Graduating in 2010 – trouble ahead ?

I’ve been involved in giving feedback to the team working on the new information leaflets for the AACS Adult Careers Service,  (the Advancement word often seems to get dropped), recently. The examples I’ve seen do look really good and try to address the difference between LMI (Information) and LMI (Intelligence). As it is for the public all of it will be available free via the web.  Keep watching the space for when this new service goes live in August according to plan.  Personally I am preparing for the new Grads who will be entering a challenging job market in 2010 and might have a surprise when they do look for work.  Although a lot of the mindset is on the traditional “Blue Chip” companies these are only a few, albeit an important few, of the thousands of companies that graduates can go to. Indeed with the recent Graduate Talent Pool and other initiatives coming down the wire it is quite possible a much wider range of employers could enter the consciousness of the average graduate jobhunter. The role of graduates in small and medium enterprises has never been fully explored in this country, however I believe now is a time when such consideration will, and should be, given to such employers.   A recent interesting report http://extra.shu.ac.uk/ppp-online/issue_1_300409/documents/employment_graduates_small_medium_firms_england.pdf  goes into this in much more detail.  Of course the issue of money, or the total lack of it attached to some of these placements, is a whole other issue that the TUC, amongst others, will be looking into as time progresses.  Check out the website specifically created for this by the TUC here http://www.rightsforinterns.org.uk

Gender – still an issue for careers after University ?

One of the issues that have bedevilled careers advice work is the concern over sexist advice.  People assume that we give it, we claim we would never give it, and somewhere between the two we have the confusion of who said what to whom.  Of course this is a key area for people, often politicians to pontificate on.  The previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone had his views http://www.independent.co.uk/student/magazines/news-mayor-vs-careers-advisers-398006.html 

Whilst a Downing Street summit on gender and productivity in 2004, hosted by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, centered on tackling job segregation and career sexism and the need to overcome it. In 2008 the Government decided to make it illegal to peddle such dangerous nonsense by outlawing it entirely http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1575416/Schools-ordered-to-ditch-sexist-career-advice.html .  

Meanwhile work such as the GERI initiative, http://www.geriproject.org, and many others such as http://www.works4me.org.uk, continued in educational institutions to work against the ingrained beliefs and expectations that some people may have on this matter of sexist career advice. The Educational Institute of Scotland also has a useful and simple leaflet on how to challenge sexism  http://www.eis.org.uk/images/pdf/challenging%20sexism.pdf  

Impartial and unbiased advice is the way all people working in the Careers Advice field operate. In the workplace many companies have diversity policies and it is clear that all recruitment and promotional activities should be done in a fair and equal way.  So does this mean all the old battles have been fought and won in the modern workplace ?  All the more reason to worry when a new phrase is used in this arena called “Gender Fatigue” which is where people no longer have the energy to fight something they believe has been solved. Indeed in this case it can be more prevalent for young women entering the labour market that their mother’s generation. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6272NA20100308?loomia_ow=t0:s0:a49:g43:r1:c1.000000:b30370306:z0  I guess one reason I find this such a worry is that it takes a very skilful approach to determine such subtle gender bias and how to monitor, identify and remove it. If you are in your first job after University you are not likely to be challenging such a subtle issue as it might not even be clear to you.   

On a related note, whilst attending the “HE in a Web 2.0 World” report launch in the Barbican last May, running in the same building was the Deutsche Bank, 8th Women in European Business (WEB) London conference http://www.db.com/presse/en/content/press_releases_2009_4497.htm?month=8 I was fortunate to speak to some of the people attending this conference on the situation facing the Gender bias issues in the financial area both in terms of initial recruitment and subsequent career progression.  It is no secret that this occupational area traditionally has had its equality difficulties and, according to a EOC report 6 months ago, is still having them http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/financial_services_inquiry_report.pdf

However the people at the WEB conference I spoke to were very positive of the work that Deutsche Bank had taken to tackle this problem, and they felt that other finance firms were doing the same. Of course it is easy to take such a anecdotal snapshot too seriously but I feel this wider issue of equality in the workplace, isn’t going to go away anytime soon and could the spectre of a more subtle bias, whether based on gender or other aspects of an individual,  be making headway in our workplaces ?.

Choose your University and course by its employability and salary ratings…

Mashup ahoy ! Like a premonition one of the first Mashups to hit the main street has arrived. The HE choice website called http://bestcourse4me.com/ was recently launched.  David Willetts, Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, has been promising this type of web resource since January 2009 and it is now here. Comparing the salary and employment status of different courses and universities might be interesting, but will it help young people make positive career choices. As always what is behind the figures ? A useful summary of some of the surprising results are in this blog http://www.statusq.org/archives/2010/02/24/2739/ which is written by a friend of the websites owners.

 Many issues about this website:-

 It was promoted by David Willetts as being worked on in conjunction with Microsoft, but now promoted as being in conjunction with Ros Smith and Steve Edwards computer entrepreneurs  (Although still listed as contributors there is now no mention of Microsoft on any press release)

David Cameron likes it !  http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2867656/David-Cameron-backs-website-that-aims-to-get-more-teens-into-university.html  and so does the Sun http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/2866157/Education-under-Labour-day-2-Trevor-Kavanaghs-blistering-verdict.html  Must be the first time a website on choosing University courses has made such a splash in which is commonly thought to be Britain’s favourite paper (Copyright Sun Newspapers !)

Introductory Video spoken by Andy McNab (SAS Hero) http://greymansland.com/andymcnabnews/andy-mcnab-articles/andy-mcnab-in-the-sun-my-view-about-a-new-campaign-to-help-more-teens-get-to-university/

 In a strange link the other paper which carried some weighty reporting on it was the Financial Times, which also mentioned the related promise to put the careers service “Back on Track” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c5b5042a-21ae-11df-acf4-00144feab49a.html  Interesting comments on A level Law being “less than ideal” for top universities…

 With the push this website will get from the press,(or at least certain sections of the media), and its apparent value in working out which course provides the biggest bang for your buck, be aware of this website as you, or your colleagues, will be asked about it before too long !

 Obvious questions to ask include:-

 Will this resource help prospective students make better career choices in HE ? Or add even more to the confusion felt by some students and parents ?

What about the needs of the mature student, do these figures apply to them in equal number ?

Is being able to talk through such results still necessary or can students just use the website to choose their course, as recently suggested by John Morgan, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/05/higher-education-careers-advice-professional ?  (although to be fair I do understand that the reporting of his comments do not reflect his actual view and might have had some undue emphasis put on them which did not support their use)

One obvious problem is that 6 months a not really a valid time interval to get anything clear and positive about graduate career paths across all professions and areas. In fact according to this resource if you want to be employed after your degree Media Studies is a much better bet that Chemistry… Although obviously as an adviser I would not be letting such a result go by without putting some serious balance on it.

 This is one issue I think we need to be aware of. It is what Angela McFarlane of Bristol Uni has termed ‘techno-romanticism’. Briefly summarised as ‘give the students the tools and they can fly because they are all Digital Natives’. Sometimes the more traditional skills in Careers work are still valuable and can be transferred to the digital area.  Some of the approaches might need to be changed such as networking skills and how they are used comparing the approach of face-to-face to screen-to-screen. (or phone-to-phone !). However we cannot put the genie back in the bottle and Web 2.0 careers advice will be part of the future mix.

Resumes or CVs ? And when you are asked for examples for “inspiration”…?

Once it was clear which side of the Atlantic you were on when you heard some words which came from an American background, such as Trash, or British, such as Lift. Now it is not so clear and I have noticed that it can be common to use the two very separate words of CV or Resume interchangeably.  However rather than dwelling on the changes one item brought to my attention was a copy of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Resume  by Susan Ireland.  Rather than the book, which was well written and thought provoking,  interesting me, it was the blurb promoting the linked website that went with it at  http://susanireland.com  I found curious.  Thinking it would probably just be a advertising site promoting the book it does actually have a lot of info about how to do your Resume, (or CV if you prefer as we are in the UK) and also guidance on the sort of questions you may be asked in job interviews. Probably not that unusual to similar sites in the UK so far, however one interesting section is “Career Options” which has some useful Labour Market Information (LMI) on a range of jobs in the states. Again this info can be found in the UK but often it is spread around various other websites.  There is a lot happening in the UK currently about merging such data and I do feel we are coming to a time when having a range of data in one place but gathered from a range of sources will be the norm.  I believe the term is Mashups but currently these are only of interest to a few dedicated people in research areas, or the most enthusiastic New Social Media types. However this can change quickly when things get a critical mass and erupt into view of everyone. Here’s looking to the near future !  (and if you do want to know the difference between a CV and Resume a useful summary can be found here http://www.greatcvs.co.uk/ResumeVersusCurriculumVitae.html although you should not put either word on your actual CV according to these people ! http://blog.workthing.com/2010/04/twenty-things-to-leave-off-your-cv.html )

Career education, information, advice and guidance in Higher Education

A new report from the  QAA,  A “code of practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education.  Section 8: Career education, information, advice and guidance” – has been released this month. Designed to update previous practice from 9 years ago it does cover some interesting areas and emphasises the key aspects of good CEIAG to students in Higher Education. Increasingly the issue of unemployed, and underemployered graduates, is going to gather more momentum, especially after this years crop of graduates comes out of the university sector seeking fulfilling careers whilst news of cost reductions in all sorts of areas, echo around them. The main area bearing the costs now will be the public sector, which is facing large and ongoing reductions in funding. Some companies have cancelled or reduced their graduate intake and this is unlikely to get any better for the next year of so at least. The reports dual role of ensuring that students beginning courses obtain the CEIAG they were expecting is combined with a secondary target, to ensure that the HEI can produce graduates to meet the labour market both for today and tomorrow. It does mentioned fluctuations in this labour market and it will be interesting to see what this document causes to be added to the work HEIs are already doing in this field. such projects as Birmingham University’s Future Proof Graduate program http://www2.bcu.ac.uk/futureproof is food for thought. Can we rely on all universities being able to offer similar work, indeed how far should they go along an employability route, does the type of university matter in this respect ? Russell Group or Million+ , Oxford University or Oxford Brookes ?  Of course those students studying HE courses at the local college are another factor again, what support is given in terms of IAG to this increasing number of students ? As is often the case, more questions that answers currently. If you want to read the report you can find it at this link  http://www.qaa.ac.uk/academicinfrastructure/codeOfPractice/section8/Section8careereducation2010.pdf

Be an Entrepreneur at University – run your own business before you graduate (or just after !)

Although a lot of the talk around education and qualifications is focused on them leading to a specific job or career area, there is one career that doesn’t require anyone to say they will take the graduate on.  This is the position of being Self Employed or working for yourself.  This is a huge area and covers many occupations from Hairdressing to Building to Barrister and Medical Consultant, not to mention being a careers adviser in private practise !  Increasingly many universities are recognising this fact and encouraging students to develop business ideas and companies whilst at University. In the south west Plymouth brands itself as the ‘enterprise’ university  http://www.plymouth.ac.uk/enterprise whilst other institutions such as Bristol Uni offer a range of support for students to pursue business ideas http://www.bristol.ac.uk/red/students/ , or Oxford  Uni  has their own area http://www.oxfordentrepreneurs.co.uk   I realise that this is quite a buzz word at the moment, but if you want something a bit unusual then a report on the way that dance provision in the HE sector develops employability and entrepreneurial skills in the student dancer does make fascinating reading !  http://www.palatine.ac.uk/files/723.pdf

Whichever university students are considering it may well have something similar available and is well worth checking out.  Business success isn’t limited to a particular degree, university or grade, but a good idea well executed.  It is interesting how engrained the idea of working for other people is for some students, even if their career area has a large amount of freelance work or the expectation of developing portfolio careers. Although such programmes as Young Enterprise have been going for a long time, it can still be a jolt for students to see themselves as entrepreneurs.  Talking to colleagues outside of work  I’ve also found that parents/carers of students are surprised that H.E. might have anything to teach or do with working for yourself.  Another case where what you presume everybody knows is not always matched by the reality.  Find out more at http://www.ncge.com/home.php

Parent Motivators – A Parents Guide for your Graduate living at home

This Guide was launched in the other silly season when Parliament is closed and not much news is going on.  Just after Christmas and before the New Year is when it made the new. We all know of examples where students who do successfully complete their studies at University and gain a degree might well return home sometime in their career. This can be immediately after completion of the degree, or in case of being between jobs or any work placements they might be after.  As always this has now got a term and such grads are called “Boomerang Kids”.  Check out Page 27 of this report for more info: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_population/Pop-trends-winter09.pdf

Possibly linked to this report, The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (DBIS) has joined forces with Denise Taylor, author of the popular book  “How to Get a Job in a Recession”, to produce a guide for parents and family who want to know how to help support the graduate in their home. Some of its suggestions could be used for anyone who finds themselves at home, with a good listing of useful websites at the back of the document.  Interesting to read the press coverage, which seems to believe that this guide is really an instruction manual from the Nanny State and has been personally written by Lord Mandelson rather than a careers adviser !.  It was also refreshing to hear someone talking and writing on this subject who described herself as a Careers Adviser. Perhaps this could be a sign of things to come and a greater recognition of the need to have people with specific careers advice skills involved in these documents. Now if only they could bottle and sell the magic elixir of motivation we would all have some, as dealing with graduates after they have left Uni can be demanding as it can hit anyone hard when an individual graduate is still seeking that elusive first ‘proper job’ whilst their colleagues from Uni are off on more perceived exciting, glittering careers.  In full disclosure I should also state that Denise heads up the ICG Private Practitioners Community

http://www.bis.gov.uk/new-year-new-opportunities-for-graduates

http://www.direct.gov.uk/graduates

What makes a “Good Job” ?

Most of us need to work, if only to obtain money to enable us to live the life we desire. However money is not the only factor in what makes a good job. Indeed many people will talk about the jobs they have enjoyed, or careers they have experienced, without mentioning the money obtained. I though it would be worth balancing out the money focus by looking at the other factors which make up a “good job”, at least according to other people anyway.  One report by the Work Foundation http://www.workfoundation.co.uk/assets/docs/publications/197_good_work_final2.pdf shows the following factors as valued :-

Characteristic of a Good Job  (% as indicated)

Being valued/appreciated (getting credit for the work you do) 16%

Interesting/Fulfilling role/personally rewarding/Job satisfaction 16%

Autonomy/decision making/responsibility/Working conditions/environment (including location) 14%

Team working/staff morale 13%

Good management/management support/Training/staff development 11%

Enjoyable work 11%

Challenging/Variety 9%

Success/doing a good job/ achievement 8%

Meeting the needs of the customer/client 7%

Flexible (inc. working hours) 6%

Promotion prospects/advancement/Participate/contribution to decision making 5%

Skills/ability/equipment/tools to do the job/Other fringe benefits (eg healthcare) 3%

Clear objectives/goals/expectations/Good communication 2%

Another section lists 7 Key things that need to be in place to make up a “good job”

• Employment security;

• Work that is not characterised by monotony and repetition;

• Autonomy and control and task discretion;

• A balance between the efforts workers make and the rewards that they receive;

• Whether the workers have the skills they need to cope with periods of intense pressure;

• Workplace fairness;

• Strong workplace relationships (social capital).

Apart from the employment security aspect, (which is difficult to evaluate in many areas), how many of us consider the other aspects when looking at possible careers ? Something for students to ask when they are talking to anyone about their career and reflecting on whether it would be the right one for them. Of course in terms of job security the best investment is gaining skills, qualifications and knowledge which are in demand.  This can involve lifelong learning and should enable anyone to change careers and explore new areas as they go though life. Adult & Graduate Guidance is key to this success and lifelong learning is already a part of many career areas though continuous professional development (CPD), which can surprise some students !  Indeed some careers demand CPD as proof you can continue to do your job of for continuing professional certification in areas such as Accountancy and Medicine, plus other careers areas which you might not expect, such as local Fire and Rescue Services for example.

Some of these factors may change based on a students age and interests, although getting and keeping a good job is always a challenge, it can be immensely rewarding. Of course it is not always possible to get exactly the job or career any of us want straight away, but as the saying goes “Until you find the work you enjoy, enjoy the work you find”.  As I always say it will help anyone to learn more about what they do want to do and can also help to pay the bills whilst they are searching

What does a Graduate earn ?

A common question asked by anyone embarking on a period of study is how much a graduate can expect to earn. Although this is a very complex question, as a lot does depend on the individual in some careers, you can get rough summaries from website such as prospects.ac.uk and hotcourses.  One quick summary is available by clicking on  http://www.scholarship-search.org.uk/pls/mon/hc_edufin.page_pls_user_wage_predict?x=16180339&y=&a=220707 and selecting the area that interests a student.  These range from Arts. Designs & Crafts to Scientific Services and are summarised in terms of salary.  As they say in all the best adverts about Financial Advice these are examples only and not a guarantee any particular student could earn this much.  In some cases the amount of money it is possible to earn as a graduate may not seem a lot more than if they did not have a degree, but I always emphasise that some careers are graduate entry only, such as teaching, or overwhelmingly recruit graduates despite it not being a stated job requirement, such as media and publishing. This sort of Labour Market Intelligence is important and another factor in success for some graduates rather than others.  That is before we start mentioning what class of degree has been obtained and the 1st, 2ii and 3rd class implications!  The financial benefit of being a graduate will become an increasingly important area as we head into the future with the actual cost benefit analysis of Higher Education for the individual student coming into sharp focus.

Subject Choice and how it can affect earnings…

As we progress through this academic year I’m finding some questions have a familiar ring to them. Not so much from students as from their parents…or indeed other adults with an interest in HE. Basically this refers to the fact that some subjects provide a better change of earning money that others, and that not all subjects are the same in terms of helping you get the famed “Graduate Job” with matching salary.  In its bluntest form this can relate to old issues of Arts subjects verses Science subjects, which is an incredible simplification of a complex area anyway. I believe this is probably related to the BBC post of several years ago which mentioned research showing that ‘A degree in an arts subject reduces average earnings to below those of someone who leaves school with just A-levels, a study shows.’ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2823717.stm  Although this was from several years ago it obviously made an impact. Fuller information can be obtained from the governments own stats website. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/ssdataset.asp?vlnk=7431&More=Y  Of course this data can often throw up more questions than answers and we all know of exceptions to the rule, or reasons why the apparent failure to earn the ‘big money’ can be a rational choice by the student. However with all the talk about costs and debt, especially set against the recession we are currently experiencing I don’t think this sort of questioning will be going away anytime soon.  More current stats will be hampered by the fact that the economy which students are entering is very different that the one the data refers to. Watch this space I feel