Understanding our Students before designing Skill Development Programs

A common temptation when a potentially large loophole is identified in a process is to attribute everything that went wrong to this loophole. This subsequently creates the risk of missing perhaps small but equally critical gaps. At Leap, we have identified the lack of design thinking as that one large loophole and are using our time this summer for rethinking and designing from scratch an effective student/learner experience. For this, we used a three question framework: What customer needs are we addressing? How are we going to do it? And what will we absolutely not do? Last week while we brainstormed as a team, we were able to find consensus for the first two but it is the third question that made us realise we may be missing the tinier pieces of our puzzle. We were making the mistake of starting with the product and not the customer.

We’ve learnt a lot about our students in the last 4 years of training in Haryana & Himachal Pradesh. We’ve seen some amazing students who’ve worked hard with us, fulfilled their dreams and have motivated us in the process. There have been girls like Meenakshi who worked in the college library every single day to pay the train fare from her hometown to her college and still arranged the first instalment for a Leap program. Saurabh, whose father was an auto driver and was unfortunately bedridden after a mishap, came to Leap looking for a job so his father doesn’t have to work ever again. A boy who couldn’t attend his own mother’s funeral because someone had to manage the family dhaba and he would do anything to pull himself out of his situation. A girl who could easily afford her program fee but still asked to pay in instalments so she could pay for the program herself and prove a point to her parents and relatives. And a hundred other stories of circumstance and courage that we’ve been a part of almost everyday. All these stories make us believe that we address different needs for different students. From standing out in the family to becoming more confident, skills that students want to develop, do a lot more for them than just getting them their dream jobs. The question is: when we go out as an organisation and communicate, who are we addressing? The student who just wants a job? Or the student who wants to be more confident and stand out? We need these answers before we decide what we will absolutely not do.

Here is a mini exercise we did to help ourselves connect the dots-

Sample segmentation for a Spoken English Blended Learning Program

While we may have a lot of observations and inferences from our customer experience in the last four years, the segmentation for us was a lot more complex than expected. We followed a three step process.

First, we divided our students based on the multiple moving parts we see in their stories. From motivation levels, current commitments to their backgrounds (ranging from income level, level of education to sources of family income) — we wanted to capture everything that may affect their outlook and as a result their requirement. We also looked at more market oriented categories like access to technology, spoken English levels and streams of study which may affect the positioning and even the development of a part of the product.

Second, we mapped this based on our current understanding of each factor and the role it plays in the design thinking process. The points we understand well and are important would act as anchors for the design process and the ones that are important but not understood well need more research. Understanding everything in the middle would be critical to tie up the loose ends and also identify additional opportunities for Leap in the ecosystem.

Third, we split all the inputs into needs and insights. Customer needs directly help us develop the right product and deeper insights that play a more important role in the packaging and positioning so the solution is not completely disconnected or un-relatable for our audience.

Fortunately at the end of this activity, as a team we were all making similar noises around the kind of students we want to be addressing, the factors that we think matter and the shift in thinking that has come about over the last few months. We realised that now we are a lot more cognisant of student aspirations, their backgrounds and wanted to build a solution for them as opposed to reacting realtime. And factors like geography and locations which were once crucial at a mission statement level, were less important now that we’ve seen students from even urban backgrounds face similar challenges while looking for employment.

So, that brings me to the “what if” of this entire exercise. It’s exciting. Leap this year will focus on learners above the age of 18 who may or may not be enrolled in formal education but need equal opportunity when compared to youth from privileged backgrounds and Grade A institutions. Many such students aspire to a limited set of job opportunities. This often stems from a lack of awareness. Further, they need basic handholding to identify the skills they require and where they can get them. Mentoring and awareness generation: a major need for our target audience would now be built into our programs and industry relevant skills will continue to be the strength of our training solutions. As an impact focussed enterprise, we will provide robust placement support to learners who are looking for job opportunities and track their growth in the workplace. While we’ve chosen to not dabble with government jobs this year, our focus on the audience needs to be transposed onto the design framework that we are using for our spoken English program and every subsequent program that we are working on for this year. The technology that we are adopting, the packaging that will be finalised — the very DNA of our offering- needs to bring together our customer understanding and the tools of mentoring, training and placements.

More about the progress on the spoken English program and our thought process on government jobs in the coming week!