Talking Jobs: An interview with Andrew Manson

I’ve met Andrew Manson of Talking Jobs a couple of times and I interact with him on Twitter a fair bit (he’s @AndrewManson1)  when I realised that I didn’t really know what he and Talking Jobs did.

 

So I interviewed him by email, here is the interview…

 

Who are you?

 

I’m a new media producer with background in anthropology and track record developing interactive training, public information and education pieces, and some more besides.  On graduating I went into television, and really enjoyed learning about making programmes but floundered in the gap between what I wanted to make and what actually got commissioned. I was terribly earnest and if given the chance would have made some very dull documentaries but thankfully found interactive instead.  I was really taken by two multimedia exhibits, the first at the Commonwealth Institute and the other at the National Portrait Gallery. Fifty or so projects and three children later I founded www.talkingjobs.net.

 

Andrew_manson_founder

 

What is Talking Jobs? 

Homepage

Talking Jobs is a video snapshot of UK society presented through an online player that encourages quick comparisons between case studies. As such it is a narrative tool built for young people to explore ahead of making important decisions about their education, and rests on a common set of in-depth questions about people’s work, their education choices and family backgrounds. I have always seen it as a blended career learning tool, for teachers to help seed classroom discussion about work, stereotypes and society, and as guidance tool used as preparation for face to face sessions with careers and IAG people. 

 

So it is a series of videos about careers. There are loads of them, what is different about yours?

 

02_getting_started_tj

Image Copyright Claire Manson (clairemanson@boltblue.com) 

 

 

Perhaps the most significant difference is the tie in with learning outcomes from the national framework for careers education. To my knowledge it is the only resource to directly associate personal narratives with learning outcomes in a structured way. 

In building Talking Jobs I took the view that everybody with sufficient work/life experience has something we can all learn from; that a butchers life choices can influence a future barrister, and vice versa. The “see a vet be a vet” model is fine, but does little to challenge assumptions and  stereotypes, and may even do the opposite. However in order to democratise the content in a meaningful way, the recordings have be presented symmetrically to allow instant comparisons between narratives. This level of interactivity raises the engagement significantly while also helping young people come to value the experiences of others they might not normally meet, and encourages them to create their own journeys in the gaps between other people stories. As such the resource has to be viewed as a whole with case studies, video player and lesson plans used in concert to help move young people’s thinking on.  

Impartiality is a core feature of the approach and company, product and brand names are avoided in the recordings. The interviews were shot to capture personal insights and experience from the workplace but not as sponsorship opportunity or implicit brand message. I have no problem with other case study sites having an explicit corporate voice, but not necessarily as a starting point for young peoples’ enquiry about the world of work.

 

The Talking Jobs interviews are in depth asking people about their experiences at school, both negative and positive, family backgrounds and attitudes to education at home, as well as their experiences in the workplace. The resource even includes picture of the interviewees as children, which can be switched on in place of the video. Seeing the whole person in this way was a core part of the undertaking as people’s backgrounds underpin the life choices they make, and exploring their work experiences alone does not get to the heart of things. This is what harnesses the power of stories and also sets Talking Jobs apart. It’s the boundary between providing (labour market) information and fostering insight.

I guess the last differentiator is that while the site does have a useful free preview, full access means schools and colleges having to purchase a licence. This has a twofold benefit as it has allowed the resource to retain its independence and impartiality while also allowing the commercial model to evolve as the platform opens up to new ways in which it can be used.

 

 Why did you come up with this idea?

 

04_engagement_tj

Image Copyright Claire Manson (clairemanson@boltblue.com) 

I’m not sure if it’s come from my family, or from having studied a social science or from having spent so long living in tricky bits of London, but I’ve always been acutely aware of the societal consequences of life in silos according to education, location and background. These powerful forces shape aspirations, yet are often accepted without challenge, as we draw so much identity from them. Talking Jobs is an attempt to help young people explore these themes about identity and society while starting to craft their own journeys also. I guess I’m trying to widen the careers education model to embrace social issues at the same time; you could see it as a little anthropology/sociology into a world dominated by psychology, but all under the radar of course.

I also feel that young people need support widening their ideas about success and how this might differ between people. I also believe this widening should sit in-front of any form of skills assessment.  I have also been concerned about the routine use of with psychometric testing in schools without any wrap around guidance to interrogate the results. After all, we can all acquire new skills, and even strive for desirable personal attributes, provided the motivation and support is there to help us do it. There is also an ethical dimension to this, as excessive pressure on teachers has created the quick fix scenario where these tools become a convenient way of meeting the curriculum requirements – no questions asked. Overall it feels like the careers education process needs to start from another point, with skills testing coming into the equation later on and handled by guidance professionals qualified to explore the results they offer. 

 Is anyone using it? 

Yes. While not yet as far reaching as I would like the overall pattern shows slow but steady growth, a trend not a fad with a broad spread of interest and activity around the platform and premise. While initially published with schools and colleges in mind, it got bought by some adult education centres; and while I’ve spent time exploring it for primary, the site started to be licensed by pupil referral units. But this goes further with enquiries from some large companies and perhaps predictably there’s been some recent experimentation using the resource with public sector workers facing redundancy and major shift in career focus.

 

What do the teachers and careers advisors make of it 

It is seen as extremely useful in a range of ways, both in and out of the classroom, as reality check and as a widening out tool. Many like that you can stay on a single question across the case studies or randomise the content in a useful way. They also place significant value on the lesson plans and independent sessions. Some express particular interest in using the materials to challenge stereotypes, wanting to draw from the questions about family background and attitudes to education at home. All like that it is clearly anchored in the national framework with a clear relationship between the case studies and learning outcomes.

 

I’ve also been especially pleased with comments about impartiality, most notably from careers advisors that have long sought case studies reliant on personal experience and insight and without corporate voice. Overall the response from teachers and CEIAG people has been hugely positive; they like the way the interviewees were recruited, the in-depth questions and how the player works, but it does call for them to make an effort working the resource into what they already do.

 

Tj_interface_2

 

What do the young people make of it?

 

They like the authenticity of the responses, the depth of quest
ioning and generally get to grips with the player in seconds. During very early piloting using the ‘Have you got an attitude’ lesson pan, 16 KS4 students were asked what had been the most significant thing they had learned about the world of work from the session. Four of the sixteen answers given were as follows: 
 

·          “It doesn’t matter what your family background is, you could do anything.”

·         “Even successful people have poor backgrounds.”

·         “Even if your parents aren’t in a good job this doesn’t mean you can’t get a good job.

·         “The jobs sound very different to the people that are actually in that career.”

 

It’s worth noting that these responses were captured while the resource was half complete with only twenty case studies available. 

 

What would you like to improve about Talking Jobs?

 

At a recent Teach First conference I heard Sir Michael Barber liken best practice in teaching to bicycle design and maintenance, with constant tweaks required to keep things moving in the right direction. I think most developers feel the same way. The online environment is in constant flux, with iterative development a core component of best practice. This has parallels with careers development in the form of lifelong learning and CPD; we all need some career maintenance so we can withstand change, and at present change is all we’ve got.

In recent months I’ve been working with the City College Brighton and Hove (FE) to create the first student produced module. This Aimhigher funded collaboration represents the first ‘glocal’ module and will be given college branding yet ‘powered by’ Talking Jobs. Recruitment of the interviewees was supported by their own careers coordinator, Rick Cowling, whose idea the project was in the first place. In parallel I worked with the media tutor to provide his BTECH moving image students a professional brief for them to plan and direct local interviews as assessed coursework. This new module will be released later this spring and accessed via the college VLE and the Talking Jobs platform.

 

This round of development has also provided an opportunity to refine how the platform works to support critical thinking; a useful consolidation of functionality already on the site. There’s a host of other changes I would like to make, not least because Bill Law has been telling me to ‘mash it up’ for a while now, and this will very likely come, in some shape, as the system continues to evolve and adapt.

 

What are your ambitions for Talking Jobs? 

I know what I’d like to do next, but recognise it’s time for other people to have a say in how things develop. Early discussions with pupil referral unit and the flow of ideas around it have significant and far reaching potential for schools. Also in catching up on events and literature around your blog I’m curious about the young elder concept, and also destination data, and think I can see a new pattern emerging. However, for anyone or anything to have legs in this environment, the rhetorical gap between what policy makers say and what’s being done needs to close. This means schools being given both clear mission and sufficient means to deliver impartial careers education and guidance, while the all age careers service, if it is ever going to be an engine of social transformation, needs to take start taking shape before there’s no one left qualified to deliver it. 

If you are interested in finding out more about Talking Jobs Andrew has created a guest pass for AiCD readers (April only). www.talkingjobs.net   

  

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10 thoughts on “Talking Jobs: An interview with Andrew Manson

  1. Great to see you’ve interviewed Andrew. I had the privilege of meeting him in London on my last trip-met through twitter like you Tristram. Andrew impressed me as passionate and articulate about web-based career development using narrative methods. I love his website and think Talkingjobs provides a fantastic resource for careers professionals and educators. He is showing us and I am sure will continue to show us the potential of web-based service delivery.

  2. I???m terribly flattered by Jim???s comments (and a little dumbstruck also). I am also grateful to him for introducing me to complexity theory about a year back as it provided a new way of viewing the Talking Jobs resource and how it could be allowed to develop. This was both fantastic and a little startling at the time with direct impact on my thinking during the weeks and months that followed. In truth, I don???t quite think I???m over it yet… I???m also very chuffed by Dave Waddell???s quickie above ??? he???s about the most inspiring primary school teacher you could imagine and my children have been very lucky to have him.

  3. Glad the article is gathering some good comments. Do you want to explain the link with complexity theory? Sounds interesting.

  4. Explain the link with complexity theory… hmm. I???ve been developing blended learning tools for a long time and believe that everything we build in software has to be set in context and understood as part of a wider process or system. This is especially true of Talking Jobs platform which was always intended to sit within the education and/or guidance process but not replace it. This meant having to understand not just careers education in schools, but the political and economic landscape around it also, at which point it all gets quite messy. However, this was all made a little easier when I started thinking of the platform and its hinterland as a ???complex adaptive system???, and that instead of having a fixed plan, I needed coping strategies that allowed for and even took advantage of a chaotic or fragmented environment. I probably haven???t answered your question in full but it???s about as good I can give you at the moment. Ask me again in five years and I might be able to answer a little more comprehensively.

  5. Explain the link with complexity theory… hmm. I???ve been developing blended learning tools for a long time and believe that everything we build in software has to be set in context and understood as part of a wider process or system. This is especially true of Talking Jobs platform which was always intended to sit within the education and/or guidance process but not replace it. This meant having to understand not just careers education in schools, but the political and economic landscape around it also, at which point it all gets quite messy. However, this was all made a little easier when I started thinking of the platform and its hinterland as a ???complex adaptive system???, and that instead of having a fixed plan, I needed coping strategies that allowed for and even took advantage of a chaotic or fragmented environment. I probably haven???t answered your question in full but it???s about as good I can give you at the moment. Ask me again in five years and I might be able to answer a little more comprehensively.

  6. @pigironjoe – an update as the Talking Jobs Randomiser http://bit.ly/wlkvUt has gone live on the TES Growing Ambitions #ceiag website. In brief it???s a distillation of the mix it up feature on the Talking Jobs player allowing flexible control of how the case studies are viewed, but not what users see next. I see it is as blended learning tool for schools to use ahead of classroom/small group debate about careers, community and stereotyping. I???ve been trying to think up some clever language about it, and will do so soon, but first it???s come out as a story. I???ve been out of action for the last two months after some ankle surgery. However, using Skype I???ve worked remotely with developers Adrian Parr and James Privett while the TES people waited patiently for the new widget to arrive. We finally went last week. As a bonus I???ve made it out of the kitchen to London to stay with family, albeit on crutches. Up early and looking for breakfast I realise I???m home. I love this city. I was born here and its grey and grime runs through me, as do memories of twenty adult years spent in South London. But the melting pot, the fantastic mix of people it boasts, is compromised by the sheer busyness of people???s lives, the economic climate, and the profound income and education divides that shine in stark relief. On the walk (crutch) to the tube I saw secondary school kids breakfasting on Pringles, sallow faced boys taking in quick burn fuel. A few yards on an expensive family estate eased onto the Highbury Corner roundabout ferrying its load of well-porridged-prep school types. I ignored Highbury and Islington tube and crutched my way to Angel Islington. From the escalator I could hear a wonderful accordion player I used to regularly see. I think he???s Armenian but can???t be sure. I wanted to know his story. I wanted everyone to know his story, but realise that without his music, it might take a trick or two to get people to listen. I then crutched my way onto a train but despite my obvious injury no-one looked up, and no seat was offered. As I got off the young woman I???d stood alongside apologised on their behalf. In truth I hadn???t really minded, and my ankle is healing, but it did confirm why we need the randomiser. We need to mix it up. I’d be very interested to know what people make of it, especially teachers and CEIAG people. I remain very grateful to the interviewees and all those that commented during the build.

  7. Yes, it???s been a long haul, but I???m now working on a range of TJ related projects. The Randomiser has been important as it???s such a clear distillation of the ideas involved, but I have a question..While academics and QCG types will be familiar with much of the literature (far more so than me) do you think teachers and careers people on the ground get the distinction between LMI and LME? Would be good to know yours and other people???s thoughts on this??? I just make stuff… ps ??? the Randomiser is now Editors Pick on the Growing Ambition site. Very nice to see http://growingambitions.tes.co.uk/

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