Oct 2019

Do Colleges Truly Understand What Students Want from Them?

By Michael B. Horn and Bob Moesta

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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