Higher Ed: An Underutilized Ability Placement Network

Recently, I read Michael Horn’s Forbes article titled “Disruptive Innovation and Education” in which he writes that the current higher education system is patterned after the once prevailing factory employment model of the industrial age. It’s no surprise that higher education systems have and will continue to adapt to employment models.

Also recently, I listened to Brandon Busteed’s case for the “Educonomy”  in which he points out that the market clearly understands a college education as a pathway to get a “good job”. That should not come as a surprise either. After all, the learner’s (i.e. higher ed’s customer) greatest pain point is to find a best-fit opportunity to utilize what has been learned.

As a Global Career Development Facilitator and entrepreneur in the human services industry what is particularly interesting to me is that both authors can relate to the challenges facing higher ed today but each misses the deeper critical problem in the industry. Michael sheds light on innovation; that is online learning. Brandon sheds light on causation; that is the link between education and long-term success in life and work. However, each seems to miss the critical baked-in assumption in the higher ed business model; that learning quality should be the value proposition delivered to the mass market. In my view, it should not.

The following is my attempt at explaining why placement quality should replace learning quality as the value proposition in higher education.

First, using the job-to-be-done (JTBD) framework , the learner’s JTBD can be labeled as placement quality or as Busteed says “to get a good job”Education then is the learner’s related job-to-be-done (rJTBD) and can be labeled as learning quality in support of reducing/eliminating the learner’s greatest pain point; placement at best-fit.

Considering the long-tail of the market, if we design for learning quality as a key activity (rather than a value proposition) within a larger placement ecosystem THEN the seed for innovative disruption can be planted. I think that higher education disruption will come from an innovative business model utilizing #hrtech to better deliver a value proposition of placement quality and NOT #edtech to better deliver a value proposition of learning quality.

Today, higher education seems to be stuck in a legacy business model that stubbornly keeps learning quality as the JTBD. Therefore, leaders and academics continue to see it as the value proposition. However, the great recession dried up subsidies of an always nonviable value proposition and the error in the business model design is surfacing. As the idiom goes, “the chickens are coming home to roost”.

Let me be clear, learning quality in higher education IS NOT a viable value proposition to serve the masses, the long-tail, those “below-the-line” of elite. The time is now for placement quality to be the value proposition. It is highly monetizable and can subsidize learning quality better than any alternative.

In the coming “talent wars”, which will be fought in the long-tail of markets as well as in the short-head, we need business models that treat higher education institutions as aggregators with distribution-capable nodes in a much larger network; the placement ecosystem. Then and only then, in my opinion, will we be able to define learning quality that integrates purpose (vocational guidance and life-design) with competency (career education and mastery learning) for the masses. We can get back to the personalized academy experience before the industrial age and we can provide it for the masses but it’s going to take a distributed solution to solve what we are failing at–the distribution of dedicated personal assistance to develop and place ability at best-fit.

Again, learning quality unsurprisingly adapts to the prevailing employment model. In the future work will be performed by independent workers (freelancers, independent contractors, consultants and solopreneurs), highly distributed across communities and domains. In fact, independents represented 17.7 million workers in 2013 and are expected to reach 24 million in 2018, a 40% increase. Nearly 10 million households receive at least half of their income from independents today. Based on existing trends, there is expected to be 65 to 70 million independent workers (over 50% of the workforce) by 2022 in the U.S. alone.

As a result, you are starting to see the distribution of learning quality to the relevant edges of pedagogy. If higher ed leaders fail to adapt to a value proposition that is placement quality then, it is my view, they’ll go down as leaders of the most underutilized ability placement network ever created by man.

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Disrupting Human Capital Development and Placement (HCDP)

If you need any evidence that the world needs to rethink human capital development and placement (HCDP), look no further than the typical society in a free enterprise economic system.

Within these societies you tend to find three competing business models in the HCDP space, each with its own profit model. There’s the:

  • service-based “solution shops” meant to deliver learning quality via trained instructors (e.g. higher education)
  • outcome-based businesses meant to deliver employment quality via process (e.g. career services, job boards, agency)
  • member-based facilitated networks meant to deliver life quality via values (e.g. community involvement and interaction)

Developing and placing ability at best-fit is not complicated. We have proven methodologies that are effective. However, developing and placing ability at best fit at best-price at scale is impossible today.

HCDP problems can be boiled down to two key issues. Innovation has been sustaining as opposed to disruptive while business model designs remain largely centralized. For example, higher education offers the value of solving any learning problem for any student but the overhead of that complexity leads to tremendous costs.

The simple fact is that when viewed within the job-to-be-done framework human resources technology is 10 years behind health care technology which is 10 years behind investment technology.

Thankfully, the disruption in healthcare is already happening. For example, Iora Health pairs patients with health coaches who facilitate a care plan based around life goals, not just calling the doctor when they’re in pain. After all, once that happens, it’s typically too late for low-cost preventive care. To that end, Iora assigns its patients a “Worry Score.” The killer app is dedicated personal assistance. The killer API is the human API.

Coordinated collaboration among all stakeholders is a main tenet of reform. HR technology needs to catch up. We need equal parts interoperability, privacy, usability and human capital data infrastructure. Then and only then will we be able to integrate empirical development and intuitive placement to arrive at a satisfactory personalized life design.

We need a closed, interdependent, decentralized and integrated system, one in which different business models use a common platform that allows product and service suppliers to focus on doing a particular job very well for customers. Along the way, distributed facilitators (instructors and referrers) can be empowered to turn what is now expensive development and placement encounters into affordable ones. Again, a common platform is the mechanism by which we can meet the challenges.

It’s no surprise, then, that HCDP needs disruptive innovation to arrive at best-fit. What remains to be seen, though, is how soon that innovation will arrive and what kind of impact it will ultimately have.

Can we innovate soon and if we can what kind of impact do you want to see?

Caring Winds in the Ocean of Social

As a result of the Industrial Revolution people moved to cities for jobs creating large centralized communities. Then, we started to decentralize by moving out of close knit neighborhoods into a sprawling suburbia. People worked more and generally got busier trying to make money, spend money, pay the bills, etc. as we transitioned to a consumer-based economy. The “porch-to-porch” sharing decreased proportionately. Simply, it became more difficult for communities and even families and friends to share in a decentralized environment. So, sharing was building demand for decades like a beach ball held under water ready to explode to the surface by some catalyst or mechanism. Facebook designed that mechanism. The sharing beach ball exploded to the surface with viral growth and landed on the surface in the Ocean of Social. For we, as a race, have always been and will always be social. Sharing among each other is at the top of our survival instincts. I suppose our brains are hard wired to search for others to share with; to solve problems, to advance solutions, to be empathetic, to survive.

Like fish swimming in the Ocean of Social, we’ve witnessed the powerful rise of beach balls exploding to the surface and we are impressed. We look up and see these beach balls floating above us.  They make it easier to share. While gathering in the shadow of a beach ball we socialize. However, are these floating beach balls being pushed by social winds that lack purpose? Are the beach balls floating aimlessly? Is the wind pushing us, as we stay in the shadow of the beach ball, into shallow waters of engagement?

There are dependencies as to what motivates us to share with others at any given time and there are patterns that seem to govern these dependencies relating to how and why we are social. These patterns lead to designed mechanisms that release stored up demand in the marketplace, again, like a beach ball held under water, ready to explode to the surface.

The mechanisms to release purposed sharing (i.e. collaboration) for people who care about something enough are already being developed for niche communities. Just like Facebook had its predecessors, collaboration platforms are being tested and used in niche communities. They are increasingly sharing to solve problems, niche problems. These beach balls are directed by purposed winds towards deeper waters of interactions (actions, reactions, and transactions).

I believe that we are at the dawn of an era of collaboration like we’ve never seen before. We are at the dawn of caring enough to help each other survive better. The demand is increasing because we are becoming more aware that we are in this together, as one, and what is good for you is good for me. We are learning to sell “win-lose” and buy “win-win” business models! Say good-bye to sharing for sharing’s sake and say hello to sharing for caring’s sake.

Have you noticed any designs that are making it easier to share and contribute to solve niche problems?

Using First Principles to Enable Human Capital Interactions at Scale

I spend a fair amount of time reading and thinking about disruptive innovation because I need to understand the past failures to enable interactions that place ability at right-fit and bring better careers to life. Here’s a great post by Ketan Jhaveri that dissects Elon Musk’s approach to disruptive innovation which is based on reasoning from first principles.

So, here’s the problem: According to Gallup, 53% of American workers are “not engaged” and 19% are “actively disengaged” at work. In The Coming Jobs War, author Jim Clifton writes:

The 53% of not engaged workers are not hostile or disruptive, and they are not troublemakers. They are just there, killing time with little or no concern about customers, productivity, profitability, waste, safety, mission and purpose of the teams, or developing customers. They’re thinking about lunch or their next break. They are essentially “checked out.” Most importantly, these people are not just part of a support staff or sales team. They are also sitting on executive committees.

And then there are the 19% of actively disengaged employees who are there to dismantle and destroy employers. They exhaust managers, they have more on-the-job accidents and because more quality defects, they contribute to “shrinkage” – as theft is politely called, they are sicker, they miss more days, and they quit at a higher rate than engaged employees do. Whatever the engaged do, the actively disengaged seek to undo, and that includes problem solving, innovation, and creating new customers.

I’ve come to realize that designing solutions around first principles might allow for looking at a problem from a more foundational level—where the seed of disruptive innovation can be planted.

Musk is quoted as saying:

“First principles” is a physics way of looking at the world…what that really means is that you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there…”

The utility about Musk’s approach is that it provides a framework with which to do this. Breaking a problem down to its core components and then building back up from there helps me arrive at very different designs than relying solely on analogs.

The other really nice benefit of reasoning from first principles is that it can get me out of the “it can’t be done” mentality. And that’s especially handy when I’m trying to understand the failures in the human capital services industry. If I reason by analogy and I can break the problem down to its core first principles, then I can logically state “If all of these things are true, then there’s a problem that can be solved.”

I’ve identified the following first principles that will lead to the improvements we are looking for to place ability at right-fit and bring better careers to life.

Abundance: Every abundance creates a new scarcity. For example, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. Attention can be monetized.

Information: Scarce information wants to be expensive. That is, the price of context is valued at marginal utility—what it’s worth to customers. Scarcity can be monetized.

Context: Context is embedded with experience, license, proxy, credential, or reputation and the like and is distributed far down into the long-tail of ability placement markets. Context can be monetized.

Search & Influence: The advice and counsel of a trusted and liked advisor is always searched for when a placement process decision is important enough. Search and influence can be monetized.

Goodwill: Enlightened self-interest motivates goodwill. There are enough people who want to help others gain a commitment at best-fit in their community* if only to improve their status. Reputation can be monetized.

Less is More: As technology reduces coordination costs it enables more small placements and interactions—monetizable actions, reactions, and transactions—that had been previously dismissed below the economic fringe. In aggregate the monetized value of these small placements exceed that of high-dollar placements.

When a problem is broken down to it’s component parts at a fundamental level it becomes possible to see how seemingly disparate themes, when connected, can be part of the solution. Placement Loop is a platform forged from these first principles for solution providers on the supply-side to solve problems for talent seekers and candidates on the demand-side.

Which of these ‘first principles’ resonate with you?

*Community can be defined geographically, by industry or by common interests.

Recruiter vs. Referrer

First, let me just say to all the recruiters in the industry who will read this post and immediately say that successful recruiting depends on a skill set earned from professional training and experience. To those, let me suggest that they are motivated to service the elite segment of markets otherwise known as the short-head. For they simply can not afford to service the long-tail of markets in a traditional recruiter business model.

On the other hand, we are in the midst of a seismic shift in business models, powered by the internet and a generation of connected users. Today, platforms are being developed that connect diverse participants with one another and enable them to interact–act, react, and transact. They aid the creation of entirely new solutions to solve market problems and many times involve the contributions of every day people. Every day people with tacit knowledge and spare capacity that consumers value.

In ability placement markets three forces are powering the rise of new solutions that can reach farther down the long-tail of opportunity and ability: ubiquitous network access with ever-increasing mobile penetration, reputation systems that enable trust among distributed strangers, and access to low cost shared infrastructure with tools and data to capture and coordinate interactions. These are going to have a huge impact on how ability will be placed at best-fit.

As I build the Placement Loop platform I think about the role of the referrer, not the recruiter, and what they have that can be monetized.

So, here are some of the capabilities that I believe are essential for referrers to have to distinguish themselves in ability placement markets:

Sales and marketing capability. Referring opportunity or ability as best-fit involves sales and marketing. Referrals want to feel confident that the referrer knows and understands what they’re looking for in a match. But does it have to be done in a way that recruiters do it? Nope. In the long-tail the expectations and therefore the behavior of placement process participants is nothing like in the short-head.

Network building capability. There are members in every industry with deep domain expertise and the will to place ability at best-fit in that industry. I like to describe these people as network entrepreneurs, motivated by their empathy for the domain, whatever and wherever it may be. Influence coupled with empathy resonates with community members like no other. It is tacit and only found distributed in community membership.

Social media capability. Just behaving normally and being yourself will attract those like you. Share. Give. Help others. Those who want to become the go-to person in a community to place ability at best-fit will build trust and a reputation. They will be rewarded for their efforts in ways not imagined when they started.

Context production capability. I am not saying that distinguished referrers have to become prolific content producers. What I am saying is that talent seekers and candidates alike are bombarded with all the content being thrown at them. This creates so much noise that they can’t hear a signal that resonates. A distinguished referrer, as a deep domain expert in their industry, can share their understanding of content within the marketplace. Messages from community-based referrers resonate with community members more than any alternative.

Technology capability. This where Placement Loop comes in with a motivated ecosystem of suppliers that work hard to earn referrers attention by making their life easier. The whole ecosystem of suppliers on the platform is motivated to assure referrers are able to provide advice to employers/talent seekers and candidates accurately, quickly, and affordably.

I hope I have stimulated your thinking that it is time for anyone to have the opportunity to become a distinguished referrer in their industry and get rewarded for it.

Do you think community-based referrers will help make improvements we are looking for in ability placement markets? 

Distributed Spare Capacity To Place Ability

Technology is allowing a degree of sharing so large that new mediums of communication are creating a cascade of new engagements. As a result, we are entering a new era where solutions to market problems can be optimized by tapping into spare capacity held by individuals distributed in the community. Several monikers and catch phrases are used to help describe this new era: Shared Economy, Web 2.0, Crowdsourcing, Cognitive Surplus, Collaborative Consumption, App Economy, or Gamification. Welcome to the rise of the platformed business model to solve market problems!

In human services, adopting a platformed business model to place ability at best-fit can reinforce the career development paradigms of vocational guidance, career education, and life design. However, leaders in this space must accept that a fourth closely aligned paradigm is needed to subsidize development. I call it placement liquidity. I believe that best-fit is achieved by utilizing these four paradigms:

  1. Placement liquidity that views talent seekers and candidates as principals (i.e. buyers and sellers) in a transaction who may be characterized by willingness and compromise and who may be helped by participating in efficient marketplaces to eliminate pain points quickly.
  2. Vocational guidance that views principals as actors who may be characterized by individual differences, styles, and scores on personality traits and who may be helped by matching for resemblance to identify occupational fit.
  3. Career education that views principals as agents who may be characterized by individual development and readiness to make decisions appropriate to stages and who may be helped by implementing new attitudes, beliefs, and competencies to foster individual development.
  4. Life design that views principals as authors who may be characterized by autobiographical stories and who may be helped by reflecting on themes to construct a satisfying and productive life.

Depending on talent seeker and candidate constraints however, assistance may apply interventions that reflect any one of the different paradigms.

Most importantly, solution providers (professionals and academics included) must be aware that the market will not benefit from any solution unless it is built on a viable and sustainable business model to deliver the value proposition. As such, we shouldn’t forget the adage: “Businesses don’t fail, business models fail”.

What do you think needs to happen to see the improvements we are looking for?