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.
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…
Last week I had the privilege to spend a whole day learning about MOOCs. Proversity had invited a number of heavyweights in the field – and little old moi – to discuss their proposition of using MOOC style delivery to support corporate onboarding (and recruitment) processes. They had secured the lively and quirky Google Campus, and set up a day of presentations and breakout sessions. Here’s the stuff I picked up (broken up in bite-sized chunks):
Laura Overton (@towardsmaturity) started with a great overview on her research of MOOC usage in the corporate learning world. The general usage of technology by learning & development providers is often failing many learners – and what sets the successful organisations apart is not the technology itself, but their attitude towards learning in their businesses. Corporate learners react well to that by changing behaviours more quickly and more consistently. Overton postulated that a new learning agenda is needed, that allows corporates to react faster – driven by learners and their learning styles rather than an organisational agenda.
MOOCs in the meantime are transforming higher education [take note, HE sector!] – not necessarily a sector known for reacting quickly to student learning styles … or anything for that matter, really. Low completion rates (c.10%) are the norm for MOOCs – I would personally think that this is just a matter of time until someone finds a way to increase that enough for the model to become more stable; at which point universities will their industry-wide interruptive moment on their hands. Again – what do learners say (the question for HE in my view)? 88% want to learn at their own pace – not something that finds its way into academic calendars. However Overton thinks that the academic world can really support the corporate world through MOOCs. Let’s hope we collectively wake up in time.
Her final point was that there is an overlap of good MOOC design with corporate learning. Most MOOC learners are engaging from the workplace, and thus the curriculum needs to reflect the demands of the workplace. Overton’s key lessons included:
Create a framework: 75% learners are happy to engage online, but 1/3 don’t find what they need – good design needs a good flow with clear instructions [take note, VLE designers]
Design great learning: 45% of learners complain about uninspiring content – so the recommendation is to use multiple media, not just the lecturer. Also, the length of the programme is often a problem; shorter programmes have higher completion rates [do you see where this is going?].
Support peer cooperation: staff willing to use technology like sharing what they are learning online – good MOOC design requires sharing tools, albeit this is often not encouraged enough in corporate learning and development.
Assess effectively: staff want recognition for their online learning – only one in five L&D departments consider this.
Scale up: MOOCs remove barriers, using cloud learning management systems.
Overton closed with the comment that the MOOC is not a new hype – its concepts and names may change, but good learning practice will prevail. Read up on her work at www.towardsmaturity.org/in-focus/MOOC2014
Hm, as for an editorial line, this is interesting – we’re confronted with very varied perspectives in the last two days: on how to advise his son about ‘serious subjects’ [NB: the link actually says ‘proper’], Rhiannon, whose writing I normally like, delivers an opinion piece right out of Michael Gove’s (!) toolbox, about how rubbish such advice is – at least as long is out of the mouths of trained professionals.
Let’s get this straight – many ‘professionals’ suck at their jobs, and don’t make good role models. We see examples of bad practice pretty much where ever we turn. So who will guarantee that those industry representatives who are supposed to go into schools give advice to young people that is impartial, well informed and confidential? And – who makes the judgement call who is an appropriate (professional) role model in the first place?
Just like teachers, professional careers advisors are there to help young people understand the world around them, and how to navigate a job market that is so complex and fast-changing that the parent generation has normally no clue what is happening ‘out there’ – at least not if it’s not directly within their own sector. [NB: I work in the field, but I am not a careers advisor]
There’s plenty of space for industry speakers, professional mentors and informal advice from parents – but pulling the direct one-to-one advice (and the funding for it), and then replacing it by online and phone ‘support’, takes away the opportunity for young people to engage with their potential in a safe and unbiased environment. It strikes me more as a cost-cutting measure than an attempt at improving young people’s chances – funnily enough, for especially vulnerable groups personal advice is still available; can’t be that bad then.
And that’s exactly what the CBI is saying on this topic: what was there as a support structure has pretty much been broken by recent policy. So even the employers that are supposed to go in and do a ‘better job’ than qualified careers advisors are asking for careers advice to be strengthened and enabled again.
As someone running a careers service in higher education, I worry about the consequences of these policies, and how they will affect the students coming our way in the next few years – and what repair job we may have to do in order with all those young people who never learnt the basics of career decision making in school. And for that job (not just checking CVs and doing silly online assessments), there are professional careers advisors.
I respect personal opinion and experience (and working in the field, my own experience has been indeed varied) – however I question what the Guardian will do to balance this opinion piece with something that is more informed and balanced.
I am however not really holding my breath, as I normally don’t see much of a rational discussion on education, young people and careers advice.
To which I say Yikes! Probably double Yikes! Why? See my answer below – I’ve just posted this on the comments underneath the article:
The best piece of careers advice I ever got was ‘study what interests you, not what you (or your parents) think will give you a job a number of years later’.
Firstly, you will never be good at something you don’t care about. And if just you’re good at something when you’re 16, that doesn’t mean you’ll satisfied with it for the long time you’ll be in your professional life. I’ve seen this in my professional practice, with graduates coming back crying – thinking they were failures, after having aced all exams and gotten into the ‘right’ industry (mostly finance), but breaking down after a year out when confronted with the realities of having to do something for long hours every day that they were just not ‘built’ for.
Secondly, employment markets change really fast – and what is seen as ‘hot’ when signing up for a course, may be a disaster zone just three years later. This is precipitated by changes in technology, which enables companies to outsource and offshore first, and automate later. Yes, this affects even classic identifyable professions like e.g. law.
But just going back to what counts as interesting, and then ignoring the world around us isn’t the alternative we should be speaking about. I studied something that was deemed to make me unemployable for the rest of my life – but I spent my time during university working fairly systematically on my general employability skills (just in order to deal with the spectre of unemployment at the end), and I worked, worked and worked in a huge variety of sectors and roles to gain as much experience as I could. These skills helped me get my first ‘real’ job (while trying to help my friends who studied a ‘real’ subject and were unemployed for long stretches), while the knowledge I gained during my studies gives me the edge now when trying to understand the complex world of work around me.
In short – every subject in university can become serious, if you make it so.
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.