Sunday, 8 November 2009

Quality, Choice and Aspiration

The government's new strategy for young people's Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) in England was published at the end of October.

This strategy has been a long time coming, and basically calls for more and better advice. It also calls for upskilling of careers teachers in schools, and greater involvement with parents. The social web of course offers a suitable vehicle for communicating and engaging with many parents - not all - but many. The key here is that social web engagement, once mastered can be faster, equally effective, but potentially less expensive than more traditional methods. Clearly there won't be lots of extra money to fund school parental engagement in the years ahead. Social web outreach is an obvious no-brainer here.

An interesting commitment in the strategy is to develop an online mentoring resource by the end of 2010. This could usefully build on the work already done by the Horsesmouth Foundation and its excellent site, , which has amassed a willing body of some thousands of mentors, happy to share their wisdom and stories with young people seeking mentoring support. It would be a shame if public funding is used to establish a rival mentoring site, when a thriving community of mentors and mentees already exists in a similar space.

Whilst the commissioning of research to identify and disseminate mentoring good practice is useful, I don't believe it is necessary to be too prescriptive about what should or should not constitute online mentoring. Horsesmouth has not for example forced mentors to undertake any training, or demonstrate competencies in order to be approved as suitable mentors. Instead the community models good practice, and the rigorous moderation takes care of any potential miscreants.

One of the prongs of the strategy is "state-of-the-art online IAG". The on-line access section of the strategy does not have a lot of detail, but quotes from recent BYC and NCB surveys telling us 61% of young people cited the internet as a key influence on careers, only narrowly behind "parents" at 65%, "friends" at 60% and "teachers" at 58%. I don't think it's quite so easy to separate out "internet" from these other influences, since many young people will use the internet as the communication medium to talk to their friends, tutors (if they could) and other mentors. What needs to be remembered here is that friends and family are influential, but the way young people communicate with their friends and families probably includes the use of internet social web tools.

I agree that technology has considerable potential to transform access to high quality IAG. Social networking, web-chat and on-line video content are suggested as means of enabling a more personalised delivery of IAG, which can respond to young people's interests. You only have to look at the great clips at to see what a huge leap forward is created by this collection of people's real-life career stories.

The implication though is that a centralised strategy is being proposed here - the national Connexions Direct service is described as "the main online and telephone service". There is a danger that local authority Connexions service providers will feel that they don't need to worry about the social web too much, since Connexions Direct will be taking care of all that, from their centralised contact centre.

The pledges of innovation in on-line services describe projects already underway or in pilot at the centralised, national contact centre - Connexions Direct. So one should expect DCSF to fund the development of the official Connexions Direct moderated chat-room, their message board, and their web-cam facility.

But local delivery partners should not sit back. Apart from anything else, practitioners need to be able to signpost and help young people make sense of the enormous range of information on the social web.

It's unrealistic to believe that creating a few officially preferred IAG sites, counters the thousands and thousands of other social web content sources. Advisers need awareness of what's out there, access to the social web, and confidence to use sites.

Of course the strategy may turn out to be academic if scrapped by an incoming conservative government next year. Although David Willetts does speak of his party's belief in the importance of IAG, he envisages a different delivery model to the current one. It's hard, however to imagine any new tory model would fail to recognise the power and potential of the social web to transform IAG delivery.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

icould launch

This week I attended the launch of the innovative careers website, icould.

The site is a great example of the potential of the social web in careers work. It comprises more than 1,000 video stories, featuring a mixture of celebrities and members of the public telling their career stories.

This narrative approach is an exciting development and provides those exploring career ideas a new way to learn about the world of work. Everyone's story is unique, and the personal element is deliberately designed to inspire people. It's a refreshing alternative to the standard, impersonal careers information sheet handed out to generations of advice seekers.

Registered users can comment on stories, and share their favourites through a range of social media connections - e.g. Facebook, Bebo, Digg, Delicious etc.

Although you can search by occupational areas, the clips database can also be searched by very different life themes - for example stories from people who took risks to get where they are today, or people who have faced discrimination, or who did not blossom until after leaving school.

Some example stories are available on youtube - search for the tag "icouldstories".