The following headline on the BBC really chimed with me: Parents’ jobs advice ‘disconnected’.
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is still a need to interpret what they offer, and mum and dad’s advice just does not make the cut, as it’s most likely outdated by, let’s say 15 to 20 years.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…
Posted in Commentary, Education & Employability Tagged with: #cipdl2w, challenging conventions, digital literacy, employability, employers, graduates, Learning to work, work, young people
There’s an interesting article (and discussion) in the Guardian by Gavan Nadan, titled Should I persuade my son to study a serious subject at university?
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.
PS: Needless to say, I’ve blogged about this topic before.
And I close with another Yikes! Just because this really hit a nerve with me.
Posted in Education & Employability Tagged with: employability, employers, graduates, higher education, skills, work, young people
Just recently, I wrote about my personal ‘learning as I go while broadcasting about it’ strategy. I used the CASE event on public affairs in education as an example. So I talked about how I learn and cover these events, but I didn’t talk about what I learnt. So many of this will boring for the consummate PR professional – however, there were some take home points which I have … taken home:
Be vigilant about sticking to a well-crafted message
I think this is really applicable in the workplace – and is something that I’m careful about applying. Once a message has been agreed to, you’ve got to stick to it. In my current workplace, it’s ‘we need a career management system’, and we’ve stuck to that message (rightly) for four years. And, yes, it’s working – but it’s all about sticking to the consensus, and hammering home the this message. Of course it’s important to review your position regularly, and to change your policy if needed (with a message just as clear) – but inconsistencies must be avoided, as they will make things worse and may not be repaired.
Disclose bad news first – on your terms
I strongly believe that. If something’s bad, it will not get better by waiting. The earlier you are seen to deal with something, the more competent your handling of the situation will be seen – and you may get the chance to frame the terms of the debate. And then, apply the principle above. Read: ‘There’s a big issue with our company database, but rest assured, our new career management system will take care of it once and for all.’
Fill the void and ‘feed the beast’
That one was a new thought to me, but I’m down with it nonetheless: Don’t let people find holes in your coverage – because they will fill it with something negative. It’s all about finding creative ways to offer new information in the context of your message. Read in my example: ‘Just a quick update – our career management system is well on its way.’
When you’re organising a high profile event, it’s about three and a half months before the event that the really high-profile people’s diaries are getting more accessible again. So people you couldn’t invite around six months in advance might suddenly become available.
Personally, I don’t know where this one sits – but I just found it an interesting statement.
Never underestimate the value of a good crisis – if there is none, find one
Now while that one’s funny, I think there may be a lot of truth in it – and I’m sure it informs a lot of practice. Your decider – the higher the level – will not want to be confronted with a problem, or badgered with your personal hobby horse topic (see ‘career management system’ above). However, if it’s the solution to a problem you have identified, it may help you achieve your strategic goals.
Disclaimer: I’m of course not devious enough for this one – just reporting what I’ve heard…
Politicians want stories – experts want data
Now that I found interesting – and I think it also works for non-politician deciders, but anyone whose role focuses on convincing audiences to achieve their aims. I personally think I’m a bit of a hybrid on this one, as my role often requires convincing (like a politician), but my thorough academic grounding in my earlier life (thanks, Dad, and my mentor, the late Prof Laube): if you haven’t got evidence, you have no leg to stand with me. A story will to me only ever be anecdotal ‘evidence’, however, if the story is backed by credible data, then I’m in. I think this one comes back to knowing your audience – in retrospect a valuable lesson for me when I look back at some of my past talks.
So this is what I’ve learnt, and what I’m intending to apply.
Posted in Work life Tagged with: audience, management, message, professionalism, public affairs, social media, work
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: #shoutingback, digital literacy, responsibility, social media, thoughts, work
I always enjoy visiting the ‘North’, where @martinedmonson and his Gradcore/Graduates Yorkshire outfit roams. The Gradcore conferences are always worth taking part in, as they are a brimming with critical thinking and debate on all things employability, graduate recruitment and employment. In order to stay true to my blog’s premise of sticking to one paragraph, I’m focusing on only one unconference track (look it up – learn something new today) that I ran with the ever excellent Vanessa Gough, legendary recruiter, from IBM. From the creative chaos that is an unconference (and the contributions of … wait … actual students), emerged a theme about what makes students employable – or better a number of characteristics: employable graduates are not clones, who have been coached to answer interview questions. ‘Employable’ is basically a meaningless term to students, and they don’t collectively buy it either. For them it’s really just another word for ‘professional’, describing a graduate’s outlook, conduct and mindset (introducing the term graduateness feels dirty, so I’ll abstain). The latter is not just achieved with clever module plans and learning outcomes, but by giving students the opportunity to engage and learn about how to be professional – based on their own effort. Yes, academic and professional support can help – but the responsibility sits with the learner. One participant (who trains professionals for the NHS) summed it up brilliantly: in a hospital, when a patient is admitted, a clock turns on immediately, which counts down to the date of the patients release – and the time is filled with opportunities and measures for them to get better (double meaning intended). The healing is done by the patient – and is influenced by their ability (and sometimes willingness) to engage with the opportunities to improve their situation. The clock ticks for students as well, and by the end of their stay (their degree), the students are now sent out into a challenging post-crisis environment. Employability professionals can’t force results – and they shouldn’t try. It’s also down to their universities not to make unrealistic promises (or set pointless targets), but to nurture, foster and challenge where appropriate, as in the end they are educators. Well embedded employability in (and outside) the curriculum helps, but only if it doesn’t become just an internal measure which makes the university feel good about their ‘employability figures’ (a misnomer at the best of times). It’s about true preparation for life after university – and getting there is certainly not always pretty, but challenging, sometimes even scary – but sometimes comes with beautiful results. To exemplify this, I’d like to use one of Vanessa’s stories. It was about a graduate who had taught herself sign language to support a hard of hearing regular customer in the restaurant she was working in, making their customer experience more enjoyable. Only when she told this story in an interview did she understand how much that said about her in terms of her true professionalism – and yes, that was what made her employable in the end. I must admit, for a moment, I had a tear in my eye.
Posted in Education & Employability, Talks Tagged with: employability, professionalism, students, unconference, work