Along with technical acumen, professional skills and the ability to communicate and make connections, Kristin Economos believes there is a key ingredient to ensuring students are successful in their future careers. It’s having a mix of confidence and humility.

Economos, owner and founder of the consulting firm Life Skills Launch, will be the headline speaker at the 2024 Iowa’s Annual Work-Based Learning Coordinators Conference on April 2. Her interactive keynote session will focus on the idea of confident humility and how educators, work-based learning coordinators and business partners can help develop this balance of attributes with students.

With her 15 years of experience in higher education, advising and training of young professionals and students, Economos will bring best practices in leadership development and collaboration to her keynote session.

Below, Economos provides a glimpse into her philosophy on confident humility and why it is important for Iowa students to include in their skill development.

Your upcoming keynote session at the Iowa’s Annual Work-Based Learning Coordinators Conference focuses on the idea of confident humility. Why is this an important skill for students and new workers?

Confident humility provides a vehicle for students and young professionals to build great relationships that allow them to flourish at work. When practiced effectively, it helps young people find the balance of bringing their full selves to the workplace without being full of themselves. This allows them to build and maintain great relationships while learning the professional skills required to flourish in their respective fields. Seasoned professionals with more experience, perspective and context are eager to teach and mentor students who are humble learners, and students, in return, are more likely to bring their fresh perspective and ideas to the workplace when they feel genuine confidence about what they have to offer.

What is one way that work-based learning coordinators, educators and business partners can incorporate confidence-building skill development into their work-based learning opportunities?  

Those who supervise work-based learning play a crucial role in building genuine confidence among their student employees. One way they can do this is by providing students with informal, real-time candid feedback. While many young workers get formal feedback through quarterly or annual reviews, those who receive it in routine, candid, bite-sized conversations often show significant professional growth as compared to their peers. Data suggests that young adults who get accustomed to this type of casual feedback are more receptive to critique, more likely to acknowledge and address their shortcomings and more likely to gain confidence in their unique talents and abilities.

While critical feedback is crucial, supervisors and educators can also equip their student employees with confidence by taking time to voice and acknowledge what is right with them. What skills, talents, ability or behaviors do your students exhibit that you want to see more of? Speak that out, regularly, and remember that students are willing to push outside of their comfort zone for supervisors and mentors who make them feel emotionally secure and supported.

Making a mistake at work is hard for anyone, but particularly for young workers. Why are making mistakes important for learning new skills and gaining confidence?

Making mistakes as a young professional is crucial for two reasons. First, it provides young workers an opportunity to separate their innate sense of self from their accomplishments and performance. The more comfortable young people get with making mistakes, the faster they gain perspective, learning that mistakes don't threaten their innate sense of worth or value. This creates a psychological buffer against feelings of failure, shame and embarrassment, which are often what we experience when we're new to a job and the learning curve is high.

Second, when students can experience mistakes, learn from their errors and use that experience to improve their work, they gain proficiency, and proficiency begets confidence. Genuine confidence assists young workers in many ways, helping them to own, identify and correct their blind spots and weaknesses.  

As a former college adviser, professional trainer and developer of curricula, you have many years of experience working with young people who are looking toward their future college and career goals. What is one piece of advice that you would give to students on preparing for their future careers?

Remember that you are only as effective as the number of people who want to work with and be around you. It's hard to make an impact as a young professional when you're a person with whom others don't want to collaborate. Relationships really are the currency of power, and if you want to be a person of impact, you have to practice emotional intelligence and communication skills, learning to take a genuine interest in others. Only then will you draw other people to you and the causes or communities you care most about. As comic Iliza Shlesinger says, focus your time on becoming educated, open-minded and kind.

Any other thoughts?

I'm grateful for the invitation to join the Iowa Work-Based Learning Coordinators Conference and want to extend my deepest thanks to those investing time, energy, and resources to support aspiring young professionals in our state. As a native Iowan, I know that the future of our workforce rests on the shoulders of young people coming out of work-based learning programs, and our local communities are better because of the experience and support you're providing them.

The 2024 Iowa’s Annual Work-Based Learning Coordinators Conference will be held April 2 at the Prairie Meadows Event Center in Altoona. Registration closes on March 22.