Breaking Open the Graduate Digital Careers Ghetto - A guest blog

On 19th September the Digital Policy Alliance 21CN Skills Group reviewed its draft paper “Addressing the skills needs of post Brexit Britain” and its own plans for helping bring about the changes needed. I also invited participants to contact me afterwards about the points they did not have time to make. Julia Von Klonowski (currently Director of Digital at the Career Colleges Trust and previously Director of Education at Oracle) got on her soap box and contributed the guest blog below.

But first I would like to comment on my own conclusions from the meeting. Nothing will work until we address the confusopoly of initiatives and programmes with neither promotion or marketing budgets beyond a press release for the launch.

I am pleased to say that those around the table agreed to bypass the political problems of co-ordination across organisational boundaries and set about cross-referring to each other’s programmes and information services. Hopefully this will lead to improved awareness of those which work and to co-operation in moving towards shared updating services, with promotion via the former Grids for Learning, now the members of the National Educational Network.  These are the procurement co-operatives which collectively provide broadband to over 60% of schools.

The provision of careers and advice and guidance in schools could be transformed if employers looking for local native talent were to work with and through the Grids to provide and promote careers material that is attractive to teachers, pupils and parents. Once adolescents and their parents discover degree level apprenticeships, leading to well-paid careers not crippling debts, we will see the student debt-funded Ponzi scheme unravel . We will see Universities competing instead to work with employers to deliver the skills of the future – using the government funding and tax breaks for apprenticeships, the grant and levy scheme and the revenues from Tier 2 visas to organise a variety of programmes linked to under-graduate and post graduate modular degrees.

But what about getting the younger generation ready for the opportunities that will be on offer …

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Now I hand this blog to Julia …

“I promised to send through a synopsis of some of the points I made so here it is – apologies if I seem to be soap boxing but, as many of us do, I feel that we have to discuss effective actions to make certain we are not in the same position in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years time. These are my personal views and I know some people will disagree with me but here goes anyway!  At least it should start an interesting discussion. One of the reasons I work with Career Colleges is because they are working at trying to solve some of the problems below and are dedicated to making certain that young people are prepared for a career. I was fascinated to hear of Brian’s work with autistic children – please can you send me his email address?

Michael’s project [The Plymouth Cybersecurity Skills Partnership on which I recently blogged] is so exciting because he has succeeded in doing something about one of the issues we have in the Digital world and is directing young people’s interests in an innovative and effective way as well as providing them with the skills they need for a career.

The many employers I speak to and work with are asking a very basic question : “Where are we going to find the skills we need now and in the future”. We have all heard the comments that our education system is not producing the skills businesses require. Many businesses and organisations are currently focusing on a very narrow pipeline – namely graduates and that is not a large enough cohort to draw from. Often the degrees people are exiting university with, do not match the skills needs of the Digitech industry. We do not currently spend the same energy on the potential pipeline from the non-university students, disadvantaged, women/girls, special needs (Brian spoke about this with great eloquence) , returners (ie women returning to work after children), those needing to change careers (redundancies) etc etc and we definitely do not “turn on” our young people early enough to the many exciting careers in technology. We know we are not teaching Digital morality, etiquette etc effectively to our youth and definitely not early enough. A 4 year old is only 14 years away from being a potential skill and contributor to our economy and society. It is key that we start planning now to make certain that as many young people as possible are in a position to take advantage of the requirement for their skills and making certain they have the skills that make them valuable.

We discussed “content” but often the education offerings and programs/qualifications are “preaching to the converted” and we are not persuading people who are not yet interested in this sector. Plus a great deal of “content” is now out of date. Hence we lose potential talent. The progression figures from GCSE to “A” Levels/apprenticeships and progression into Digital careers are still worrying for girls even if they have done really well at GCSE STEM subjects.  There are many studies that show the gender bias starts from early in life and unfortunately is perpetuated by parents and teachers.

Experis Geoff Smith “Traditional perceptions need challenging, starting in early education and continuing throughout our careers. In addition, the opportunities that the tech industry offers – it’s innovative, fast-paced, exciting and stimulating – need to be better communicated to girls from a young age, so they aren’t routed down paths that are less tech-focused when it comes to their studies and future careers,” he says. “Everyone is responsible for addressing the issue, from the government, businesses and the wider tech industry to parents, families and peer groups”

The question many students ask is “what am I learning this for” – and without context we know that it is more difficult to learn. If the ultimate goal is university then they may be learning in order to pass exams (the gateway) to the next stage but if that is not the goal then, unless we provide a reason,  many young people are lost in the education system and they direct their interests elsewhere (gaming, dark web, online  – all of which we have little control over because much of it is not included in our education system and their use of the technologies is not necessarily transferable to careers in the industry, or they don’t have the business skills that are required). Our Careers Advice and introduction has to improve so that the learning context is set so much earlier. Nursery, infant even primary children have such immense curiosity so my question would be “at what stage are we turning off our young people from learning?”.

  1. Staff – CPD and Careers Advice

In my opinion this is one of the main barriers to young people seeking Digital careers. It was appalling when I was at school and it does not appear to be any better. There is a lack of Digital knowledge on the part of the staff, teaching and advising our young people,  (ie they haven’t heard of IoT, don’t understand the growth of how Data  is being used,  the many uses of gaming in heath, defence, education etc,  Cybersecurity, Cloud , AI, Smart technologies etc etc etc)  and the lack of knowledge re the various careers available. It is difficult to find employers who are willing to give education staff the experience in the current technology world and it is very difficult for them to stay up to date in an ever changing and fast moving environment. Teachers are often restricted and bound by out of date qualifications and experience.

According to various surveys there is a gender bias amongst teachers and parents as demonstrated by a survey carried out last month by Atomik Research for Centrica.

Almost a third of male secondary school teachers think science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) careers are more for boys than girls. The research highlights a gender divide among teachers and pupils when it came to careers in Stem.

29 % of female teachers say they are “not at all confident” in their understanding of Stem careers, compared to 15 % of male teachers. Among pupils, 27 % of girls say Stem careers are not for them, compared to 14 % of boys. Almost half of pupils, 44 %, say they could not think of any female role models in Stem.

The vast majority of teachers want businesses to have a greater role in giving pupils information about Stem careers.

The survey finds that although 61 % of pupils say teachers are influential in helping them decide their next steps after secondary schools, 30 % of teachers do not feel adequately informed about all the options available to pupils.  69 % of teachers say they would like more information, training and guidance from business about Stem careers.

In February, a survey for the Baker Dearing Educational Trust found that almost two-thirds of young people working in science, technology and engineering careers believe that schools do not understand which skills employers are going to need.

There is a thought provoking  “Inspiring the Future” video which shows how early this gender bias exhibits itself.

  1. Career Ready
    In many Education Institutions there is a nod to Project Based Learning and sometimes that is because they find it difficult to work with business or to attract businesses to work with them. Too often they think that setting up an Employer Advisory Board is sufficient but many businesses do not want to attend regular talking shops although they are happy to work on a shorter projects. Employers are looking for young people with various abilities including the right “attitude”, able to present themselves well both in the written and verbal sense , critical thinking, and with the ability to work in a team . Whilst many private schools and good state schools work on these attributes , many education institutions do not stress these skills or do not have time or the ability to develop skills that make people career ready. There are many reasons for this such as English as a second language, poverty, lack of parental involvement, special needs, learning dificulties. Parents/guardians also have a responsibility to develop these attributes. If young people don’t understand that these skills are necessary for progression then they will not see the point of developing them. They also think that their personal use of Social Media and technology will translate into the digital requirements of business and we know that the two areas have very different requirements- Instagram, Twitter for Digital marketing are very different from putting up a live video of an evening out with your peers.  Involving our students in projects with businesses often helps to highlight the need for developing these skills.

I am shocked at the number of young people who enter FE without literacy skills in English and maths or qualifications in these two crucial subjects. The CVER report “Building Skills for All: A Review of England” reveals that 9 million people in this country do not have basic numeracy and literacy skills, including 10% of those at university.

  1. Successful projects generally have a driver or champion who makes certain that there is progress to the end goal  – this includes motivation, direction, communication.4. Good citizens – I believe that is important to include being a “good citizen” in all our projects and learning.  Hence many of the Digital projects I run involve a “charitable” element so that young people begin to understand the problems our society needs to address and also that they develop empathy.5. Mentors There are many young people who do not have a “mentor” or role model in their life and some at 16  (or younger) are living on their own, looking after younger siblings, ailing parents etc etc. It is difficult to “learn” when you are dealing with all these external issues but we try to help them to understand that education can help them with solving some of these problems and at least give them choices.

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