June 12th, 2014 by matthias

The following headline on the BBC chimed in with me: Parents’ jobs advice ‘disconnected’.

The article is about the dearth of digital skills. It is worrying if parents try to discourage their offspring from developing a skill set that is swiftly becoming as important as reading and writing. 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’ 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 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 at 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is still a need to interpret what they offer, and mum and dad’s advice just does not make the cut, as it’s most likely outdated by, let’s say 15 to 20 years.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. I remember reading in 2002 about how 60% of the jobs in 2010 hadn’t even been invented yet. Well, they are 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. It may even be damaging. If you can, get them into work experience early on (but let them find it themselves). Let them earn (and lose) money. If you can, encourage them to take a sandwich placement course (because that’s proven to be 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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December 19th, 2013 by matthias

I’m on fire – another really interesting (albeit slightly infuriating) discussion about careers advice – and I’ve posted a comment on that as well:

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.

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July 6th, 2013 by matthias

Today I am at a local employability fair, organised by our local council. I volunteered, after finding out about it in a newsletter. So I called them up, and offered giving advice for young job seekers on how to – and how not to – use social media in their job hunt.

As I don’t like handing out paper handouts, I’ve decided to use my blog (and Twitter) as a way to summarise my hints and tips – and comment on any results. I’ll be using the hashtag #cipdl2w for this, as I’m supporting the CIPD’s Learning to Work initiative – and this day is spent with our key stakeholder group – those young people…

I will update the blog throughout the day, from about 10.30 t0 13.30 (hoping someone will actually ask me any questions…)

Update 11:25: Things are going slow, as it’s sunny and shoppers are passing us by rushing their Saturday shopping. So I took to the opportunity to have a chat with the stand next to me, where youth work apprentice Katie is representing www.action4youth.org, an organisation that helps young people realise their potential by providing Summer activities, such as the National Citizen Service, and local community projects. Katie is on a one-year apprenticeship after finishing school. We talked about the challenges of choosing not to go to university, but to pursue what is clearly a professional vocation – helping young people learn new skills and gaining qualifications. Having worked with HE students all of my professional life, it was both refreshing and very interesting to see the world of work in a new light. With the current generation of young people having been given the impression that the only way to professional success is higher education, I found Katie’s perspective, and choice not only interesting, but also admirable – by not choosing the path tread by virtually everyone else, but to focus on what is important to her. And as my lesson for today so far, it’s nice to have a reminder what’s actually really important in the world of career decision making – and that is to do what you believe in.

Update 11:50: Interview with the organiser of today’s fair

Mel, who works for the local council, has organised this fair, because she wants to do something about youth unemployment, bringing together local partners and providers. It’s part of the local child poverty strategy – and Mel has organised similar events before, and will do so again. The fair makes excellent use of the footfall in a busy shopping mall, trying to access young people ‘hanging about town’ on a sunny Saturday. The aim is to get young people registering with the national apprenticeship service (www.apprenticeships.org.uk), sign up for workshops and training. And it’s great to see Mel at work, helping – often parents, thinking of their children – bridge that chasm between school, and the world of work. I join her on the now busy front desk, where requests from all demographics of the local community are coming in. What I really like about her and the fair she has organised, is the obvious enthusiasm and genuine passion Mel shows for this endeavour. What I’ve learnt from this is, is that opportunities to engage with – and help –  the employability agenda are sometimes just around the corner.

For the final update, from the morning after go here.

Posted in Education & Employability, Social Media Tagged with: , , , ,