May 21st, 2015 by matthias

IMG_20150520_115750It’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.

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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…

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

May 23rd, 2014 by matthias

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:

  1. 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]
  2. 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?].
  3. 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.
  4. Assess effectively: staff want recognition for their online learning – only one in five L&D departments consider this.
  5. 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

End of part one

Posted in Education & Employability, Work life Tagged with: , , , , ,

January 21st, 2014 by matthias

Cool kids like me get @guardianclasses on data visualisation for Christmas – from their significant others no less. So last night we traipsed through the very much gentrified (in comparison to when I lived there a decade ago) King’s Cross to the swanky Guardian HQ to join 150 other pinko-liberals and learn about creating a story from data. For those of you who haven’t snoozed off by now, let me explain why this excites me: data is what drives our economy, it surrounds us – just like the Force, but better; because it can be interpreted and packed into lovely infographics.

Why is this exciting? Because visualising data helps tell a story, facilitates understanding, and may protect us from the dark side… you get my drift: it is more and more data and information driven models power pretty much our world – and we have learn not only to deal with that, but to help shape it. This is complex, and data visualisation can help us both understand and communicate our ever more complex environment. In an earlier life I used to build databases – assuming that a good report would always make us see the light. I have learnt over time though, that the way information is shared is probably just as important as to which information is shared. Too often it’s not the better idea that wins, it’s the one that’s been better explained.

And here is where data visualisation comes in – visual beings that we are, our attention can be drawn to where it should be. And also, understanding data visualisation will help us understand if someone tries to shift our attention from where it should be to where they want it to be – just check out Iain Duncan Smith’s impressive work on that front. In my review of 2013, I made the prediction that I will need to learn about interpreting and understanding data – and this masterclass was a first step. While I am happy to geek out about data, there is a specific professional pursuit behind this: I feel that a lot within the world of careers and employability is ‘best practice’ driven, and that for many an intervention, there is only scant evidence.

So at work, I am embarking on a project to interpret and understand the various data that we hold on our clients/students, and their journey through their course of study. This is to better understand their needs – so we can better address them. For this, a lot of work will be necessary to analyse all this data, and come to conclusions – but also to explain them. And this is where I’m betting on visualisation. That’s a learning curve, and a steep one – but I find the challenge both motivating, and using the more academically inclined part of my brain rewarding. So I’m closing with a great video, which exemplifies the above points in my humble opinion most impressively.

Posted in Work life Tagged with: ,

October 18th, 2013 by matthias

This is an experiential post – I’m writing about my learning as I learn. I guess it’ll cause some ripples in The Matrix (by reversing the polarity of reality or something similarly esoteric), but I thought as an experiment this should interesting. I’m currently sitting in a fascinating training by @case_europe on managing public affairs in higher education. Now before you go off to snooze, please hear me out: while learning about this…

… I’m also contemplating how I handle broadcasting events like this – and why I do it. As my friend @kleinrules tends to say, during events, I take over his Twitter feed, pushing message after message on what I’m learning.

Why bother?

Three reasons:

  1. I’m not good with classic note-taking. If I write something down in a list or on a piece of paper, I will forget it. Being able to browse my tweets is to me almost as useful as creating a mind-map.
  2. It enables me to share my thoughts, and open them up to scrutiny by you. And this instant feedback is then again archived, giving me a chance to record and later go back to the discussion in retrospective.
  3. And it obviously gives me an opportunity to become more visible in my field. Not only for vanity’s sake, but also because my roles require a certain level of sector-based visibility, and this enables me to do just that.

As a professional in work (as well as for any job seeker) all the above are helpful. In comparison to the days of yore (before social media) I can also:

  1. Look up (and connect to) the participants in the room. Trust me, I’ve done this today already: I’ve looked up all speakers on LinkedIn and Twitter, and have followed and interacted with a number of participants on Twitter. This creates better, and more active relationships than giving each other business cards and then losing them or forgetting to email each other afterwards.
  2. Create a write-up on my blog – this is what you’re seeing now. Again, it helps me remember better, and gives you a chance, dear reader, to perhaps learn from what I’ve learnt.

It is events like these, and the connections I’ve made in the last three years, especially using Twitter, which have made the strongest and most beneficial impact on my professional life, and I can only recommend this approach to anyone.

Posted in Social Media, Work life 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.

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June 3rd, 2013 by matthias

When I recently had a chat with a (German) 15 year old, he complained that the IT instruction at school was woefully outdated – all they learnt was Java programming. How’s that going to be useful, he asked? I nodded politely, and tried not to look outdated too myself. One of the most regular statements I hear about graduates, and ‘young people’ in general, is that they don’t have the most basic professional skills – or pretty much any skills at all. Following the stereotype, they are all constantly late (if they show up at all), half-literate due to using text speak, facebooking their future away by posting insensitive comments or inappropriate selfies. Somehow their Java programming skills must disappear into the same black hole my Latin did. Now, whoever reads this blog will know that I have a much more positive view of ‘young people’ than that – and it’s backed up by the CIPD’s excellent research on the topic. Let’s take attitude aside – of course they have skills gaps (it’s probably more about app programming than Java). It’s their job to have skills gaps. The pursuit of knowledge and skill is nurtured by recognizing these, and addressing them. Not via rote learning, Michael Gove style though. I’ve always reacted very badly to this approach (here you call it ‘Victorian’, where I grew up it’s the ‘Nuremberg Funnel’), and can understand any teenager well (and let’s face it, our first years in higher education are teenagers), who tries to subvert it by playing the system, or pushing back. But again – this is not about attitude. So back to skills and knowledge: @vonprond wrote previously in his excellent blog about the fact that you need a critical mass of knowledge in order to understand a topic, and make meaningful judgements about it. I agree, but I want to make clear that classic knowledge (and I consider being proficient in at least one other language than your own one of them) doesn’t have to be taught in a classic way (see above). In learning, as in life in general IMHO, form should always follow function: the how you do something should always be governed by the what you do. Literacy for example is a lot more than just reading and writing on paper – it encapsulates the ability to produce and interpret content; and let’s face it, this will mostly be digital now. To bring it back to ‘young people’ as mentioned above: their natural medium is to use their thumbs and a keyboard to bring their ideas to the fore – let’s not limit them by making them do something they rarely will ever have to do in the workplace (like hand-writing on paper), but help them learning how to produce good content. It might not turn text speak to poetry, but it might help ensure that what is written is understandable and effective. ‘Getting the basics right’ doesn’t mean taking their tools away, and then lambasting them for failing – I think it’s more about ‘us’ (the not so young people collectively) having a gap of understanding of what counts in the future workplace (often combined with a healthy fear of technology). The texting youths we complain about are our (future) customers, they will run the place (and miraculously to the same standard as we do now), and they will also be our carers – so let’s make sure we help them understand our world, and learn with them how it is shaped by technology. And finally, let me just bust a couple of myths about attitude and professional behaviours: people in the workplace now are late for meetings (if they show up – it’s academia, you can never be sure), typos abound in emails (handwritten notes are illegible), and they play with their smart phones in meetings. But overall, we’re still doing a decent job, don’t we?


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