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.

Posted in Commentary, Education & Employability Tagged with: , , , , , ,

August 1st, 2013 by matthias

Read this first, it’s worth it: “Twitter Troll Stops When Someone Threatens To Tell His Mom [thank you @SocialTimes]

I would like to gleefully repeat this endlessly  – and I am sure I’ll be able use this example in one of my seminars: the weakness of a troll is exposed not only in his ineptitude at sniping from anonymity, but also the social control mechanisms (the spectre of someone telling his mum) which bring him down. A meme is born.

Twitter is currently in the press for all the wrong reasons – some misogynist idiots are trying to silence vocal women on the internet. Actually, that’s not really news, as it pretty much happens every day, and not only on the internet. What’s different is not even the vile nature of the methods (rape, other violence and murder threats) but how publicly this is conducted. This is obviously well known to the trolls, and they are counting on their supportive audience to join in (and men in pubs to nod in agreement), expecting to overwhelm the victims with the sheer volume of intimidation. What they seemingly haven’t learnt, is that with every account they create, and every tweet they send, they create evidence against them – and duly, reports of arrests are coming in. And in an attempt to ruin someone else’s lives, they have ruined their own.

It’s very possible that the legal consequences will be limited – but they won’t be on the internet. You don’t need to be the NSA (although it obviously helps) to find out about what people do online – being a potential employer who checks the reputation of candidates online suffices. Having seen this troll’s clear name and picture, the impact of the trolling on the troll may even outlast the length of the impact on the victim. The words ‘you will never get a job’ spring to mind – and here’s where the social control kicks the troll again. Never mind what his mum will say – although it’s beautiful to see how just mentioning a dominant female figure in his life brought him down – it’s that everyone can forever see what he’s done, and he most probably will suffer for it.

What’s the lesson? I believe already that we’re living in an age of an anti-feminist backlash, and I know that social media are abused in this way. I’m pleased and fully support those who shout back, and I hope I can do my part. I won’t even be surprised if there’s some ill thought-through attempt by the government to punish the platforms (for the record, yes, I think Twitter’s management response has been fairly lame so far), ignoring the true issues causing the problem. What I’m learning from this is that nothing, absolutely nothing, and no one, is safe on the internet. Neither the victims, nor their trolls. Not those who shun social media, thinking they are safe (see my NSA reference above). Nor the state which thinks it can use it to spy on its citizens (enter stage: Edward Snowden). All our lives are now about the data trails we leave, and how they affect us in real life. I always used to say in my talks so far, that the offline world rules the online world – but I think we’re just about to see that change.

Posted in Commentary, Reblogged Tagged with: , , , , ,

May 20th, 2013 by matthias

Have you ever been frustrated with your manager for being slow with implementing what you had identified as mission critical and needed to be done right now? Was he sitting there, listening, apparently attentive, maybe even looking caring – but then nothing happened, at least not … well, right now? Well, this manager is me now. This is a realisation I had when participating in an excellent session by Gill Frigerio (@gillfrigerio) at the #PlaceNet13 conference (quick note: I chaired it – but can’t claim ownership of any epiphanies): Gill was doing an exercise with the assembled placement professionals, showing us a simple self-coaching exercise – and by golly, I learnt quite the lesson. I’ve been feeling stressed recently, and it wasn’t the volume of work, but a clear inability to let decisions and actions flow as I used to. Over the last years, moving up in organisations, I’ve gained a lot of responsibilities – but hilariously not necessarily more power to take them on in a swift and uncomplicated way. No wonder managers have a reputation for being ineffective. I always worked on the magic assumption that both would somehow go together, once I’m successfully climbing the chain of command. It was always my line manager, or people higher up the chain, with whom decisions would be stuck, I felt. All they needed to do was use their powers and unstick them – they said they agreed, but why did everything take so long? Once I’d be in their role, I’d just do stuff.  It turns out that gaining responsibility and power don’t go along with each other at all, or at least at the same speed – and that exerting power isn’t the answer to getting stuff done sustainably either. The higher you move and the more you know about the organisation, the more you see complexities and consequences – and that almost always a strategic approach is required to solve issues rather than merely a tactical one. There are no quick wins (I was never a fan) – most of them end being rather pyrrhic. And using power to push something through tends to work against your agenda in the longer term.
The great philosopher Peter Parker (aka Spiderman) has termed the iconic words ‘With great power comes great responsibility . I jokingly often changed that into ‘with no power comes great responsibility’ for my workplaces – not knowing how right I was all along: ‘Moving up’, does not go with more power, or the ability to move things along – it’s mostly responsibility and perspective that you gain. It merely gives you access to others who may help you move things along – but they are mostly busy with their own strategic objectives (and often you can only hope that they align). Of course this depends on the type of organisation, but the reach of a manager in academia is astonishingly narrow: not that you can’t make decisions (I’ve pretty much always had that in most my jobs), but you simply can’t push them through – as you’re surrounded by people with similar reach, but no power either.
So far so frustrating, but why does this make me feel better? Any lesson like this would be worthless if it didn’t come with a call to change the agenda, to make it happen (whatever it is). Now what’s not going to happen is that I miraculously turn into some managerial super hero (even though I just got the shiny crystal trophy of my employer’s directorate leadership & management award) – as still I have gained no additional powers. Not even the strategy (often a word for just writing down your agenda, as if it makes it suddenly more real) will change that much – what I can however change are the tactics which I apply to achieve them. And for that, I have a couple of ideas (but mostly attitude), thanks to what I’ve learnt recently. Thanks, Gill.

Posted in Work life Tagged with: , , , , , , ,