June 12th, 2014 by matthias
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is still a need to interpret what they offer, and mum and dad’s advice just does not make the cut, as it’s most likely outdated by, let’s say 15 to 20 years.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
December 30th, 2013 by matthias
This blog started out as ‘What I’ve learnt recently … in one short paragraph’. What I tried to achieve was finding my voice on a number of issues that interest me: (higher) education (policy), the impact of technology on (work) life, work ethics and my personal opinions on these topics – but always from the perspective of what I had learnt from the experience, and not with too much effort. Call it an exercise in reflection, or an oversharing of my thoughts, 2013 was really the year I got into blogging a lot more. This is not my only blog – I run one on my personal life as a German in a small town in the UK (yeah, I’m one of those pesky EU citizens who came here taking your jobs…), and one about my decades long commitment to sci-fi role playing games (yeah, so I’m a nerd).
The themes and respective blog posts that came up this year repeatedly were indeed my experience being a foreigner – oh wait, a committed European citizen living and contributing to the UK society and economy. The recent media rhetoric about (the wrong kind of) EU citizens on this rankled with me on a number fronts – and I summed this up in my blog post about the gift of migration. What I learnt though was a bitter lesson – that in the current climate an anti-immigration argument will always win over an economic benefit in public opinion, and the benefits that international students bring to the country are no exception.
The other sad lesson I learnt this year is that there seems to be an endless well of pessimism towards ‘young people’ in general in the UK. This manifested itself in multiple forms, wherever I turned: I learnt about this when I volunteered at a local careers fair, when I commented on articles about careers advice in schools, and when I gathered the response to the OECD skills study published this year.
I know all this sounds rather pessimistic – however in the deepest time of sadness came a glimmer of hope: I was about to embark on my biggest and most painful personal lesson this year, when I was on my way to say goodbye for the last time to one of my oldest friends – it was one of those young people who showed me that this generation is not lost; they are just in need of the occasional help and advice, but they are perfectly able to find their way – which requires them to have professional careers advice. And this lead me to re-confirm my professional commitment to doing just that: helping others fulfil their potential, which I think lies at the heart of any careers and employability related work. And that’s not necessarily always about raising standards, expectations, or competitiveness – it’s often more about a realistic self-assessment and going for what young people want, not what they should want.
And I have seen many examples of good practice, both observing and speaking at a number of events, ranging from life science careers, the Gradcore 2013 conference, to the PlaceNet 13 conference.
What will 2014 bring? For me (and pretty much the rest of our economy), it will be all about learning to interpret and understand data. That’s my prediction – and I’m looking forward to seeing whether I will look back on my pursuit of this agenda in a year’s time.
Posted in Commentary, Education & Employability, Work life Tagged with: employability, higher education, professionalism, skills, young people
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: employability, employers, higher education, Learning to work, professionalism, responsibility, young people
December 18th, 2013 by matthias
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
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: CIPD, employability, Learning to work, social media, young people