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Global Leadership Academy (GLA)

GLA is an online talent development program that builds self-awareness, skills, & career clarity through innovative exercises and coaching

Photo of Joel Nicholson
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What's today's landscape look like?

The career landscape is changing faster than ever, but only 29% of recent grads are engaged in their roles and just 50% will stay in the same company for more than two years (Source: Gallup). On the employer side, less than half believe college grads are prepared for their jobs, and that they lack critical thinking skills, attention to detail, writing, and public speaking the most (Source: PayScale).

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At the same time, higher education's model of learning hasn't evolved from the knowledge-heavy teaching focus. Curricula are still widely made up of subject-based courses. Typically, students will take a course for several months and are granted they know the topic after a series of assignments and exams. However, if the same student was quizzed on the topic, even a few months later, it's difficult to recall most of what was learned. 

The reason is because we don't use this information everyday. Rather, we use skills everyday. Hard- and soft-skills are hopeful pedagogical outcomes from courses, but based on the statistics from employers, these hopes aren't a reality. Skills must be taught directly, and embedded in an individual through everyday practice. For example, IDEO teaches its creative process to its employees,and it is only after this process is used everyday for a number of months and years that the skill can be developed. The same thing must be done in education.

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In addition, self-awareness education isn't significantly incorporated in the current model. All education must start with self-discovery, and helping the individual understand their strengths, weaknesses, behaviours, thoughts, and feelings. This allows the individual to know where to focus their career, which opportunities to say yes or no to, what they can uniquely offer in the world, and how to work effectively with others. It also increases confidence and decreases anxiety in individuals. To demonstrate the return on investment of self-awareness, a recent study by Korn Ferry shows a direct relationship between employee self-awareness and organizational performance (Source: Korn Ferry).

What’s the overarching question being asked?

Please see below for our interpretation of the challenge question, in addition to specific definitions of key terms. 

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Where did we begin?

It's important to look back to see where an idea originated. Our journey has been a long and convoluted one, but each chapter was a key stepping stone to arriving where we are today.

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What do we believe will work for the user and as a business?

GLA 3.0 is radically simplified. There are three modules in the program: (1) Your Interests - which helps the student clarify their passions; (2) Your Career Orientation - which helps the student understand their career needs and motivations; and, (3) Your Strengths - which helps the student understand their unique mix of competencies.

We use this information to recommend the student "Career Tracks", a list of nearly 100 "paths" a student can take that combine their interests, values, and strengths. These include anything from Media Planning, to Recruitment & Onboarding, to Microfinance. These career track recommendations provide students with a very tangible outcome from the program.

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We've shifted markets to focus on helping current college/ university students, particularly those interested in pursuing careers in any business-related field. Investing in self-awareness is something very few people will do for themselves; and as we found through GLA 2.0, the incentives aren't aligned for organizations to willingly invest in self-awareness and career education to young employees. 

Educational institutions, on the other hand, have the development of their students in their best interest. College career centres, in particular, often provide services and access to platforms such as GLA Discover. 

Value proposition:

  • For students: Students need a tremendous amount of support throughout school— building self-awareness, staying motivated as a student, choosing the right career, and succeeding in that career after school
  • For career centres: They need a tool that helps them have more effective coaching conversations, or helps offer coaching services to students who won't come see them (ideally online and on-demand)
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While our target audience are current university students, the Discover program can also be offered to recent alumni (i.e. the 50% who change jobs after two years). We plan to discuss this with career centres, offering the program to alumni free of charge. 

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Overall, what we're looking to do with this new iteration is use what we've learned in the past to establish three forms of "fit":

  1. Product/market fit: the product suits the needs of the customer/consumer
  2. Founder/product fit: we have the experience & insights to build a great product 
  3. Founder/market fit: we have the connections and network to sell the product 

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In this iteration, we're also very focused on proving/disproving two primary hypotheses:

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What's the potential of our idea?

The issue with the current version of the program is it's a one-time commitment. Students log-in, take the program, and have no reason to come back. The question posed in this challenge very specifically defines that the program must help "students of all ages". As a result, the future vision of the platform is to supports students throughout their education and career.

We'll do this in two ways:

  1. More Modules. We'd like to offer modules that are specific to certain stages of a student / employee's life. For example, your first year at university/college is very challenging, and requires a tremendous amount of guided support for a student. Some of this support can be provided in the form of an online module at GLA.
  2. Online, 24/7 Mentorship. There will always be an element of career coaching that cannot be automated online. At the end of the day, people want to speak to someone. Currently, this is done in person, but we want our platform to be the go-to destination for that. Some career centres are getting alumni to mentor their students, and we'd like to do the same. We'll connects students, alumni mentor coaches, and career centres. 
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We believe the future model will go beyond just increasing self-awareness and career clarity. It will improve student happiness, extra-curricular participation, grades, job acquisition rates, and job loyalty.

Who's likely to buy it?

The previous version of GLA wasn't built for students, but it organically caught the attention of student-focused conferences and universities. We provided access to GLA 2.0 to a variety of organizations, including:

  • 100 undergraduate students from Rotman School of Management + workshop
  • 75 prospective students at Queen's University's QLEAD conference
  • 20 prospective accounting professions through the Certified Professional Accountant Ontario organization
  • 15 future Wall Street banking professionals through the Wall Street Oasis program, funded by V2V Associates
  • 25 young professionals through the Millennial Crusaders organization in Toronto
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Why are we participating in this challenge?

Last, but certainly not least, why are we doing this challenge? I first learned about OPEN IDEO in February 2014. Since then, I've been waiting for an education challenge to be released. I also wanted the timing of GLA to be right. For the past six years, my main focus was UniversityHub, another start-up I sold in November 2016. Now, the timing is right to focus on crystallizing the GLA idea and taking it to market.

Admittedly, over the past couple years with GLA, we failed to apply a rigorous design thinking process, so this is an effort to really specify what we do, test our current hypothesis, and receive a ton of feedback.

Being currently based in Toronto, Canada, we are also excited to see one of the challenge sponsors, Level Education, also launching in the city. 

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

GLA is designed for college students and career centres. It reimagines higher-ed because it flips the traditional model of academia on its head. We help college students and alumni develop their self-awareness and skills over their lifetime, as the career landscape changes. The program is provided for free to students and affordably to colleges, without the need to a large number of career coaches on staff.

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?

Feedback! The more the better. Please email, and we will set you up with a free license to go through the 30-40 minute program.

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

The latest version of the program helps — primarily undergraduate business students — identify their interests, values, strengths, and career specialty areas. Prior to building it online, I have been testing our methodology and framework with students that I help with college admissions applications.

Tell us about your work experience:

I worked with global management consultancy AT Kearney for five years, across three continents. I then moved back to Canada to focus on my edtech company, UniversityHub, which uses data and algorithms to help prospective university students make more informed decisions about post-secondary. I've also coached over 500 students, worked with the World Economic Forum, published a report for AT Kearney on Rethinking K-12 Education, and was a spokesperson for HSBC Canada on youth financial literacy.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

With an ever-changing career landscape, students need an education that transcends college and career life, rather than courses that last a few months. GLA is an online career development program that helps students enhance their self-awareness, grow their skills, and get the career they want. It's offered through college career centres for students and alumni, and is proven to increase employability and lower job-switching rates.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

The vast majority of college students have low levels of self-awareness and career clarity, which places strain on career centre staff, and leads to disengaged, job-hopping alumni.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

- Proprietary Methodology. The methodology is research-backed and very effective at building self-awareness and career clarity in students. It’s our “secret sauce” that cannot be replicated
- Superior UX. We’ve built a video-based and visually stimulating platform with a simple, mobile-optimized assessment
- Hyper-targeted. Most career assessments are very broad in scope. Instead, our assessment is hyper-targeted for helping college career centres better prepare business career professionals

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Upon completion of the program, users are asked a single question: “How helpful was this program at clarifying your career direction?”

Our mission is to improve student happiness, student academic performance, job acquisition rates, job-switching tendencies, and overall career happiness, so we intend to measure these metrics with future clients, before and after they use the program.

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

Our program is highly scalable, as it’s online and automated. The key to scalability is sales adoption. We believe the most-likely buyers aren’t students, employers, or parents, but rather college/university career centres. They have the budget to purchase our program, and their incentives match our program's purpose: developing self-aware, career-ready professionals. Each career centre signed-up can lead to thousands of student users in just a single year, with minimal to no marketing effort.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

April: Iterate product, and reach out to college 100+ career centres to secure pilots
May-June: Conduct pilots with 5-10 college career centres (students and/or staff)
July-August: Sign-up at least 3 schools to use program in career centres; Complete final round of product refinements
September-December: Roll-out program, focus on sales & support


Join the conversation:

Photo of Sarah

This is a great idea, Joel Nicholson ! Thank you for adding a thorough background and screenshots. I really enjoyed reading the user experience perspective, both from the career counselor side and the student side. This is something Dipanwita Das and Impact College are also thinking through as well -- and I think the distinction you've made between customer and student is very clear!

A few suggestions:

* Really great problem statement. In addition to Korn Ferry, I recommend checking out Daniel Goleman's work, if you'd like additional support for self awareness education.
* Continue to think through your impact -- there's definitely an opportunity to expand here. Check out this Theory of Change website : for ideas on how to go about doing this. Also, when you've established what your metrics are, instead of just asking one question, why not integrate your assessment in the experience as a whole?
* What will happen after the student graduates? Will you continue to develop their self awareness, and if so, how?

Photo of Joel

Hi Sarah, thank you so much for your insightful comments and suggestions. I've just listened to Daniel Goleman's TED Talk, and plan on listening to much more!

Your thoughts on measuring the impact are very eye-opening. I did some reading on TOC, and found it very interesting. I'd love to somehow incorporate this concept into the GLA experience for students.

Your last suggestion about helping students after graduation. I've been thinking about this. I just published the 'Future Vision' section of the idea, which may help articulate things a bit. Effectively, I'd like GLA to be an online version of a coach that guides you through certain stages of your life - which definitely includes post-grad (starting your first job, working with a challenging manager, etc.). We'd always have an automated exercise online, which would be followed up with chat-based mentorship from a career coach. Ideally this service is free of charge to alumni, but this is just the vision, and I need to discuss more with potential partners :)

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