Monday, 24 November 2008

Why young workers won't stay put

This Guardian article by Don Tapscott is interesting.

Having tried to write this post three times, and been blocked by our company's WEBSENSE system, here's a final attempt:

Don suggests:

* There's higher turnover among young workers because they are disappointed to find work environments where social web is barred, and collaboration approaches are worse than they had at school.

* There's a divide between the young workers who want regular feedback (like they get in Facebook every day), and the manager who thinks an annual appraisal is sufficient.

I think

* Young workers will use cellphones to access their facebook whenever they want, but they will be less likely to tell their employers when they spot opportunities for their companies to harness the potential the social web can offer their business.

* Furthermore, young talent won't stay put, unless companies offer social web and collaboration friendly environments. So the money employers invest won't give the same returns as in the past.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Living and Learning with New Media - Digital Youth Project

Research into teenage use of social media by the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley was published earlier this month. Over three years, University of California, Irvine researcher Mizuko Ito and her team interviewed over 800 youth and young adults and conducted over 5000 hours of online observations as part of the most extensive U.S. study of youth media use.

Some of the main findings are that young users are using online networks to extend friendships which mainly exist in the real world. Sites like Facebook and Myspace allow them to deepen relationships and be in constant contact with their friends.

A smaller group seek out connections with others who share niche interests, and some seek opportunities to build online reputation and share their accomplishments with a wider audience.

In both these friendship and interest based communities, young people are increasingly learning from each other in a self-directed way. There is growing evidence of peer to peer learning, especially that users are building technical and media literacy as they experiment online.

The researchers suggest that social media has changed the way that young people socialise and learn. Contrary to adult perceptions, while hanging out online, youth are picking up basic social and technical skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society. Erecting barriers to participation deprives teens of access to these forms of learning.

While teens may not welcome adult attempts to facilitate their friendship based networks, the researchers suggest that in interest-driven participation, adults have an important role to play. Here adults can have a role in setting learning objectives, and acting as role models, sharing their experience in the context of the specific interest of focus.

The research is online - there's a two page summary, as well as the full report available here.

One of the objections careers advisers most frequently raise for not using social media is the belief we should not "invade teenage space". This research seems to offer a helpful differentiation between friendship and interest driven use of social media. I believe educators and advisers can definitely play a positive role in the latter. However we do need to take note of the preference the teens in this study clearly have for learning from their peers.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Social networking and careers advice

Last year IT recruitment firm, Harvey Nash commissioned YouGov who sampled 1054 working adults aged 18-30 in the UK. Because of the polling method there is an inevitable bias towards internet users (82% of respondents use the web daily), since the survey is conducted online. However there are still some interesting messages in the research.

Of the social networking sites, Facebook was most popular, used by 40%, with Myspace used by 36% and Friends Reunited by 34%. A minority of only 26% said they did not use any social networking sites.

So what are they using social networking for? The main reasons are to catch up with old friends (77%) and to stay in touch with current friends (72%). Other reasons are to share things (42%) - e.g. files, photos or music - or to keep abreast of forthcoming events (20%). 7% said they used social networking sites to look for new jobs, but only 2% used it to seek careers advice.

This group of respondents was asked about their attitudes to careers and careers advice in particular. 62% had not decided on their first career choice at the time of leaving full-time education.

When asked about which services they would like to receive as part of careers advice they selected the following:

* Guidance on CV's and resumes (75%)
* Interview preparation (70%)
* Work experience placement (49%)
* Financial support/advice (41%)
* Personality testing (40%)
* Psychographic testing (30%)
* IT/technology skills (26%)

11% of those surveyed said they had not received any careers advice during their full-time education. 21% said they had received other formal careers advice outside of school or university.

Where people had received careers advice the most common issues covered where CV guidance (56%), work experience/placement (47%) and interview preparation (39%). 17% said they had advice on developing their technology/IT skills (of particular interest to Harvey Nash as they specialise in IT recruitment). Only 11% said they had received psychographic (career interest/values/aptitude?) testing and only 18% personality testing.

Only around a third of this group of young people said they took the careers advice they'd been given into account when seeking their first employment. A similar proportion felt the advice they'd received helped them make further decisions about their career. Around 38% agreed the advice they'd received was consistent with what they were already thinking of careers wise.

Around half felt the careers advice they received was confusing and did not help with their decision making.

62% said they received more useful advice from informal sources compared to formal sources. If they were seeking careers advice respondents said they would look to:

* Friends/colleagues (72%)
* Online job sites (52%)
* Other internet sites (16%)
* Online magazines/news sites (26%)
* Parents (45%)
* Employer websites (44%)
* Recruitment fairs/ open days (34%)
* Consult a careers adviser (20%)
* Consult social networking sites (5%)

Despite the low current usage of social networking for career develoment puroposes, the researchers concluded that there was an interest and willingness to use them for this in future. 26% would use a social networking site to find careers advice. 31% said they would use dedicated careers forums and 23% would make use of dedicated careers blogs.

This research was reported in various media - one such report by the BBC gives the story!

It's important to keep in mind that this research was conducted with the 18-30 age group, and with people already in employment. Their expectations and needs are different to younger people, who are still in education. Careers advice and guidance is not just about work and recruitment. However it seems some have the expectation that careers advice should tell you what your first job should be, which seems a rather unrealistic expectation, and very narrow focus, allbeit perhaps a very personalised one.

The activities from which respondents selected don't reflect the full range of IAG activities which careers advisers provide to all their different client groups. If you were to survey those aged 13-19 - i.e. the next generation of social network users it is possible you may get a slightly different picture.

It's also worth noting that careers advisers have to be present online, understand the technology and its capabilities, and then actively promote services online in the first place. Without this happening users will not be able to say they are getting advice through that means.

In a way it is not surprising that few users access careers advice on social networks, since very few advisers seem to be actively putting themselves online and encouraging users to access them. There are some services trying to be innovative and it's good to see careers advisers in Oxfordshire and Berkshire using the likes of Facebook, Myspace and Bebo. In the West of England a different approach has seen the Connexions site social web enabled - adding links to all their content so users can easily link it to their social networking or social bookmarking sites. Others like Connexions Herfordshire's "Channel Mogo", have established closed social networks on their own sites, allowing registered users to communicate and network in a more restricted environment.

It does seem that there is some interest in using social networking as a means of accessing careers advice, and that this could grow in the future. Advisers and service providers are interested in tapping into this technology, although they are wary of the dangers that might exist, and sceptical about it's real potential. The strength of informal advice networks is evident. People are using the web and tools such as those provided in social networking sites to communicate.

I believe that the true value careers advisers can offer is to help both young people and adults understand the potential of their informal advice networks (both online and face to face), make sense of the different viewpoints and conflicting information they receive through such networks, and maximise the value for their personal career development.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Inspiration and Aspiration

The UK Skills Commission's inquiry into careers advice and guidance was published in April 2008. They concluded that professional information advice and guidance services (IAG) were inaccessible and often not of high quality. The inquiry was sponsored by The Edge Foundation, and one of their initiatives - Horsesmouth - gets a prominent mention.

The inquiry suggests current delivery models are not fit for the 21st century and that we need to maximise the use of technology, so people can access IAG from home. Professor Michael Thorne chaired the inquiry and in his introduction states:

Online Social Networking creates a new opportunity for people to talk about different careers with people who have experienced them.

By encouraging use of interactive networking everyone can learn from those in skilled and rewarding careers. Professor Thorne sees personal inspiration and aspiration arising from such activity. While recognising that face to face advisors will always have a place, the inquiry asserts that many IAG advisers (including careers teachers in schools) lack the necessary skills to perform their function. In my experience this is very true! There is a huge job to be done bringing this workforce uptodate on the power and potential of the social web. Many employers in the sector have simply blocked access to ALL social networking sites, and consider it a dangerous thing. This may explain many guidance worker's almost total lack of experience of social networking.

One of the report's recommendations (Recommendation 2) was that most of the demand for IAG can be met online with well designed websites for information, and forums to discuss careers with those who have experience of them.

Recommendation 9 asks that the design of the new adult advancement and careers service in England should "make maximum use of the internet and telephone based provision". We already know that online and telephone services such as Connexions Direct and Learndirect are popular, so this seems a logical suggestion.

Social networks allow peer to peer support to become more accessible and effective. Learndirect's recently introduced forums garnered 60,000 entries in their first five months of operation. The forums are moderated by paid, qulaified guidance staff, who are ensuring the "correct answers" are prominently posted to every IAG question. In a way it is a "pseudo social network" because while users can create a profile and give some information about themselves and their background, they cannot contact or subscribe to content from other users directly - they can only reply to comments of users within a discussion thread. So it is a highly managed environment lacking the features and connectivity of a true social network. But it is still a commendable start to the journey and knowing Learndirect the site will be enhanced and upgraded in future as users become more engaged, interested and demand more features. So in future I would anticipate the site will be more about connecting as well as sharing ideas and information.

At the opposite extreme, Horsesmouth does allow users to connect with each other and also share ideas and information. It matches volunteer online mentors to young people, who can in turn become mentors and offer advice to others. In July 2008 there were over 4,500 mentors offering free support on the site. Here you can read other people's profiles and contact a like-minded mentor to seek career and personal development advice. The service is currently operating on a fairly small scale when compared to national, government funded services like Learndirect, but clearly has potential to expand and provide beneficial career support to young people.

I think the report seems to suggest there is a dividing line between - on the one hand internet careers support; and on the other hand the face to face work of careers advisers. I think this could be misinterpreted (especially by advisers) to mean they can happily continue just delivering face to face work with the difficult, more challenging client groups the report suggests, and leave other young people to the internet and peer to peer support. But I believe this is actually far from the truth.

Firstly, advisers MUST embrace the use of social networking sites and technology. It is not an OPTION, but an integral part of the way they will communicate with their clients about the world of work. They will need to connect professionally to others in the labour market to access the wealth of insight and knowledge from people in the work in order to build their labour market knowledge. They may well be doing this on behalf of their clients. This is how their face to face and online guidance will become better informed, and they will become "enablers" and "connectors" bringing people and opportunities together. They may indeed be acting as safe intermediaries to protect young people on the web.

If the incentive of being better informed about the labour market is not a good enough incentive to get advisers using social networks, then new approaches such as referral based recruitment networks may peak adviser's interest..... because they could be PAID for successful referrals to recruitment agencies and employers. Jobtonic (see the examples on this blog) pays users a fee when they refer a specfic vacancy to someone they know within their own network. So jobhunting on behalf of your friends and contacts could start to become more attractive.

Secondly advisers and teachers should help clients make proper use of social networking technology to the benefit of their career and personal development plans. This needs to include discussion of issues around safe social networking.

Thirdly advisers need to help clients make sense of the varied views and opinions, insights, tips, misinformation, and errors they will be exposed to on the social web. It's ironic we have worked so hard in the guidance profession to make information advice and guidance fair, impartial, accessible, and to promote the principles of equality and diversity. Now at a sweep, anyone can offer careers advice online, and all the stereotypes, biases and discrimination are resurfacing. This is why I think there is a job to be done by the professional advice services to get into this space and provide clients with support in understanding and making use of the mixed IAG they can access through social networks.

Some people will welcome and embrace these new approaches to IAG work, others will denounce and reject them. It is however clear that these changes are already here and we cannot ignore them.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Using web 2.0 in careers work

For some years now people have spoken of Web 2.0 referring to the newly emerging collaborative internet. Today web users don't just read static content pages created by expert authors. Instead web users can create their own content using blogs, wikis, video sharing, photo sharing and so on. The word sharing is key here because as users create content, they are also sharing it with their peers, and building in feedback loops, so others can comment on what they see, and make new links to more material elsewhere on the web.

I think there is potential for us to adopt more collaborative technology in our careers work. Our clients are already using the web to support their careers research, and preparation for employment and even seeking careers advice online through social networking sites like myspace, and facebook, and through other sites like yahoo answers. I like to use the term Careers Work 2.0 to describe client and professional use of collaborative web tools to seek careers information advice and guidance.

Some might worry about this activity, suggesting that young people will be getting bad advice from each other, or making decisions without the proper information. Some might also suggest that bias and discrimination could creep into the picture. However my personal belief is that people have always talked to their friends and obtained opinions about career and education decision making, and that the internet simply makes it easier and more effective. The instantaneous nature of the web means that someone can get answers and opinions on their career questions 24 hours a day. They can get insight and input from people all over the world, and from people who actually do a particular job, or have relatives or friends who do that job.

The information and advice that is generated by professional career counsellors/ guidance workers is often of a very different nature - more factual, and more structured. But I would argue that both sources are useful, and indeed complement each other.

Career counselling professionals clearly need to be aware of this type of activity, and perhaps discuss the topic in school with students, exploring issues such as reliability of information, and further sources of advice and guidance that can be used - such as careers library resources, professional online careers tools and sites, and the real life professional advisers or counsellors they can call upon.