TalentConnect: Participatory Research with High Schoolers to Envision Next Gen Career Planning
In our society, the perception that each high school student should aim to earn a college degree is widely upheld, however it does not align with the ratio of jobs in our economy. In fact, a study conducted at Harvard University predicts that in 2018, just 33% of jobs will require a four-year college degree or more. The majority of career opportunities will require "technical skills and training at the credential or Associate's Degree level" (Fleming 2013:2) Knowing this, the question "which colleges are you considering?" becomes instead "which career matches your skills and personality best?"
The Columbus Chamber of Commerce is currently developing an innovative psychographic assessment tool, TalentConnect, which will provide high school students with insights into their personal work style and personality as well as relevant connections to Central Ohio companies that are looking for types of employees that "match" their profiles. The Chamber wants to ensure that TalentConnect is adopted once it's launched, so they partnered with Lextant, a Columbus-based design research firm.
The research was conducted with central Ohio high students across five schools to better understand how they truly felt about starting a career and how to engage and inspire them to take the next steps towards a career after high school graduation.
Broadly, the research covered students' current experience of career exploration as well as how students would like to explore careers and connect with potential employers in the future – their "ideal experience."
The process included three phases: 1) Research, students completed pre-work to uncover their current experience and prime them for focus groups about their ideal experience of the TalentConnect digital platform, 2) Data Analysis to undercover pattern-based student-generated criteria for developing, communicating, and socializing on TalentConnect, and 3) Insight Visualization to synthesize the project insights into an engaging deliverable that will be readily utilized by all stakeholders in the development of the tool.
This research revealed compelling insights that address the need for connecting students' unique skills with complementary careers. These insights comprised three main areas of knowledge, student perspectives, desired process, and implementation strategy.
We learned that graduating students are excited and nervous about the future. Students shared with us their hopes and hesitations about graduating and moving onto the next phase of their lives. They also shared with us how they feel about going to college, picking a career path, and getting a job. Next, they articulated their ideal process for utilizing TalentConnect, which includes 1) Getting started, 2) Taking the Survey 3) Discovering the Right Direction 4) Connecting with Companies. They described the entire experience; how they want to begin exploring careers all the way through connecting with potential employers. Finally, we learned that students are open to and excited about getting more career and job direction especially if it's offered up in an engaging and relevant way. For them, a career assessment tool should fit the following criteria: 1) Trustworthy 2) Anytime/Anywhere 3) Helpful 4) Humanized 5) Spot On.
Students in Focus Group
Students in Focus Group 2
Focus Group Canvas 1
Focus Group Canvas 2
Focus Group Canvas 3
Focus Group Canvas 4
INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" This question follows students throughout their young lives—from childhood dreams of becoming a fire-fighting super hero to graduation from university. As they progress through school, though, that question begins to change. They are asked: "where are you going to college?" "What are you going to major in?" or "how will that impact your career?" It is almost as if higher education is an assumption, not an option. All of these questions further the common rhetoric that a university education (in any major!) is indispensible to achieving "job security, social mobility and financial prosperity" (Fleming 2013:1). However, research showing the job market's desperate need for skilled workers with credentials or two-year degrees and the oversaturation of professional degrees directly contradicts the message most students receive, setting them up for potential disappointment or failure.
Two-thirds of high school students will enroll in college but only a quarter will actually graduate. For those who do graduate, there is often a significant shock when they realize that the degree they worked so hard for doesn't necessarily prepare them for employment. This misalignment contributes to a cultural phenomenon we are experiencing right now: an abundance of young, educated people who are working in jobs that do not utilize their university education or, worse, unemployed.
At the heart of this issue is 1) a rhetorical stance that positions university as the only option, 2) student's misunderstanding of their own skills, and 3) lack of information into other educational options/careers and the skills they require. In an attempt to address these issues, The Columbus Chamber of Commerce (CCC) has taken on an initiative to increase the number of internships and entry-level job placement in the Central Ohio area. The overarching goal of this initiative is to help high school students identify their skillsets; then connect these skills with career options and potential employers through a survey-based platform, TalentConnect. In pursuit of this goal, the CCC partnered with Lextant, a Columbus-based research firm, to create a strategic plan for developing and implementing TalentConnect.
RESEARCH & ANALYSIS
To develop a strategic plan for TalentConnect, Lextant structured research around three main objectives: 1) Identify design criteria for the refinement and development of a "psychographic" assessment tool that will arm students with the right information to find & secure entry levels jobs or internships, 2) Identify criteria for effective marketing and messaging of the tool, and 3) Create an engaging deliverable that will be readily utilized by all stakeholders in the development of the tool. These objectives were addressed using a qualitative, structured and replicable research process that utilized participatory design methods to facilitate student expression.
Thirty-one high school juniors and seniors from five high schools in the Columbus area were recruited to participate in the research. Representing rural, suburban and urban areas these students were chosen because TalentConnect's reach extends across Central Ohio.
To gather data, Lextant used a two-step research process including a pre-work assignment and focus groups of four-five students representing each high school. Students completed an online pre-work exercise that asked them how they feel about finding a career and getting a job with the resources and information available today. The group sessions focused on the ideal experience and design of a survey-based tool that addresses how students said they want to feel when researching a career and finding a job. Using large posters or "canvases," (see Project Images) students were able to interact with word and image stimulus to help them in articulating how the tool should be developed, what would motivate students to use it, how the site should be designed to engage & inform, preferred employer metrics for job matching and their expectation for CCC involvement after a job match has been made. This method is successful because it actively engages participants in the research—in fact, many of the students expressed a desire to do similar activities in school to aid learning.
Data from the pre-work and group sessions was documented and analyzed by the research team. Ideas expressed by two or more schools were considered viable and "synthesized" or structured according to like idea and organized into a hierarchy. Lextant worked with the CCC at this point in the process to align all stakeholders and encourage confidence and buy-in. Next, we developed a report following this organized and compelling structure. In order to maintain authenticity, we wrote in first person perspective, from the students' point of view, using words and phrases the students actually said. We designed complementary graphics and icons to simplify complex ideas and incorporated images to bring the story to life and make the report more visually engaging. The final report was crafted into a website-style deliverable so that all stakeholders could easily access it and share it with an unlimited number of interested parties.
RESULTS: THE STUDENT PERSPECTIVE
Students expressed a variety of viewpoints about going to college, choosing a career path, and getting a job. When they think about their future career, they are both excited and scared about what's in store for them after high school graduation. They know that choosing a career path is a big decision that will impact them for the rest of their life, so they want to do something they are passionate about and feel confident in the career that they choose. Unfortunately, they don't feel their high school experiences adequately prepare them for a career, and the tools out there to help them make this decision are far from helpful. They're not confident in the results of those tools or proud to share them.
Students feel a lot of pressure to attend college and are excited about it, especially when they have an idea of their career path. However, they also feel that if they make the wrong decision, it could translate to more money and time spent in college. If they found a job that would allow them to get started in a desirable career right away instead of going to college, they would consider it. They're really excited to start their careers and wish there was more they could do to get ready because having a career would prepare them financially to support themselves, their future endeavors, and their future family. Students realize that they're going to have to take a leap of faith at some point and it's going to require some hard work to get where they want to be. That's why they believe it's so important to learn as much as they can about a company, job, and career to help navigate and prepare for what's to come.
From the research, Lextant was able to outline the following five criteria that students said are crucial in getting them to use the site. Together these criteria illustrate the overall experience students want to have when interacting with TalentConnect. The site should be... 1) Trustworthy: a recognized/trusted domain must host the site and allow them to have control over their information. 2) Anytime/Anywhere: The website should be available on all devices, 24/7 and support usage over time. It should grow with students and allow them to edit/change as they do. 3) Helpful: the site should encourage students to pursue their goals through things like motivational quotes or mentorship opportunities. The site can also help in a practical way with a chat function or direct line to a live person to answer questions. 4) Humanized: The communication on the site should be friendly and positive—not commanding or limiting and have a minimalist look that references visual story-telling and social media sites. Text should be limited, especially in surveys, and accompanied by images. And finally, 5) Spot On: The site needs to be accurate, relevant and up-to-date as well as tailored specifically to each student. The site should "learn" based on users' accumulated actions to continually customize content.
2015 Blackfisk Creative."Success in the New Economy." Youtube video,09:35. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs6nQpVI164.
2013 Fleming, Kevin. Success in the New Economy: How prospective college students can gain a competitive advantage. Telos Education Services.
2010 Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century. Issued by the Pathways to Prosperity Project, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
We think this is a well performed research project that has generated some very clear and actionable insight.
It is also about advancing the practice of design into new spaces, where using a design approach is still not so common.