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is still a need to interpret what they offer, and mum and dad’s advice just does not make the cut, as it’s most likely outdated by, let’s say 15 to 20 years.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…
Right, now that we’ve got the formalities out of the way, let’s get to business: Last year I took part in Juneathon, the self-proclaimed ‘annual festival festival of activities and excuses’. The rules are simple:
Click the link to join
Run or do some form of exercise every day
Blog/tweet about it within 24 hours
Visit other blogs and leave comments, giving your support to other participants.
So for 30 days last year, I lifted weights, ran, and trained martial arts – and I blogged about it on one of my other blogs. I learnt a lot during this time – mostly that I’m not 20 anymore – but also a lot about my body and how to take care of it. The main issue was recovery, getting enough sleep, and dealing with minor injuries – but I persisted, and as a first-timer, succeeded – by not giving up. Which can of course be a perfectly acceptable option.
And as there is a similar challenge in January, called Janathon, I am going for this again – and I know it’s one day longer, which slightly scares me. Sounds somehow competitive – but it’s not. Some people sometimes win prizes doing this – but that’s not what I’m interested in. As you may know I’m fairly sporty, but I’m fiercely uncompetitive and I am very sceptical of the educational value of competition. This is also not a new year’s resolution – I’ve been training to plans like this for over 25 years, and it’s just another one; albeit a slightly more prescriptive one than usual.
So why write about this here? I like a personal challenge, especially when it’s one where I have to overcome just myself. And as I wrote above – it was an educational experience last time as well, and I hope for one again.
Rest assured, I will not update my blog every day about this, but over the next 31 days, I will post my observations about my own learning during this experience. I will also tweet my daily progress (and struggles) under the hashtag #janathon. Should you want to follow, or indeed take the challenge yourself – just follow the link and go for it.
My colleague @julianchilds forwarded me an article by Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, in the Spectator (normally not part of my news diet). @rorysutherland made an interesting point – he observed that pressure to succeed in university had led to a culture of drone-like graduates, all driven by the so-called ‘top’ recruiters’ demanding first or upper second class degrees. He stated that there is no evidence that what makes you a great student turns you into a great employee, and therefore thought it would be worthwhile to improve his chances of getting to real talent by looking where none of his peers seem to be looking – the lower seconds and thirds churned out by universities every year, not tainted by conformity and overfishing by large recruiters. In an entertaining way, he describes how he would want to subvert HR’s usual hiring practises by offering references and a fast career track to stoners.
I liked the article a lot (it aligns with my sense of humour, and my disregard for established conventions) – although I don’t really align with his general praise of the economist Hayek (albeit mostly due to lack of understanding on my part), and not really understanding game theory – and it seems to go down a storm with my Twitter followers. And rightly so, as it calls the bluff created by education and recruiters, namely that being told what to learn in advance gives you a) better knowledge, and b) makes you more employable. I didn’t learn this anew, but his quote of Hayek is spot on: ‘Often that is treated as important which happens to be accessible to measurement.’ (see my re-blogged post on performance related pay).
So, what have I learnt? Let’s not even look at the socially exclusive tendency to openly only go for ‘top’ universities – this is a measure to restrict the graduate pool to a manageable number – nothing more, nothing less. I’m not aware of employers actually complaining about the quality of students as students – so his central premise is in my humble opinion a valid one: just being best in class does not make you a good employee. It shows many valuable traits, but the requirements of education and the workplace differ wildly – and from that follows that the degree classification alone is a bad predictor of success as an employee. In fact, in our daily practice at work, we often see high achievers struggle with adapting from a student to a worker identity – and those struggling academically shine in the workplace – especially when given the chance to do a sandwich placement. So I align with Sutherland’s view, in fact I greet it and encourage students to challenge convention – and be proud of their achievements, yes, even if that’s ‘only’ a 2.2 or a third.
PS: This post kind of links to an earlier one on challenging conventions – The power of giving up. Have a look.