In an effort to be all things to all people, most colleges have created one-size-fits-all offerings that serve few well and incur extraordinary overhead costs to deal with the complexity of serving students with very different motivations for enrolling. In research conducted over the last several years, the authors drew on more than 200 detailed stories of students making the decision to attend some form of postsecondary education, and analyzed the data to discover the core “Jobs to Be Done” that cause people to “hire” postsecondary education. They discovered there are five Jobs to Be Done for which people go to college. Schools need to identify which “Job to Be Done” they will serve along with the requisite experiences they must offer to help people be successful in that Job. Making that decision will dictate what they must be good at doing and how they should organize themselves — and, by definition, what they should be intentionally bad at doing.
Employers are staring at a chasm between the skills they require and what would-be employees bring to the workforce. According to the World Economic Forum, for example, just under 30 percent of companies believe they have the digital talent they require, and a Wall Street Journal survey showed that 89 percent of executives struggle to find candidates with the right mix of soft skills — things like teamwork, communication, and adaptability.
Higher education has yet to step up and meet the gap. A stunning number of students learn little in college, and far too many — 40 percent — don’t complete four-year programs in six years.
Among the reasons for these poor outcomes is that institutions have failed to understand what people are hoping to accomplish by attending college. Put another way, they haven’t considered the “Job to Be Done” that individuals have when they enroll. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen famously coined the “Jobs to Be Done” theory. As he writes in his book, Competing Against Luck, “When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ [it] to get a job done” — meaning we’re seeking to make progress in a given situation in our lives.
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The Jobs to Be Done theory emerged from research that one of us (Bob) did with Christensen over many years starting in the mid-1990s, and one of us (Michael) has helped apply Christensen’s work to the education sector since founding the Christensen Institute with him in 2007 and authoring Disrupting Class with him in 2008.
The theory is valuable because it predicts what people will actually do in a circumstance — not just what they say they will do — by focusing on what causes people to make the choices they do. In essence, individuals don’t buy products and services for their own sake, but instead to accomplish something in their lives — a truth that led the late Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt to say that people don’t want a quarter-inch drill, but rather the quarter-inch hole.
In research we conducted over the last several years, we drew on more than 200 detailed stories of students making the decision to attend some form of postsecondary education — from four-year universities to community colleges and from online universities to coding bootcamps — and analyzed the data to discover the core Jobs to Be Done that cause people to “hire” postsecondary education.
We discovered there are five Jobs to Be Done for which people go to college, each of which is filled with forces that are pushing and pulling people to make decisions that range from functional considerations (if I get another degree, I’ll get a raise that justifies the cost) to emotional and social considerations. The five Jobs are:
1) Help me get into my best school
The students in this Job typically want the classic college experience with the beautiful campus and prestigious brand-name school so they can reinvent themselves with new people, but they have rarely thought about what they will do once enrolled. For them, making progress is all about getting accepted.
A math major in this Job would say something like, “Help me get my math degree from Harvard.” Progress for this group is tied explicitly to getting into the best — as they define the best for them.
For institutions: Many colleges are set up well for this Job because many students here are buying the classic college experience that they have been led to expect. Yet there is likely a limit to the number of colleges that can win at this Job.
2) Help me do what’s expected of me
These students are going to satisfy someone else’s expectations of them — like those of their parents, spouse, friends, guidance counselor, teacher, mentor or community. Similar to those who seek to get into their best school, they see school as the next logical step in their journey. They also don’t have — or can’t see — other options. Although these students are apathetic about their choice, they comfort themselves with the knowledge that having a degree will provide a safety net and something to fall back on.
A student in this Job is saying something like, “My mom said I was good at math, so I am taking it.” Oftentimes these students were in the “best school” job, but failed to get into their dream school and then saw no other options but to do what was expected of them.
For institutions: Consider counseling students into a gap year or structure yourself as a “transfer college” — a short-term destination that helps students get into the right school for them.
3) Help me get away
The students with this Job are looking to get away from their day job, break a current habit or leave home and their family, town or a particular relationship. They are looking to go to a place where they will know a supportive person and to check a box with a degree.
A student in this Job majoring in math says, “I’m good enough at math. I’ll major in it to get me out of where I am today.” This is all about escaping a current situation, and once that’s happened, students in this Job have been successful. They’ve typically given little thought to what might be next, which opens them up to overcommitting in time and money to the educational experience they choose.
For institutions: Revamp your first-year program to help students build passions and learn what they don’t like.
4) Help me step it up
Students in this Job turn to school when they don’t recognize themselves in some part of their life — they want to get away from their current place of employment, role, or habit — and are ready to step it up and do better. They typically feel like time is running out, and they are afraid of where things are headed unless they take action. They know that specific, practical skills or certifications will help them get back on track. A student with this Job may want to be a data analyst because it pays well, and she sees that majoring in math will be a ticket to that role.
For institutions: Create pathways that move students through a clear, fixed set of learning experiences that result in students’ desired outcome in as convenient a fashion as possible.
5) Help me extend myself
Students with this Job are looking to learn more and challenge themselves so they can pursue a clear vision and get some practical skills or certifications. Life is OK, and they are now able to make the time and allocate the budget to pursue this vision.
A student in this Job has an interest in math because it will help her better serve her existing clients or because of a deeper curiosity in mathematics. The student is intrinsically interested in the subject itself, but doesn’t have the same urgency to step it up as students in the previous Job.
For institutions: Make your program as low-risk as possible to encourage people to enroll and make the experiences in the program highly personal so that it aligns with the emotional reasons students are attending.
Implications for schools
Just because students in each of the different Jobs said they will major in math does not mean all colleges should be accepting them all as math majors or that they are set up to serve them all well. Yet this is precisely what most colleges have done. In an effort to be all things to all people, most institutions of higher education have created one-size-fits-all offerings that serve few well and incur extraordinary overhead costs to deal with the complexity of serving students with very different motivations for enrolling.
Schools must instead make hard choices. They will need to identify which Job they will serve along with the requisite experiences they must offer to help people be successful in that Job. Making that decision will dictate what they must be good at doing and how they should organize themselves — and, by definition, what they should be intentionally bad at doing. That will also mean that they should turn away students who are a poor match for how their institution is designed.
Until schools understand the progress students are seeking when they enroll and design accordingly, the sector’s results will continue to disappoint — and students, employers, and society will pay the price.
via Harvard Business Review http://hbr.org
October 15, 2019 at 10:31AM