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The #RealWorkChallenge

The #RealWorkChallenge crowdsources “real-work” projects to share as challenges with students, so they can learn and tackle skills — problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, analytics, etc. — needed to succeed in knowledge-economy work. The purpose is to provide 1. students with scenario -based, 21st century skills centered around real-life work and context, enable 2. employers to articulate exactly what skills they need in their workforce, and 3. educators to identify what skills are most in-demand, and to access open-source projects to use in classrooms. This simple but scaleable challenge can help tackle the divide between educators and workforce, to shape education and workforce development. See http://therealwork.tumblr.com.

Photo of Jessica Lin

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The challenge opens up the channels between educators, the workforce, and students, using the power of technology, data, and platforms. This will allow anyone - regardless of who they are - to be able to submit #realworkchallenges and to impact workforce development. 

We are asking people everywhere to tell us about the work they are currently doing in their jobs: their deliverables, projects and assignments, from across all industries. What is "real work"? Is it creating a GTM strategy for a new product? Preparing a P&L statement, scripting and producing a short marketing video, researching a feasibility report? The platform asks for a detailed project scope: the industry, deliverable, requirements, tools, and resources - just as one would be asked to complete at work. By opening up and crowdsourcing this challenge, we will be able to get a huge range and diversity of real-time projects that educators would not be able to access anywhere else. 

Using direct data from companies and employers, we can get a more nuanced layer of labor market data and the current skills gap (currently at 14.6% rate of un/deremployment in the U.S.), to better understand what capabilities are most needed in today's fast-growing competitive global industries, and to shape our educational curriculum to include such skillsets and capabilities. By improving the information gap, we can identify and highlight the skill shortages we need to address.

Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

In the adult education space, we often hear of the huge disconnect that students are feeling between school work and “real work.” Students don’t see the relevance of what they are learning academically in school, or how that schoolwork is providing them with the right skills to land immediate job opportunities in high-demand careers. Many of our adult learners also don’t have access or visibility into knowledge-economy jobs: what these jobs require, what employers are looking for and expecting. Employers are frustrated by the skills gap and the inability to find and hire qualified people for their work; and educators want to better identify the the right skills to prepare their students for success, but struggle to build the right partnerships with employers. By engaging educators, employers and students - all of whom need to be deeply invested in order to truly improve workforce development - the #RealWorkChallenge can open the critical channels between educators and employers, to support students in a new and interactive way, and to activate all in a scaleable and powerful movement.

How is your idea specifically increasing access to employment opportunities and pathways for young people?

Studies have shown that students are much more likely to be engaged in their learnings if there is real-life application involved. Rather than learning a basic geometry problem, teachers can apply a real engineering company's project scope around it - so students are learning by doing, and also getting exposure to what employers are looking for and expecting in today's knowledge economy. For additional, detailed examples of what some of these projects might look and sound like, see: http://therealwork.tumblr.com/post/73417652704/create-data-slides. By placing detailed projects on the site, we also enable students to "test drive" what what work on jobs are like. This will hopefully allow our students to better understand what industry they'd like to be in, and what kind of real work they can expect to do. Perhaps a student believes that marketing sounds "cool": but after reviewing a number of #realworkchallenges focused on brand marketing, she may come to realize her analytical skillsets are better suited for the data field. It is our hope that these projects can also help students make better educated decisions about what field they would like to enter, prior to investing years and education dollars in a poorly-suited job or industry. With scale, the project can generate enough content and data to shape and create an open-source curriculum that all teachers and educators can use and apply in their classrooms, to empower and foster interdisciplinary, creative and hands-on learning.

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

We have created a v1 platform at http://therealwork.tumblr.com, where there is a simple online form asking for everything one would require to complete a real work project: the deliverable, requirements, tools, and resources. The site lists all submitted projects, that anyone can check out. At this point, we are encouraging all to go to the site to fill out a short form with details of a real work project; and allow us to test UX/UI to understand if there are barriers to submission. In order to build projects and data points, we will need to call upon the communities with huge demand for jobs - i.e. computer technology, nursing, high-tech manufacturing - and ask them to submit real projects and challenges. This will require a shift away from the traditional "job description" employers are used to writing, with a focus on actual deliverables required. We will then ask educators to review the materials and understand what additional data points are needed for them to be able to effectively use and apply the projects in their teaching and classrooms. We will also test different messages and "nudges" to understand what resonates with the different communities, to activate them.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to receive from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Would love to get additional feedback, ideas and suggestions on how we might be able to make this project go "viral" with key communities, reduce any barriers to submitting challenges, and to tell the powerful story of how a simple project like this can make huge impact in improving workforce development.

The idea emerged from:

  • An individual

How do you envision your idea being implemented?

  • Keen to prototype it, find partners and pursue implementation

11 comments

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Photo of Liz Duffy
Team

Hi Jessica, I would be happy to talk to you. Please call my office 609-896-0408 to set up a time for us to chat. Congrats on all the progress you've made on your idea. Liz

Photo of Alison Harris
Team

Jessica, this is great! You're right that there's a disconnect between education and real world skills and that gap desperately needs to close. My theory is that increasingly society sees education as a "prerequisite" for landing a job, but educational institutions do not operate under any incentives to educate students in a way that will make them competitive in the workforce.
So I think you have a great idea. Do you have any thoughts on how to ensure participation from all stakeholders?

Photo of Jessica Lin
Team

Thanks so much for your feedback Alison! I think what we are also seeing more and more is that the job training that employers used to provide on-the-job is no longer as common or available - but employers are now expecting those skills to come from schools and job seekers themselves. So hopefully a project like this will be a key way for employers to still take part and be responsible for "training" our future workforce.

I definitely welcome any ideas you or others may have on "incentivizing" participation, especially from the employers POV! I would love to experiment with the messaging/story-telling, something on CSR, perhaps even a fun, gamification element...keen to see what resonates with employers to get involved.

Photo of Jessica Lin
Team

Hi Alison - hope all is well! Would love to reconnect with you on some of your thoughts and insights around workforce development as we continue to build out #RealWork Project. Let me know the best way to connect!

Photo of Liz Duffy
Team

As the head of a boarding school, I appreciate your strategy for bringing real work problems into the classroom. You might make the communication two way by finding out what types of skills teachers want to reinforce and help student transfer to a real world context. Many teachers are reluctant to prepare students for specific jobs because today's job market is growing and changing so quickly, but most teachers like students to experience the relevance of what they're learning because it improves both motivation and retention. As you suggest too, establishing a connection between employers and educators could help identify gaps in learning. A few years ago, I took my senior staff to Google's NYC offices, so we could all see the type of environment in which many of our students are now working and what types of jobs they may have. It was eye-opening and something I would highly recommend to all educators, since many teachers are career teachers so the only work environment they know are schools and classrooms, which in many ways have changed little over the past century. Drop a person from the 19th century into many schools today and the school would feel familiar. That's not true of most other industries. Good luck prototyping your idea.

Photo of Jessica Lin
Team

Thanks so much for this, Liz! I'm so appreciative to have your perspective as an educator. I completely agree - education is much more than trying to help students land a job -- it is about enriching minds, experiences, and ultimately empowering students to learn how to learn. My hope is that with this challenge, teachers will at least have the option to use some of these real work projects to apply in their curriculum (and hopefully in creative, interdisciplinary ways). And I agree - I would love all teachers to get the same experiences your teachers did at Google. That would be a feature I would love to build into this challenge - a 2-sided platform where employers can offer to host local teachers at their companies for a day, and vice versa with employers in the classroom! Thank you for helping me to iterate on this challenge :)

Photo of Jessica Lin
Team

Hi Liz - hope all well! Would love a chance to connect with you more about your comments above. We are building out a program to help bridge educators and employers, and we would so appreciate your perspective. Let me know what may be best way to reach you to connect!

Photo of Shane Zhao
Team

Jessica, exciting idea! It's great to see that you already have a prototype setup on tumblr. It would be helpful to include a live link to this in your idea description. That way, the broader OpenIDEO community will be able to access it to give you feedback on what real work challenges means to them.

Also, it would be helpful to hear more about what would happen after the data and feedback is collected. How would students benefit from a #realworkchallenge on a one to one basis? Sharing more details about how young people will interact with this idea will be great to see!

Photo of Jessica Lin
Team

Thanks Shane for the great suggestion - just added the link :)

Re: post-submission + students...that is definitely something I would love to keep testing. For individual students, I would love for there to be some form of interaction with the projects (rather than just passive intake of the information) - whether it is having students actually complete the project, share it and submit it online; creating virtual teams (like this one at OpenIDEO!), or engaging directly with the employers to ask questions, sign up to visit the company for a career day, browse internships, etc. My hope is that by ultimately creating a 2-sided platform, we can open up a lot of eye-opening opportunities (both on- and off-line) for students that would otherwise be very difficult to create!

Photo of Meena Kadri
Team

Interesting stuff, Jessica! Perhaps you might consider helping people better grasp how this idea could play out by describing some example scenarios which describe user journeys through some of the proposed activities you've outlined. Check this example: http://www.openideo.com/open/e-waste/concepting/neighbourhood-e-waste-champion/ where a few simple scenarios were created in an attempt to explain the goodness on the idea in a human-centered way. (You can update your post at any time by hitting the Update Entry button up there on the right.)

We also hope you'll join in on discussion on others people's ideas here at OpenIDEO. Your perspectives would certainly enrich our conversations and collaboration...

Photo of Jessica Lin
Team

Thanks very much Meena for your great feedback! I'll update my entry now with some additional examples of the projects + scenarios that we would love to see featured on the #RealWorkChallenge!