Recently, I spoke at Amity University’s conference on Student Engagement, Wellbeing, Holistic Development & the ‘New Normal’. I talked about how we can move from just about coping with remote working now to opening career opportunities working from anywhere and I will publish it in two parts. This installment outlines my thinking on second part of my talk.What universities need to do to create remote work ready graduates. At the end of this section, I will expand on my further thinking on the topic; stuff that I didn’t say, but after listening to the many excellent speakers, should have.
Many jobs cannot be done remotely, and we need to recognise that there is an imbalance towards middle class people with university degrees who hold those who can. There are many aspects of social justice I will touch upon, as they are crucial for making remote work … work on a societal scale. I think the underlying inequalities affect us all and that the remedies may help us all, too. If you want to read up on the intersection of career guidance and social justice, I highly recommend Tristram Hooley’s work on the topic.
What should we do as educators to create remote work ready graduates?
Universities can practically prepare graduates for an economy built on remote working. As Sarah Schwab said yesterday, we’re having to prepare for living in a VUCA world (volatile, unpredictable, complex, ambiguous). Yet Professor Gupta shared the improvements made by teaching remotely during the Covid crisis. To ensure the employability of our graduates and help them thrive, it is us who have to change now. Here are some recommendations.
Digital literacy is key for preparing students for remote work
Digital literacy must be built into every element of the student experience – especially those bits where we thought it impossible. I have seen how the training of psychotherapists at my previous university – until then a very non-digital subject area – pivoted to distance and remote learning and practice.
Flexibility is key to create remote work ready graduates
Flexible and freelance modes of working must be built into both the work of students – and staff; we can’t credibly teach what we don’t practice ourselves. I am a great believer in authentic assessments, so we need to change assessments into the project/gig type work blocks that will prepare them for the digital nomad work life our graduates will have.
Employers have long moved away from the ‘job for life’ model and expect intrapreneurial attitudes from graduates. As mentioned in last year’s Enterprise Educators UK conference, enterprise skills are in many ways the new employability skills.
Finally, we need to see students not as performers, but as the citizens who will enact the change needed. This is where our well being agenda must apply – helping students to develop coping mechanisms for when digital or remote burnout become a threat. But mostly we need to change our societies so that these pressures don’t crush our graduates.
The crisis will create opportunities too: SMEs are the first ones to bounce back, and non-linear careers will become the norm. Skills shortages have not disappeared and will need to be filled.
So – there is a lot of work to be done. While the solutions look large in scale, it comes down to us citizens and as voters. We need to turn what was an involuntary new normal into our new normal. We need to own it and take an active role in changing to a more sustainable and human way of living and working. A new social compact on work can help us prepare for the next big crisis. Let’s not get caught out this time.
One of the other speakers mentioned the risks of the marketisation of higher education. Having worked in private higher education most of my career, I think I can comment on that. Education is a public good and it should be free. I can live with a diverse sector which offers a range of education experiences. I think it comes down to how HE policy has driven marketisation. The UK is, unfortunately, a bad example: many of its measures have led to a reductionist focus on economic outcomes (e.g. graduate salaries). This limits innovation and creates perverse incentives. Stretched institutions cannot be nimble. They may fail in preparing our students for the world of remote work. And on this, we must not fail. We depend on them to shape our new normal.
The lock down period has been transformative in many ways. Let’s make sure we focus on keeping what is good about it.
A disclaimer on privilege
I am aware that I am writing this from a position of privilege: my job wasn’t furloughed, my role could easily be done remotely, and I have a safe and enjoyable home which gives my significant other, the cat, and me enough space to work (not in case of the cat) comfortably. This piece is written in acknowledgement that others will have struggled more – but I am trying to focus on what I’ve learnt recently I want to retain.
Taking back control
Working from home has been an empowering experience for me, and I hope for my team, too. Commuting to work in London is never a great spend of time, and I have gained back 2.5h per day just by not doing it. That’s half a day per week with less exhaustion, and in the summer, just overheating. My commute wasn’t bad, but it still constrained what I could do with this time. My team has demonstrated how effective you can be running the type of client service we offer, and so have so many of us – it’s time that our employers embrace working from home as a true alternative that can help lead to less crowded cities and a more thoughtful spend of resources. The current negative headlines pushed in the (mostly) conservative media make no sense here.
Resist the urge to improve performance
Did I write that book, perfect my sourdough, or create an amazing product that will make the world a better place? No, and I wasn’t going to do that under any circumstance – the lockdown added a burden on our collective mental health which will probably take years to unpack, so there is no need to expect us to become super-performers while so many of the certainties around us were falling apart. Recognising this is key – we’re still just people coping with uncertainty, and that is hard. I would wish for us to remember that for that nebulous ‘new normal’. Here, I see a specific role for educators; for too long (and in the UK probably for longer if one can believe the sounds coming from the department for education) education has been reduced to a zero sum game of supply-demand economics, overlooking the option that investing (often into things that don’t immediately create a return) will create new knowledge and opportunities for growth.
This is what I would like to make sure we communicate to our (young) learners – that they are not the problem. They’ve been fed this li(n)e for far too long, and if we want to repair the damage caused by the crisis, we need to start listening to them. I have often written in defense of ‘young people’ as a collective noun, and in my many years in education I have become ever more amazed by their resourcefulness in dealing with the issues our and our parents’ generation created. In some cases, the damage was done much earlier and may need to be dealt with by knocking metaphorical (or physical) statues of their plinths.
I spoke at a panel for LinkedIn Learning on helping students and graduates in the early stages of the lock down, and what struck me most was that while focusing on solving the problems we face, the one thing we need to make sure we don’t forget to transmit is – hope. Hope that they can shape the world in their image. Hope that they can counter the intertwined toxic onslaught of populism, division, and intersectional discrimination they so clearly abhor. They’re out marching now – let’s make sure they remember their educators as not defending an indefensible status quo, but giving them hope. Let’s not just work from home – let’s #WorkFromHope.
I’ve had a stressful year, and working two jobs for my employer and fighting Brexit at the same time has taken away a lot of me-time I would have otherwise spent undoubtedly productively. So, during this year-end break, I took the time to reflect on some of the main lessons I’ve learnt in the last year or so. It’s not a complete list, and I’d really like to read what others have learnt.
Power distance is so last century
I grew up in an academic tradition that put the teacher on a pedestal and the learner as a recipient of their knowledge (though not necessarily wisdom). I had to learn what a ‘student experience’ is when I joined my first UK university, as we didn’t have a word for it back in Germany. But I don’t think this is a learner/teacher relationship issue – it’s one of power distance: universities are deeply hierarchical and siloed organisations, often led by a very old school ‘strong man’ (unbelievably, I heard that term used in a positive context just last week) who focuses on ‘being decisive’ rather than collaborative. How could we expect the way we educate not to be influenced by the way we are led?
I have learnt that to keep universities relevant, we have to be all about collaboration and co-creation, democratising the creative process along the way.
The kids are alright
This is not a new lesson – I’ve learnt it over and over in the last few years. Counter to the media hysteria over allegedly self-absorbed snowflakes, I have been continuously impressed by what young people are capable of. Amid the onslaught of information overload, rampant consumerism, political self-immolation, and the commodification of social relationships,
I have seen so many examples of young people (students and non-students) observe the circus we in charge have created and making reasonable judgements in how to manoeuvre in this world we’re handing over to them.
I have learnt that young people make judgements not on only the basis of economics and status, but increasingly on social values – something my generation seems to have missed out on. I can’t wait for them to take over.
If it’s not online, it doesn’t exist
There is no such a thing as a digital native – the online world is often a hostile and undiscovered country which needs to be explored individually with guidance and caution. From virtual learning environments to handling relationships via social media, political positioning in an era of disinformation, to becoming a savvy and ethical consumer – no one innately has digital literacy. It needs to be acquired – and it is vital that schools and universities help learners with this important part of socialisation. The world they will inherit will be even more mind-bogglingly complex and technical, and it’s our job to help them prepare themselves.
This year I have learnt that you can’t teach digital literacy if you don’t develop it yourself.
We are all content creators now
About two years ago, a careers advisor colleague said the great line ‘we all have to be content creators now’. We were discussing how we had to change to stay relevant and interesting to our clients, and the topic of online engagement came up. And he was right – let’s face it, a location-based service with times and services set by staff rather than client need is as 20th century as power distance led leadership. If numbers at your events dwindle it is possibly because what you’re offering is not relevant or accessible enough for your audience to schlepp themselves to. One way to address this is by making sure we offer multiple modes of delivery. At my work, we’re playing with revamping workshops as social media content recording sessions with an optional audience, rather than tearing our hair out over the perceived lack of interest. Status or assumed value of speaker (especially when faced with a manel that doesn’t reflect the audience of often hyper-diverse students) is not enough. Sure – get a star in and they will deliver, but what’s the sustainable value coming from them?
This year, I have learnt that content is the primary driver for engagement for a client focused service.
Losing #FreedomOfMovement will cost us
Freedom of movement is a basic right and an unalloyed public good under threat from Brexit. Academia thrives in open environments that encourage exchanges of thought, ideas, and values. I have watched the tightening of student visa rules and its negative effect on the sector, by making it harder for non-EU international students – and I have seen the allegedly so desired ‘best and the brightest’ having to pack their bags and not contribute to the global Britain that is supposed to emerge. Brexit widens this way of thinking to EU students and academic cooperation. Nothing ever widens by constricting its source – and society does not grow by sending those who seek to engage with and learn from it.
This year I have learnt that Brexit and anti-intellectualism are a toxic combination which will cost us all in the long-term. Forget free trade of goods and services, as in the long-term, they are dwarfed by the exchange of ideas and values.
These are some of the key lessons I’ve learnt this year. What are yours?
1/11 tweets on using Twitter as a tool for #howgetajobyoulove, in support of @JohnLeesCareers new edition of How To Get A Job You Love #HTGAJYL. It’s not sponsored content, but I will be in the book. I like John and his advice is #IMHO excellent.
2/11 Create a Twitter profile connected to your #LinkedIn (Facebook & YouTube) profile. Use the same picture and mission statement throughout for consistency. Put your Twitter name on your CV. Disable any settings that automatically tweet – be selective. #HTGAJYL
3/11 Follow target #employers, their followers, #job tweets, relevant bloggers and experts in the field. Following others brings you followers. Make sure they are real and don’t spout only promotional or fake content. Curate your followers, block bots. Be choosy. #HTGAJYL
4/11 Use #LinkedIn to update Twitter not more than once a day. Never push all updates via LinkedIn, only work and audience relevant ones. Choose your message of the day wisely – always ask – what’s of most value to my audience? #HTGAJYL
5/11 Tweet a lot, say about 5 times daily to keep a flow. Some still use email alerts for #socialmedia sites – so don’t flood them. Consider e.g. Hootsuite to manage multi-platform posts: E.g. five tweets, one to LinkedIn, some to your Facebook page. #HTGAJYL
6/11 Only tweet what you think is relevant to your audiences. Use #hashtags picked up in relevant discussions, e.g. #HTGAJYL. Twitter at its best is funny, a snappy comment, a funny (but relevant) animated gif or short video shows you are fun to work with.
7/11 If something good is not worth retweeting, like it. People react well to likes.. Adding value to their #professional Twitter feed will be good PR for you and the people you follow. #HTGAJYL
8/11 Don’t worry too much about your original content at first, focus on sharing and adding value to others. Your first own tweets will always suck a bit. Relax. Twitter is immediate and boring content will just flow away. Move on. Others will, too. #HTGAJYL
9/11 Find your own voice: Write like you’re in a #job engaging with peers: talk about topics relevant to #employers in twitter chats. It is OK to sprinkle in your own, even political opinion. But never be rude or spread #fakenews. Never #mansplain. #HTGAJYL
10/11 The Offline world just about still rules the online world: go #networking and meet the people you tweet. Also, live-tweet from events. Even better, post pics, use Periscope to live stream and share your own YouTube videos. Visuals beat text every time. #HTGAJYL
11/11 Check interviewers’ tweets in advance, quote or refer to them if appropriate. They will check you in advance, you can do the same. Follow speakers, but don’t be creepy. Never say anything you wouldn’t in front of other people and to their faces. #HTGAJYL
At a recent PlaceNet event, when we were talking about how we are using social media to cajole students to come to our service, someone from the audience asked a very pertinent question about what to do when our social media efforts to bring in the students … well … don’t actually bring the students through the door of our careers service. My answer was short: we shouldn’t try to bring them in physically if that’s not where they want to be. They won’t come however many viral videos we create and share. If we take the mission statement to ‘go where our clients are’ seriously, we can’t expect them to suddenly do what we may really truly want them to do – come into our cosy comfort zone on campus. So, where else do they want to go? Follow me, I’ll explain.
“We all need to be content producers now”
‘We all need to be content producers now!’ my colleague Adam said recently. It was during a discussion on how to make our service more accessible to students. The overall idea is to make sure that our students come to us – which quite simply requires us to go to them and make what we do as transparent and immediate as we can.
As per my last blog post, I’ve had a couple of epiphanies lately, and this is one: We don’t only need to go where our students are, we have to give them value right now, right here, or we lose their attention. Sounds like another rant about those so-called millennials, but bear with me – I’m happy about this. I don’t really care how our students learn career relevant skills, as long as they learn them in a way that is memorable and useful for them when needed.
This includes letting go of our fixation with physical attendance at workshops, events, masterclasses, etc. Of course, they are important, but sometimes I think they are more important to us as service providers, and we struggle when our students don’t value them in the same way. They would, if only we delivered them in a way they actually want to access them.
This is why we started providing short, improvised looking, three- to four-minute Facebook videos in which we explain topics such as self-perception and deception, professional identity, anxieties about what to do post university – you get the drift. No one will ever come to a workshop on self-perception at a set date on campus, however, we might want to bribe our students (and believe me, we have tried) – but a video about the topic garnered 400 views in less than 24h.
They are not uninterested in what we have to say, just the way we say it
Which confirms to me what I have suspected for a long time: They are not uninterested in what we have to say, just the way we say it, because our methods of communication are outdated. So my conclusion is that we need to produce that magical thing – relevant content.
The beauty of using social media channels to distribute that content is that they will tell – at least to some extent – what actually happened with it. That’s much harder to gauge when they leave your on-campus workshop bleary eyed, and no amount of filling in feedback forms will ever change that. If they engage with the content on social media, you will know.
Are we masters of this at our workplace? Of course not, but it’s a direction we are going down, as our first results are more than promising. As long as we can finally drop the assumption that online is less worth than online, I think we can win back their attention. They won’t come back through your door as much as they used to in those mythical better olden days – but they’ll look through your window if you open it wide enough.
Do you agree – or really really not? Tell me what you think in the comments.
Have times changed. Early in my career, I used to be sceptical about student input into services and learning. Turns out I learnt this from my elders. My education was – with noble exemptions – fairly top down: school, university, peers – the established order knew better, and students could not be trusted to make decisions about their own learning. Everywhere else, including in universities, it became all about self-regulation, but students were somehow different – assumed to be self-indulged and opportunistic. In earlier blog posts, I have held up the values of a hard education and how it has built the resilience I nowadays benefit from. And that wasn’t wrong, but I used to overlook the part where students can be much more than clients or consumers – they can, and should become true partners. And most want to be challenged, not spoon fed.
A slow learning process
This is something I’ve learnt over roughly the last year. It began with a consultancy project: we asked a group of students to help us reach out more successfully to their peers using social media. The results were nothing but eye-opening. Our Facebook reach (the recommended channel to reach out to our current students) jumped from single-digits to regularly to over a thousand. And since we’ve learnt to not just inform them about what we do, but provide valuable content they can work with, their online engagement has risen even more. What this means is for another post, but the lesson here was that the students were ready to engage, which often eluded us in what we often think of the ‘real world’. In truth, it was us our insistence on them answering our emails (haha) and showing up when we wanted them to do so who stood in the way of success. Lesson learnt: listen to your students and go where they are.
Build it and they will come … or maybe they will stay home and watch cat pictures
Build a bed and I will sleep on it
It’s interesting that the above approach now is being used by employers, who use online (and social media) channels to engage the students where they are, increasingly offering them options they actually find attractive. For that, we have to understand that with the incoming student generation, online is just as valid as offline – and it is time that universities learn that about them. I recently sat in a development session with alumni and student entrepreneurs – we are jointly working on improving our start-up offer – and it was amazing to behold the differences in the way ‘we’ (education professionals) looked for solutions to simple questions about learning how to run a business and how ‘they’ (students and alumni) addressed actually addressed them. It was an educating experience. My learning is that whenever we think we know what is best for the students, it’s time to make sure we have them in the room to lead us towards what they actually need. We should neither consult them and then railroad them into what ‘we know is best for them’, nor just do all the things a random sample of students will tell us on the day. It’s a long process of mutual listening, but hey, as educators, using our qualitative research skills doesn’t hurt a bit. Let’s build services that reflect this approach.
A community of learners
The central truth that I have learnt by working closely with students and alumni over the past year, has been to observe how they build communities – and that almost completely managed and driven online. A space without community means nothing to them – build it, and they probably will chat online about how they want a different space. Build a bespoke online space, and they will use a different channel to – you get the (cat) picture. Don’t only ask them, join them in their places – whether online or in person (that difference matters less and less). It is in valuing and treating them as equals and partners where true student engagement happens. Do I always get this right? Absolutely not, but I have students and alumni whose judgement I trust and who will help me understand them and their needs.
Now that I think about that, they have taught me something – they have engaged me in a learning community where ideas are shared and concepts are worked out together. What a great student experience I had!
It’s always the most exciting part of my professional placement year – the annual PlaceNet conference. For three days, placements and employability professionals from about 20 universities discuss academic placements, employer engagement, and how to provide a quality student experience in an ever more austere funding regime. It’s exciting for me, as, since 2011, I am chairing it. You can follow the conference on Twitter under #PlaceNet15.
At yesterday’s first day, we saw five presentations: Kate Croucher, University Relationship Manager for FDM Group, gave her perspective from having recently moved from the world of university employability into industry. It was very interesting to hear how her understanding of universities – and how they function on the inside – is perceived by employers working with them. This was followed by an informative presentation on the social media habit of university students by Lizzie Brock and Alex Field from RateMyPlacement.They also focused on how placement services can build a content strategy when engaging with their students. Here is where the true theme of the afternoon emerged – the use of video.
PlaceNet Trustee Alex Elkins practising video interviewing
Charlie Reeve from Grad Consult picked up this topic, in his talk about expectation gaps within the world of higher education. He talked about how recorded video interviewing is becoming ever more popular with employers, and how important it is for students to be prepared for this. Charlie demonstrated this by getting the participants to video interview each other using their mobile phones.
A theme picked up again by Vanessa Airth, from London Metropolitan University, who talked about how the Business and Law School, uses video presentations for student assessment on their short placement module. The presentations finished with Mike Grey, from Coventry University’s EC Futures team, discussing how to ensure placement quality.
What followed were fresher’s drinks – sponsored by RateMyPlacement – and celebrating 20 years of PlaceNet with a yummy cake. What struck me as most interesting during this day, was that content creation and sharing (especially video) seems to be the hot topic for employers and students. Without planning it, this PlaceNet conference seems to become more of a hackathon focused on the uses … no, the dominance of technology, which has now clearly reached the world of higher education. This theme will recur in tomorrow’s installment on day 2.
So why was I close to giving this qualification up? My first motivation for the qualification was to ‘unstick’ my career. I saw that securing knowledge (especially in the ‘dark arts’ of quality assurance) would help me break the ‘careers/placements guy’ label that I have acquired over the years. For this, I thought, I needed some UK qualification letters behind my name. People in higher education love letters behind their names – I have worked with colleagues who almost needed a second line on their business cards. I did find out that this could be more trouble than it is worth: seeking professional development, signing up for what is essentially an academic qualification was probably the wrong step.And it shows so far in my performance: the more I try to conform
And it shows so far in my performance: the more I try to conform with the requirements of ‘level seven-ness’ (yes, someone actually used that term at a residential — for those who don’t live in the world of academic jargon, the terms is supposed to denote master’s level thinking), the less I achieve. That does remind me a bit of school, if I’m honest – and I really didn’t like school. I wrote three assignments, the first one rightly criticised for a lack of critical thinking but passing; the second one failing on this criterion – so I secured myself some extra tutoring and especially focused on that very point – only to fail the third assignment, for mostly the same reason (which was quite frustrating). Also, I was told, I showed a lack of knowledge in the subject area – which is again a fair criticism, as I focused so much on ‘how’ to answer than ‘what’ to answer.
In essence – I am struggling to fulfil what the course wants me to do, and the more I try to conform, the more uninterested I am becoming – and the less I perform. That’s not a good dynamic – and it does indeed remind me of every structured learning experience I’ve joined in before – did I mention I didn’t like school? I succeeded in university because I ditched the prescribed pathway and self-taught myself the required knowledge – I guess this would count as self-directed study, but it also shows that I’m not necessarily built for being a good (in the sense of compliant) student.
About the usefulness of the course to my career as a manager – let’s be clear: decision making in complex organisations often requires very little critical thinking in the academic sense. It’s not the better argument that wins, it’s the politically more savvy one that does. Currently, it feels like investing into repairing my struggling academic performance wouldn’t be worth it – and that’s why I almost pulled out. I already have a higher qualification than this, and the value I can gain from that perspective is limited – it was worth finding out, but not worth putting ever more effort into, to conform to a standard that is professionally only of limited relevance. I have learnt a lot from this experience so far, but may soon reach the limits of what I would want to get out of it, any more effort might become be a waste of time. I discussed this with the programme manager, and have to say that that was a very constructive discussion. I have decided to continue, as the repair job should be manageable, and I can progress to what might the more interesting part (no essays, but personal development planning and a portfolio). So for the time being, I’m sticking with it.
In the meantime, my career has developed rather nicely without the PGCert – I am now an elected staff trustee on the board of my university. Here I see, and help with decisions that affect a multi-million pound organisation. I gain insight into institutional strategy, management and politics, as well as gain knowledge in areas other than my own. I feel that spending time on this makes more sense than trying to conform with academic learning outcomes so that I get better grades – which is what the PGCert currently feels like. Maybe I will be able to change my perspective, as my journey as a student further develops.
Which leads me to the next point: The third thing that I wanted to experience on the programme was ‘the student experience’ in the post-1992 UK degree system. Now that, I do, and it is a mixed one: being a fairly self-motivated worker, putting in the required time is not a big problem. But whenever I interact with the programme itself, I feel frustrated: the virtual learning environment is usable, but dated (to be fair, they are addressing this). I still succeeded so far in studying pretty much on electronic devices, using no paper – but the use of technology is behind the standards set by other online learning experiences I’ve engaged with. A MOOC would probably have serve me better in that regard. The two presence days were problematic though – getting online at the chosen venue was a struggle every time which is really bad when you are working in the cloud as I do. When organising the annual PlaceNet conference, we secure free online access for all delegates in advance. Teaching materials (paper, and lots of it), and presentation styles tend to be quite old school – true, this represents working practises in higher education, but I don’t need to pursue a degree in order to learn that. To be fair, I am not a friend of outcomes based learning approaches since I think they lead towards performance trending towards the lowest common denominator – which was palpable when questions and instructions at the days moved towards how to get the best grades. This, I clearly disconnected from, given that my grades got worse the longer I’ve been working on this.
So, what have I learnt? A lot, in fact. From a work perspective, I have learnt about how higher education administration thinks about itself, and how it affects organisations so far. I am getting my student experience – a frustrating one – not uncommon for any struggling student. I can’t blame the course – it’s me who’s not performing to the required standards – but I am more aware of its limitations and usefulness to my career. So, as mid-term reports go, this is mine. Let’s see if the second half will be more – or any for that matter – fun.
My ears always prick up when I read something about the usefulness of language learning. In short, I believe it to be something good, without any reservations. And I am dismayed by how language learning falls by the wayside in UK education, against all warnings about it from multiple sources.
Just this morning I read two pieces, which I thought were worth sharing. The first one is about Skype as a translation software, and how this (and other services) may shape language teaching. Having been told 20 years ago when I learnt Japanese, that software would take over soon, I was right not to hold my breath. However, I am pretty sure that this argument will come back, and may become more convincing in the next decade or two, as computing power will become strong enough to facilitate two-language conversations at appropriate speed or accuracy. The article goes on to point out that this may help focus student motivation for language learning. Have a look here: Now Skype can translate for us, what’s the point in learning a language?
The second article looks at the language learner, more specifically the bilingual – which I kinda count myself as, due to being thrown into an English primary school as a five-year-old German who spoke no English. My parents thought that ‘the boy must learn to survive outside’ our then UK home – anyone reading this blog will have heard that sob story before. But back to the article: it points out to the effect on cognitive abilities in bilinguals, which they go into from a neurological perspective. Here it is: Keeping actively bilingual makes our brains more efficient at relaying information
The article is about the dearth of digital skills, and it is worrying if indeed parents try to discourage their offspring from developing a skill set that is swiftly becoming almost as important as reading and writing. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know my views on this. But there is a wider issue – nothing I’ve learnt recently, as I’ve known this for a long time: parental, or let’s say informal, careers advice is often more damaging than beneficial: in an employment market that is changing as rapidly (both through governmental policy and technological disruption) as it is, chances are that those who have risen into positions of responsibility (even as recently as the last 10 years) will have a significant disconnect to what would bring them there today.
That goes for advice on ‘safe’ sectors to work in (I’m looking e.g. at law and its bottleneck with regards to training contracts), expectations on pay and benefits, and on strategies on how to secure often illusive entry level employment. There is, in my humble opinion, a certain level of social selection – and benefits those who make their way into ‘research focused’ universities. This is often read as ‘better’ universities, benefitting the 15 or so percent of graduates to make it into ‘top’ (meaning large and well known) employers. However, 85% of graduates do not benefit from this – and that’s where all the work lies for struggling careers services. This doesn’t mean that it’s time to tell everyone to learn coding or study IT – IT graduates struggle to find entry level employment quite a bit.
It’s been a well documented catastrophe for schools based careers advice, entrenching informal advice (or none whatsoever) even further. There is some evidence that employer engagement both on school and further/higher education level helps – but there is still a need to interpret what they offer, and mum and dad’s advice just does not make the cut, as it’s most likely outdated by, let’s say 15 to 20 years.
And that brings in digital skills again: I remember reading in 2002 about how 60% of the jobs in 2010 hadn’t even been invented yet. Well, they have been now, and it’s an entirely different playing field. At work, I see that by the type of employment opportunities flowing in post financial crisis. In short: ‘banks down, digital up.’
In the end an appeal to parents, aunts and uncles, friends of the family et al.: your typical teenager is developing a skill set that will help them succeed in their pursuit of entry level employment. You can glimpse it by how well they explain your new iPad to you at Christmas, at how much time they spend instant messaging on their smart phones, and how adept they are at circumventing any online filters you may have installed on your home network (if you have the understanding to do so). Many of this you will find annoying (maybe not the iPad thing) – but it’s what will make them successful. Accept that you will always feel like you’re struggling to catch up – because you are (hell, so am I).
Don’t burden them with 20th century expectations – while your advice on many things is required (just think about helping them develop meaningful, intimate relationships), chances are that your job searching advice is not needed, and may be damaging. If you can, get them into work experience early on (but let them find it themselves), let them earn (and lose) money – and if you can, encourage them to take a sandwich placement course (because that’s proven to be extremely beneficial). Don’t dismiss what careers advice is left in schools – and don’t undermine the work advisors do in colleges and universities: chances are that their advice will always be better than yours.
Now relax and try to remember how that thing on the iPad worked again…
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