OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Undercover Student: Student enters a job as a new hire (not intern) to experience daily life in the profession before deciding on career

Student is "new hire" to experience daily grind, office dynamics, unspoken rules, dress code of profession for personal fit as career

Photo of Stacy
6 4

Written by

One of the stated goals of Higher Education is to prepare students for success in the “real world”.

            To do so, universities must:

  • Create a mirror of the real-world environment with respect to the career the student wishes to pursue;
  • Require competency in the use of technology to analyze, create solutions and communicate; and
  • Teach and enable students to put into practice personal finance skills.


Life within the walls of a university does not mirror the “real world.”  In addition to the need to manage a life (apartment, food, bills, social life), at work new graduates face very real cost and time deadlines, competition – from candidates, colleagues and companies, and the unspoken rules of the profession. Arriving on Wall Street from the United Nations, I was “behind the 8 ball” as I struggled to learn the rules of a game I had never seen, no less played.  My diligence and excellence at my responsibilities were overshadowed by my lack of understanding of office power and politics. I was handicapped relative to my colleagues who had grown up in investing in securities and real estate, and were the beneficiaries of family trusts; and there was no manual I could access to catch-up.

I recommend every university, which represents it prepares students to successfully enter the work force, be required to create a mirror of the work environment of the career the student believes she wishes to pursue.  The environment can serve as a required lab, like a Chemistry or Physics lab, where the student is required to dress, sit, interact and “work” as if going to work every day for at least two weeks and preferably a month or all semester. 

Every profession has its own dynamic, unspoken rules, and even dress code. In creating mirror environments, universities will not only prepare students for professional life they will afford students the opportunity to discover they do not wish to purse a profession based on the television or Instagram version of it. The day-to-day work environment of any profession differs from the romanticized version presented in media.  To avoid students choosing professions, and their preparatory course of study without the experience necessary to do so in an informed, universities need to afford students the opportunity to “try before they buy”.   

In fact, student should be permitted to attend the labs of as many different professions as they wish to undertake a journey to determine “best fit.”

Students are asked to select a major, supposedly to develop the skills required for entry into their chosen profession.  Yet, students have no understanding when selecting this major what a career in that field feels like.  No one lets them experience it and counselors do not ask, “do you enjoy getting dressed in a suit,” “working with machines versus humans,” “being outdoors” – things students are likely to know about themselves, and which could change the track of their study before it is “too late.” An engineer may work outside in jeans building bridges or in a corporate office developing products – the entire course of study is not the same, one will focus on civil, structural and mechanical engineering the other on manufacturing and design engineering.  

 An internship or Co-op where students are coddled is not sufficient preparation for successful transition to the real world. Knowledge, skills and the ability to understand the rules of, and adapt to a work environment is necessary to survive.


 The “three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic are not sufficient building blocks in a world where AI has machines learning faster and deeper than humans, and algorithms are replacing human discretionary across industries.

  • To graduate from university, student should be fluent in the use of technology to communicate, analyze and create. Professionals from doctors to artists will attest they need to know, not only their field of expertise, but how to perform necessary functions using technology. Witness the use of robotic arms for surgeries, your parents’ doctors struggling to eScript to a pharmacy, and your local Street Artist creating a digital catalog of her art to be sold globally on the internet.
  • I propose Higher Education integrate into every course of study, and require for graduation a basic competence in technology to analyze, create and collaborate into every course of study.
  • Finally, I propose every student be required to demonstrate personal finance literacy.  With material student loan debt, credit card debt and a job market which is out-of-line with the cost of living in many major cities, students are prejudiced by the lack of skills to handle their own financial stability.  Further, the understanding of the importance of, and how to invest is a skill which levels the playing field – allowing students with less financial means to “catch up” and providing students who seek to pursue a career which does not “pay well” with the knowledge and skill necessary to supplement that income.


Israel’s success in become a technological force, and the value placed by the United Kingdom on apprenticeship and traineeships lend support to the thesis real-world experience breeds real world success.

Many respected international business leaders and companies Bill Gates and IBM have praised Israel for its high quality of education and major role in spurring Israel's economic development and technology boom. (Jump up^ Karin Kloosterman (30 October 2005). "Bill Gates – Israel is a high tech superpower". Israel21. Retrieved 3 July 2015; Jump up^ Gary Shapiro (7 November 2013). "What Are The Secrets Behind Israel's Growing Innovative Edge?". Forbes. Retrieved 3 July 2015.)

It is not surprising mathematics is a mandatory matriculation subject in Israel. Of greater impact, however, is the experience of being conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces upon completion of 12th grade.  Most students do not go to university until after the army, if at all.  Consequently, “By the time people go to a university after the military, they already enter with “business” experience.” The impact of this sequence is reflected in the innovations developed by Israeli start-ups. “This culture has helped us to look at problems that people may think are too complicated to solve or would require too much effort and then tackle them head-on.”

As a volunteer on an Israeli tank base during the Gulf (Scud) War I can attest to the training in solving real-world situations and the use of technical skills. It is an experience I would never have had as an American woman had I not volunteered, and it changed my perspective of and on many issues of importance.

In the U.K., you may leave formal school just before your 16th birthday if you will start an apprenticeship or traineeship. Apprenticeships, for ages 14 to 19 are for “education and training for work”. A traineeship is a course with work experience that gets you ready for work or an apprenticeship. Here, as well, students enter university with work experience – at an older age, and thus, maturity. The benefit is the ability to select a course of study which suits your “work personality” discovered at work.

As a project and team manager for a German bank in Japan, my work included coordinating the “passing of the book” globally. Coordinating the teams in Japan. London, and New York, I experienced just how significantly the philosophy of education in each country -the intense pressure to pass the one test determining entry in Japan, and the philosophy graduate school was only for academia, the practical approach of London, and the variety of backgrounds in the United States, influenced business practices, cultural temperament and managerial style.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

Global universities. It requires universities to 1. offer student the opportunity to experience the culture, rules & dress codes of professions before selecting a major course of study or profession; 2- it requires all college graduates to be fluent in technology to analyze, create and communicate; and 3- it requires universities to teach and provide opportunities to use personal finance skills.

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

The design of the labs or study spaces to mirror the work environments of careers/professions. What simulations would provide students with the most realistic experience of the day-to-day cultures, rules, dress code, and communication standard of each of the professions? To design programs which school will implement to require basic technology and personal finance skills development prior to graduation. Guidance in creating a program which captures current and NextGen technology skills

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Survey students at a local university to document interest in A. simulated environment, and if so the professions; B. technology tools (GA on campus), C. money skills. Create a pseudo-environment of the most popular career at one school and record the experience and value assigned by students. Datamine to determine the number of student who affirmed their interest in a career, and who changed their mind.

Tell us about your work experience:

Please see LinkedIn profile.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Wow! This is amazing Stacy. I like the way you have presented the idea. I could see it working here in Kenya, just from your explanation.

My campus and trainee/internship life was not close to what I experienced in the life out of campus. Instead of preparing you for the real life, it was protecting you from the real life (You always had access to student loans, cheap meals and you could dress how you want). Would love to see some of the suggested simulations.

The ability to experience the future before committing to it could really help. Here in Kenya, most companies spent so much on graduate trainee programs - and under such programs, what you did as your undergrad does not matter, what matters is that you passed (second class upper and above). So many of my fellow computer science graduates end up joining the top audit firms as audit associates. Also it takes about 6 months to learn a new skill at the workplace, rendering what you studied for 4 years useless. The challenge we have is, we do not have a one year flexible period where new students can experiment on courses before signing up for them.
From your experience, how can we innovate for such environments when there is no institutional support?

Photo of Stacy

Thank you so much, Isaac. Yes, you are correct - college students often think they are "living real life" while at university - when in fact, in many respects, it is easier than H.S. You roll out of bed into class, your meals are prepared and available whenever you feel like eating, your washing machine is in the basement and you have a complete network of supportive friends and teacher around you day and night. Definitely not the immediate competitive atmosphere most people encounter even in the most collaborative of firms.

Yes, in the old days you went to university to become a learned person, not to train in a skill like an apprentice. Unfortunately, the model has fallen apart. So, we need to make a decision - is univeristy to develop thinking skills - to study philosophy and world history or to prepare for a career, and if both how can we do both better.

Here's my thought - and I would LOVE to come to Kenya and help you set it up!
Do your classmates go to the audit firms because the firms pay well? because it is a training feeder for other firms? because they enjoy numbers?

What if rather than going straight through your second class upper, you had to do a 6 month training course at a workplace. Only after completing the training would you be permitted to return to university and study - hopefully, something that more closely matches to your career objective. Perhaps it would be possible to do it twice -after each 1-1/2 year period. This would mean every student would finish with one or two actual career expertise, work experience and hopefully a much better idea of what they want to be when they grow up.
Would there be insititutional support if the companies who are spending so much on graduate trainee programs paid the university to borrow and train students for 6 months??? look forward to your thoughts. Best, Stacy

Photo of Isaac Jumba

Hey Stacy,

Most graduates join the audit firms because they are ranked as the top places to work in Kenya. Also because of the pay.
In my view, the companies maybe unwilling to pay the universities so as to access and train the students because they fear the commitment of the students after they finish school. It's more secure to train them after they have graduated as that will commit them to say a minimum of 4 years with the company, hence there is a return on the cost of training them. It will be interesting for you to pilot the project and see how best it can run and for you to actually come to Kenya as well and test it out :)

Photo of Stacy

What about if we had a promissory system. For example, here in the United States the military will pay for your college education if you promise to give a certain number of years of service. There are also organizations which do it for doctors - so if a difficult neighborhood requires doctors, the community will pay towards the education but the doctor must give a certain number of years of service. If the audit firms will not participate because they fear losing the candidate student perhaps there can be a contract where the student pledges to work for the audit firm for a certain period of time - perhaps the same 4 years. What do you think?

View all comments