Friday, 27 March 2009

Graduates need work experience alongside their studies

CBI/Universities UK report, ‘Future Fit: Preparing graduates for the world of work’ was launched yesterday, and it makes interesting reading, but personally I think there's still a place for greater use of the social web to help students develop an insight into the world of work.

The research highlights the importance employers of graduates place on skills such as self-management, team-working, customer awareness and problem solving.

Eight out of ten employers said employability skills were a top priority in graduate recruitment. But a YouGov survey for the CBI also found that student's perception of the importance of work experience did not come close to this until students graduate and actually start applying for jobs.

At school/college only 49% think work experience will be an important consideration by graduate employers. After graduation this rises to 75% as reality bites. In fact half of graduates wish they had been offered a chance of work experience lasting more than one month and 41% wished they'd had a whole year's work experience as a sandwich year within their degree programme.

"Future Fit" recommends:

* Colleges should provide a dedicated resource focusing on the development of employability skills as part of degree courses, and use it to build long-term relationships with employers.

* More employers should offer work experience opportunities to students.

* Students should address employability issues from day one of their course, taking up the opportunities that are offered and regarding the acquisition of employability skills as a key part of their university experience, not an optional extra.

There are some interesting case studies demonstrating how universities and employers are working together to create opportunities for students to gain employability skills. The report also raises a concern that organisations may cut back on their provision of work placement opportunities during recession to concentrate on core business.

I believe the social web could have a part to play here, not just as a tool for students to use to find internships and placements, but as a place for reflection on the learning taking place in work experience, and for ongoing conversation between students, academics and employees.

* College career services can help update students about the latest opportunities, and provide tips and insights through services like Twitter, Facebook or blogs.
* Students should be encouraged to blog about their work experience.
* Employers should encourage their workers to connect with students through commenting on blogs, and writing their own blogs about their professional areas.
* Employers should also encourage workers to participate in industry social networking groups on sites like Facebook and Linkedin.
* Other ways employers can help may be through online video sites like offer learners the chance to view video case studies. In the US Career TV offers college students an insight into opportunities and employers.
* Careers Scotland has developed a virtual work experience for younger students, and a number of organisations have also used public environments such as Second Life to create virtual activities.
* Online mentoring is another possibility to explore. Horsesmouth lets learners connect with a variety of people at work to learn from each other and establish a mentoring relationship.

Even if physical placements start to dry up, and become shorter, students and employers can still engage through many of these social web tools. Of course we can't pretend virtual placements are a complete substitute for the real world, but they may still offer ways for learners to develop some of the skills and attitudes employers say they want from their future graduate workforce.

Photo credit: fotobydave

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The adventures of Johnny Bunko

You may think that in a time of recession the idea of being selective, picky and following your passion might give way to taking a job that's not quite that perfect fit for your passion....... but means the bank gets your mortgage repayment and your refrigerator gets stocked up.

Check out this SlideShare Presentation: Garr Reynolds created this excellent slideshow about the key points from Daniel Pink's book "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko - The last career guide you'll ever need". It all boils down to six tips presented manga style. I've added my own thoughts about how these tips might apply in today's economy.

1. There is no plan - you cannot map out your career path. (This is even more true in the current economy).

2. Focus on your strengths not your weaknesses - capitalise on your passion. (Strengths can be a powerful differentiator in a competitive job market).

3. Think how you can add value, solve other's problems and help others. (Employers are facing a range of problems and difficulties, and people with a solutions focus will be attractive).

4. Be persistent - keep trying, stay motivated. (We're hearing of hundreds applying for single jobs, so every jobhunter must expect knock backs, but persistence pays off).

5. Make mistakes - but learn from them. (Reviewing and learning from our experience leads to continual improvement).

6. Leave an imprint - make a difference, contribute, do something that matters. (Shape your job if you can, but if you don't have much scope to do so, find opportunities in your non-work time through volunteering, community involvement and supporting your friends and family).

Well I probably have to apologise now to both Dan and Garr - my summary doesn't do justice to either Garr's presentation or Dan's excellent book. I commend both of them to you!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Knowledge engine "Wolfram Alpha" won't give careers advice

Techcrunch featured an interesting article about a web service tipped to change the way we search the web for answers to factual questions. Wolfram Alpha is to launch in May 2009, and is described as a computational knowledge engine. It uses a natural language interface, so you can ask questions using everyday terms, and it "knows about" a variety of fields of knowledge.

It's very different from Google because it's not looking up answers and giving you a long list of possible matches. It's actually computing the answer, possibly to a question no-one else has asked it, making inferences and combining information to synthesise a result.

The writer, Nova Spivak suggests the system could never offer career or relationship advice, because this is by its very nature "fuzzy" - there's no single right answer. But it is certainly possible that information to support career decision making and job hunting could be processed by a tool like Wolfram Alpha. It could for example provide a fantastic user friendly way to access labour market intelligence (LMI), using data about starting salaries, occupational areas which are expanding/contracting, qualification or professional entry requirements for specific occupations in different countries. LMI has been notoriously difficult for the everyday user to access, and even professional advisers and counselors don't always find it easy to locate detailed, accurate, uptodate information about the labour market for their clients. Now more than ever, career decisions need to be based on best information, not gut instinct or best guesses or hunches. Making the wrong decisions about education choices could prove costly for those who get it wrong .

This tool is receiving a lot of attention online at the moment, and once it launches in May 2009, it will be very interesting to see how it may be able to support those researching career ideas!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

European Agreement to protect children on social networks

Last month 17 of the main European social web providers, including Bebo, Myspace, Yahoo Europe and Facebook signed an agreement to do more to protect children using social networks. It's good to see providers recognising their responsibility in this area. They will work to reduce risks of cyberbullying, risky behaviour (such as revealing personal data in profiles), and grooming by sexual predators.

Each provider will report to the European Commission in April on their own safety measures. The principles of the agreement are that providers should

* Have a "report abuse" button
* Ensure under 18's profiles are set to "private" by default
* Ensure their private profiles are not searchable
* Make privacy options prominent
* Preventing access by under-age users

These are all measures which can impact on safer use of the social web by teenagers. It will also make it more difficult for people to search for details of teenagers - for example careers advisers might legitimately wish to find out about a youngster's progression - perhaps from a school to a college or training programme. This will become harder if these measures are introduced, and will mean that career service providers will need to review policies, especially in relation to advisers presence on social networks, and how they interract with their teenage clients.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Social networks rot your brain

Or words to that effect. The Daily Mail brings us the chilling news that eminent Oxford University Neuroscientist, Baroness Greenfield believes that social networking sites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young. The Mail then recounts how many millions of youngsters are signing up to such sites as Facebook and Twitter, blissfully unaware of the harm they are inflicting on themselves.

One wonders if Susan Greenfield is a little out of touch with what people might be doing on social networking sites, and her comments to other politicians in the House of Lords appear to be based on observations relayed by a friend in the teaching profession. The Baroness also suggests we can't tell whether the increase in diagnoses of autism might also be down to increased social networking practices of the young!

This type of scaremongering is lapped up by the tabloid press, but appears to have little to actually substantiate the claims made.

It's ironic that children and young people today are over-protected by worried parents. They are prevented from going outside to socialise, because we believe it's too dangerous. Five years ago we'd have been complaining children were watching too much TV and not interracting enough with anyone. And now they are spending a lot of time interracting online, creating diverse, meaningful, collaborative relationships, older generations complain about that too. Of course the virtual world is full of danger - or so the tabloids would have us believe. So it's dangerous to go outside, but it's dangerous inside as well.

What's needed is some common sense here. There's space for young people to grow up and make friends in both the virtual and real worlds. And often these two groups overlap a great deal. Yes there are dangers in both of these, but there are also positive, valuable opportunities too.

Preventing or scaring young people from using social media deprives them of such opportunities. Closing off access to such opportunities cannot be a positive thing for young people.

Actually trying and exploring social media might be a more helpful approach for adults concerned or mystified by what it's all about.