students—undergraduates, SMPs and MBAs—through the RocheMartin Emotional Capital Report (ECR) assessment, coaching conversations, on-demand training modules and group workshops.

The pilot program evaluates students on RocheMartin’s 10 identified competencies, including self-knowing, self-confidence, self-reliance, straightforwardness, relationship skills, empathy, optimism, self-actualization, adaptability and self-control. “RocheMartin’s ECR helps students understand where they fall within a range and how they can build from there,” says Rude. “There is no right or wrong. The assessment provides a tangible way to benchmark where students are today with specific resources to grow their competencies.”

Through group and 1:1 coaching sessions, pilot students explore development opportunities in a safe and confidential environment. From there, students have access to on-demand development content where they can further enhance their EQ competencies. “All of this is supplemented by faculty and employer-led workshops through the Merage School Career Center,” says Rude. “This is where students experience why EQ matters and how they can develop the leadership competencies key to success, such as networking and relationship building, straightforwardness and self control.”

For executive-level MBA students, the Career Center is piloting the RocheMartin ECR 360 assessment to compare their personal EQ perceptions to those of their manager’s, direct reports, and peers. Development activities focus on closing gaps that might exist and lead to greater leadership opportunities for students.


Dean’s Leadership Circle Funding to Springboard Future TDS Opportunities

The DLC Grant was critical to getting TDS up and running by funding the EQ pilot. “DLC funds have allowed select Career Center coaches to get certified on the assessment tool, test on-demand EQ development content and retest the pilot’s 45 students by the end of spring,” says Rude. “Based on the success of the pilot program, we will seek additional funding sources to take the program to scale across the entire Merage School student population within the next few years, including assessments, coaching, professional seminars and workshops.”

To measure the success of the pilot, the Career Center’s plan is simple: “Each participant will retake the ECR assessment at the end of the program, and we will compare it to the initial assessment to see development trends. We’ve also surveyed students at every point related to the assessment, 1:1 coaching, on-demand engagement, and workshop participation,” she says, “and we will do an exit survey with all participants after they retake the ECR and receive their results.”

Based on student survey results to date, the pilot appears to be on track to accomplish its goals. “Even though the ECR and coaching session was challenging and emotional, they prompted me to think deeply about my communication style and how I can be more affectionate and empathetic toward others,” one Master of Professional Accountancy student said. “Overall, I genuinely appreciated the session. It will assist me in enhancing my emotional intelligence and provide long-term benefits.” Another Master of Finance student echoes those sentiments: “It was a great experience to have an insight into how my emotional intelligence can help me navigate situations related to work as well as life.”


Employer Input Critical to TDS Innovation Hub Launch and Pilot Success

To gauge employer support for the Merage School Career Center’s future direction, a small group feedback session was hosted to unveil the Talent Design Studio Innovation Hub and EQ pilot. “We gathered a small group of leading companies and shared our vision,” says Rude. “One hundred percent of those surveyed said our direction focused around talent design resonated with them, and 71 percent responded they would be ‘likely to interview’ students with EQ training.”

“The Merage School is pioneering a seismic change in career services,” says Dr. Martyn Newman, Executive Chairman of RocheMartin. “The machines are coming, but the future is still human. Demonstrating EQ competencies are paramount to today’s talent conversations and we need to accelerate that development into the educational system.”

Catherine Suh, SVP and HR director at REALM IDx, agrees. “With hybrid work here to stay and the rise of artificial intelligence, soft skills will be critical in gaining personal and professional success. From what I’ve previewed with the Merage School EQ pilot, the school is doing something incredible. I look forward to seeing how this transforms the next generation of leaders entering the workforce.”

“The Merage School Career Center’s pilot program around EQ is valuable for all students as they prepare to enter the workforce,” adds Senior Director, Talent, Cindy Navarrette of Tarsus Pharmaceuticals. “Strong communication, effective team collaboration and business acumen can all lead to strong performance and ultimately better job satisfaction."

The TDS Innovation Hub is a long-term strategy on which to maintain the career success of Merage School students. “Focusing on future of work talent needs will add yet another reason for students to come to the Merage School of Business,” says Rude. “We think about the Career Center like a business and how we support our most precious assets: our customers.”

1 Note: excludes working professional programs and are based on MBA CSEA data collection standards