Reimagining New Grad Job Recruitment

Exploring new ways to connect students and employers to solve new grad unemployment

SandBox is a digital experiential learning platform where post-secondary students and graduates can complete industry projects to develop and showcase their soft skills to employers seeking to hire them.

This concept was developed alongside two other aspiring PMs, Rosanne and Amruta as part of PMDojo’s Product Accelerator.

The Problem Space

Youth unemployment has always been a global issue, with the rate of youth unemployment consistently increasing year over year. COVID-19 has made this problem increasingly severe, with an unprecedented 18.1% increase in the rate of youth unemployment across Canada from February 2020 to May 2020.

Despite this, there is a unique opportunity in Canada’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector

There is a growing job market in the industry yet not enough skilled workers to fill these new openings.

A Growing Job Market

With a rapidly aging workforce and a consistently growing rate of new jobs being created in the sector, Canada’s ICT industry is experiencing a growing level of job vacancies. This is especially felt in Canada’s Small and Medium-Sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for nearly 90% of the ICT sector’s private sector employees.

A limited available talent pool

However, Canada’s primary source of new talent, postsecondary institutions, cannot keep up with this growing demand. Not enough students are graduating with the necessary industry knowledge, skills, and experiences to fill these job vacancies (just under 30,000 students graduating from postsecondary ICT programs in 2015).

Sandbox aims to solve this problem by enabling post-secondary students and recent grads to develop the necessary soft skills and experiences in demand by Canada’s ICT sector within the fraction of the time it would take them to complete an internship or co-op placement.

Market Validation

We interviewed over 10 young professionals, graduating post-secondary students, hiring managers, and university advisors to better understand the skills and knowledge gap between postsecondary student graduates and employers. Below are some of our key insights:

New graduates lack the soft skills and relevant work experiences to be employed

“It’s hard to find people who are well spoken, good problem solvers, and great learners.”

“Students don’t seem to know how to relate their experiences to how they can add value to the job”

Students and new graduates felt that gaining industry knowledge and technical “hard” skills were most important to secure employment. Yet employers found that the quality they most desired (which often was missing with candidates) was a “growth mindset” and the soft skills needed to quickly learn and make an impact through their job. This misalignment highlights a need for greater education around employer hiring needs and access to learning experiences to develop soft skills.

Students and new grads lack visibility into career options and access to job requirements / information

“The job finding process can be very lonely.”

“I can’t seem to find the right job.”

“Many students who apply seem to not understand what we are looking for or what the job is about.”

Many students and new grads interviewed expressed that they felt lost in trying to find career and job opportunities that aligned with their personal and professional interests. This problem matched what employers observed…that many new grad job applicants didn’t seem to understand the nature of the jobs they were applying for. This shows a need for students to have better access to job and career resources / information to understand their career options before they apply.

Limited time and resources to secure employment

“If I’m spending more than 20 hours to complete projects to improve my chances of getting hired, I’d rather just apply through LinkedIn.”

“Hiring is one of my many jobs. We don’t have a formal process and definitely not as much time as we’d like to find and hire the right candidate.”

Both students and employers felt they had limited time and resources. Students felt they did not have enough time outside of class, work, and extracurriculars to commit to develop the necessary skills to be employed. Similarly, employers expressed a lack of time and resources to recruit new talent. Whatever solution we built needed to help students and employers save time in their job hiring / seeking journey.

Competitive Analysis — Where does Sandbox fit?

In our interviews, we were introduced to a variety of different job seeking, networking, career preparation, and online learning tools that helped students and employers in their job seeking / hiring journey.

To better understand where Sandbox would fit into the ecosystem of existing solutions, we categorized key competitors into the following areas and identified their strengths + weaknesses based on feedback from our user interviews + online research.

Where does Sandbox Fit?

Experiential learning solutions such as freelance work platforms (like Freelancer.com), university / college capstone projects (like Riipen), or co-op / internship programs provide students with hands-on work experience to gain industry skills and knowledge.

Pros

These platforms provide an opportunity for students to gain hands-on work experience which can improve their resume when applying to jobs. Employers also have an opportunity to gauge skills and learning outcomes.

Cons

These solutions may not:

  • Link outcomes of work experience to the development of skills demanded by employers, particularly soft skills.
  • Provide enough scope to properly develop the experience and skills needed to be employed.
  • Be easy to access. In Canada, only 22% of graduates in 2010 participated in co-op programs due to limited availability and high competition. These programs also require at least 12 months of work which not all students may be able to access.

These platforms allow individuals (such as students) to access industry relevant courses and content to gain new knowledge and skills.

Pros

These platforms are highly accessible (web / mobile) and are often created by industry professionals / organizations or university / college institutions. This ensures that content provided is credible and relevant to industry needs.

Cons

Learning platforms may provide the necessary industry knowledge but typically do not target developing the soft skills desired by employers.

These applications and services aim to match students to various job opportunities and career paths based on one’s preferences and existing work experiences / interests.

Pros

These platforms help provide job seekers with easier access and exposure to relevant job postings and requirements. This saves them time in searching for jobs and understanding skills / experiences they may need to develop in order to be employed.

Cons

These solutions do not solve the problem of helping students develop the necessary skills and experiences to be employed.

We realized that in order to make a meaningful impact on the market, Sandbox would need to be a solution that paired relevant career / skills development resources with hands-on industry experience to develop soft skills.

Introducing our Personas — Bob and Sandra

Photo by Evan Dvorkin on UnSplash
Photo by Magnet.me on UnSplash

What really “delights” Bob and Sandra

To understand how Sandbox would help Bob and Sandra, we used the Kano Model to analyze and organize our user feedback to understand what key pain points, needs, and related benefits Sandbox needed to address to create meaningful value.

Our analysis resulted in two key value propositions:

Prioritizing our First MVP

We chose to prioritize Bob’s delights in our first MVP for the following reasons:

Our team is closely connected with college and post-secondary student communities, allowing us to easily tap into the community of “Bobs”

By prioritizing the development of a highly engaged community of “Bobs”, we can naturally attract Sandra to Sandbox with engaged student talent.

Given that employers of SMEs are typically not HR professionals with a strong recruitment background, it will take more time and effort to onboarding Sandra to Sandbox.

Our Solution

Sandbox would launch as a mobile application with expectation to be made available over a web application in the future to ensure accessibility. We believe that the first thing to test would be the concept of “Industry Projects” to enable Bob to learn and showcase his soft skills to Sandra to secure employment.

The first Sandbox project pilots will be industry case studies / challenges that take 4–8 hours to complete. They are defined / created by employers to gauge student learning potential, soft skills, and relevant industry skills / experiences.

Our Minimum Viable Prototype (MVP)

Sign Up

On the mobile application’s landing page, a user will sign up using either their email address, LinkedIn account, or Google Account.

Upon signing up / logging in, the user will arrive at the “Project Search” page where he/she can filter a list of available Sandbox projects based on areas of interest.

Selecting on the “learn more” button from the Project Search page takes the user to a “Project Profile” which outlines some key information to a user interested in participating (include key fields)

Throughout the project, users can access a “Resource Portal” dedicated to their selected project. These resources are linked to external resources provided by both the Sandbox team and employer to ensure the user has the necessary information to learn the context and skills needed to complete the project.

To complete the project, users will navigate through the instructions by toggling on the circular buttons on top of the app. They will get an overview of instructions, a breakdown of the Sandbox project including deliverables and outcomes, and an ability to download and upload their outcomes using an existing template. Once they are ready to submit their completed project the employer (Sandra), they will click the “Submit” button.

Once Bob has submitted his completed project, a “Congratulations” page will appear to confirm that his deliverables have been sent to Sandra for review. He will also be given an option to click on “Publish to LinkedIn”. This gives Bob an opportunity showcase the learning and soft skills he has developed / demonstrated through his project via. a LinkedIn Article.

Under the “Publish” screens, Bob’s responses are auto-populated in a LinkedIn Article draft where he can edit text, images, etc. to personalize his article. Once he has finalized his LinkedIn Article, he will click on the “Publish” button and a confirmation pop-up will appear to ensure he can re-edit his article before publishing on LinkedIn.

What’s Next?

The first release would be focused on testing the nature and scope of the industry projects provided by employers. A series of 3–5 projects would be developed alongside 1–3 Canadian SMEs who would be seeking to hire new student graduates in business and/or technology roles. Usage and feedback would be evaluated to determine the structure of Sandbox projects moving forward.

In the next 6–12 months, a focus would be on scaling the number of users on the platform by adding more job seekers and industry projects from employers. This would involve targeting universities and employers based in Vancouver and Toronto (where the biggest demand for ICT jobs exists) while also driving new features around personalization (such as recommending projects to students) and accessibility (enabling Sandbox to be accessed via. web application).

Moving into 1–2 years out of the first deployment, there would be more active tracking of how job seekers and employers would use the platform and identifying new features that would enhance the ability for job seekers and employers to interact and connect throughout the course of projects.

Key Learnings

At Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster, I’ve been blown away by how product managers are able to inspire and bring people from different backgrounds together to drive technology innovations in areas that wouldn’t have possible to achieve alone. My desire to learn how to think and act like these product managers that led me to PMDojo’s Product Accelerator.

Here of my key learnings around how product managers bring people and communities together:

Product managers look at problems differently. They look beyond customer pain points and needs to identify customer “delights”, unforeseen value that customers themselves may not even realize are important to them. Being able to think in this way is a key step in coming up with inspirational ideas to bring people together and it was something our team realized the more we researched and investigated the problem of youth unemployment.

Effective product managers are able to visualize and simplify complexity to create alignment across different stakeholders while also using this as an opportunity create energy and excitement around an idea. Over the past 8 weeks, our team realized how powerful simple sketches, wireframes, and clickable prototypes were in generating engagement and excitement from our potential users…and they actually committed to providing us feedback throughout the rest of the duration of the program!

A good product roadmap has the ability to incorporate input from multiple stakeholders. It connects the most technical user stories and features, to the most high-level concepts like marketing strategies and winning your first customer. For me, it was fascinating to see how I could connect my own business knowledge quite seamlessly with other thought processes, perspectives, and departments.

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