A student smiles while meeting a recruiter at a career fair at the Ohio Union.

An innovative program is preparing young people with skills valued by employers, and new research from The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business validates the program’s effectiveness.

Known as The Bigs Project, the program provides middle school, high school and college students with insights, education and best practices to help them enter and thrive in the workforce. A unique research partnership between Ben Carpenter, the program’s creator, and the Fisher Leadership Initiative has begun to quantify the impact of The Bigs Project.

The research was led by Professor Tim Judge, the Joseph A. Alutto Chair in Leadership Effectiveness at Fisher and executive director of the Fisher Leadership Initiative, and Dr. Dave Glerum, research scientist in Fisher’s Department of Management and Human Resources.

The team from Fisher evaluated 2016 data compiled from Bigs Project workshops involving nearly 4,000 students at 32 high schools across the country. The researchers’ findings, which are under review by the Journal of Vocational Behavior, indicated that The Bigs Project is effective for young people who follow the advice from Carpenter’s presentations and his accompanying book, The Bigs.

Among the findings, the researchers noted the following about the high school students who completed post-presentation surveys:

  • 80 percent believed the information from The Bigs Project sessions would help them be more successful in future internships and jobs
  • 75 percent indicated that if they had a sibling who was a senior in high school or a college student that that they would encourage the sibling to watch the video from Carpenter’s presentation
  • 69 percent indicated that they planned to speak with professionals about careers in which they might be interested

In April 2018, the researchers will present their results at the annual conference of the Society of Industrial & Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in Chicago.

To test how well the students retained the information, the researchers followed up six months later by revisiting nearly 700 members of the original student population. Judge and Glerum found that when students utilized what they had learned from the Bigs, they tended to make more professional contacts, have more informational interviews, complete more job applications, participate in more job interviews, and, in some cases, receive more job offers.

Additionally, the researchers found that, on average, high schools with minority and economically disadvantaged student populations tended to experience better professional and career outcomes as a result of utilizing lessons learned from the Bigs compared with other high schools.

“We thought it was a good finding for improving employability prospects among these economically disadvantaged and minority populations,” Glerum said.

The researchers noted that the high school participants were varied in terms of their characteristics and aspirations, although most students were juniors and seniors.

“Students with and without college aspirations and who were aspiring toward both full- and part-time employment participated in these sessions,” Glerum said. “As such, our findings are based on a representative sample of students with various career aspirations and ambitions.”

The research demonstrates that students are retaining what they learn from the Bigs program.

“There’s a stickiness to the program and its material that has an effect on people, and it lasts beyond what you’d expect from a half-hour video, a presentation and a book — but that was always part of Ben Carpenter’s vision.

“A lot of the reasons why this is working is that it’s filling a void that oftentimes guidance counseling and career-preparation programs leave behind.”

Tim JudgeJoseph A. Alutto Chair in Leadership Effectiveness
Executive Director, Fisher Leadership Initiative

At the college level, Judge and Glerum have begun preliminary investigations of the program’s effectiveness, and their early observations indicate that the Bigs program has the potential for even greater impact on the career development of college students.

During the 2017–2018 academic year, the researchers have studied undergraduate students at Fisher who’ve participated in a college-level version of the program with Carpenter through Fisher’s Leadership Initiative. So far, 211 students representing a cross-section of grades and majors have participated in one-hour sessions of the Bigs program.

Early results are positive, with initial findings indicating the program’s impact is potentially greater for the college students, which Judge suggests could be the result of the students’ realization that careers and full-time work are nearer on the horizon than compared with their high school counterparts.

But, Judge also credits the program’s delivery and Carpenter’s approach to treating the students as budding professionals.

“This program gives students hope, because it’s something they can do and they’re not dependent on others to make it happen,” Judge said. “The nice thing about the study is it does shed some light on the fact that career preparation is a process, and the day to start this is now, not the day before you think you want a job.”

The Bigs Project

Ben Carpenter wrote The Bigs shortly after discovering that his daughter, despite earning a college degree, wasn’t prepared for her entry into the working world. Carpenter, a retired CEO of a major investment firm, noticed a gap between his daughter’s academic knowledge and the so-called “soft skills” valued by today’s employers.

Carpenter’s advice to his daughter blossomed into what would become a book, titled The Bigs. Short for the “Big Leagues,” the book shares advice from Carpenter’s career on what it takes to thrive in the workforce. 

After publishing The Bigs in 2014, Carpenter launched The Bigs Project, an interactive workshop offered to students at middle schools, high schools and universities — including Ohio State — based on the book’s content. 

The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business was the first to study The Bigs Project, and it remains the primary institution Carpenter is working with to study The Bigs. The Fisher Leadership Initiative — which has undertaken many programs and activities to advance the science and practice of leadership — is actively working to integrate The Bigs into its programs to enhance Ohio State students’ leadership skills.

Timothy (Tim) Judge Chair, Department of Management and Human Resources, Executive Director, Fisher Leadership Initiative, Joseph A. Alutto Chair in Leadership Effectiveness
Faculty Profile for Timothy (Tim) Judge