Show me what you’re made of

I don’t know whether anyone else has seen Stacey Dooley’s Show Me What You’re Made Of? In each episode Stacey takes a bunch of kids and shows them the work that underpins some everyday aspect of their life. In the one that I’ve linked to in this post they learn about how buses are cleaned, but elsewhere they learn about fruit picking, fish canning and a whole host of other undesirable jobs.

This is work experience with a difference. The idea here is not to offer up ‘aspirational’ job, rather it is the opposite. But, these occupations aren’t just being profiled to show young people what could happen if things go wrong. Rather these difficult, dirty and challenging jobs are profiled to demonstrate that all of our lives rely on these things getting done. The show is brilliant for demonstrating the skill and dignity that is associated with difficult work.

I think that Show Me What You’re Made Of offers a brilliant resource for career education. It provides an insight into real work in ways that show both the positives and the negatives. It also opens up space for important discussions about how work is organised and rewarded in our society and also how workers are accorded respect or otherwise for doing important things.

I’d be really interested to hear from any teachers or careers educators who have used it with learners.


Guest post: What is the gig economy?


In this guest post Esther Galvalvi discussed the growth of the gig economy. I’d urge people to get involved with her important research in this area.

The media has tended to use the term “gig economy” to refer to digital platforms like Uber, Deliveroo, and Taskrabbit, where people can work on a short term, free lance basis through apps on their phones.  However, any online platform that allows people to participate in commerce, where people can opt in and opt out at will (on a “gig” basis), could be thought of as belonging to the gig economy.  People are busily making work for themselves on platforms like Ebay, Etsy, and Airbnb, effectively acting as their own employers.  (Different rules apply to Ebay and Etsy, however; no one is checking when you clock in, or how fast you respond; labour platforms like Uber and Deliveroo tend to control worker behaviour a lot more.) 

People involved in platform work find themselves at the crest of a wave of exciting new technology that could afford a great deal of flexibility and freedom – but risk being dragged under by the lack of security and worker protections.  On a policy level, some clear decision-making will be critical to make sure that the people who work on them have a reasonable safety net to protect them in times of difficulty. 

All this is a challenge for careers advisers, because we are learning about these new technologies at the same time that people are being exposed to them.  Young people in particular are at the forefront of the wave; a large proportion of workers in the UK gig economy are under 35.  Gig economy work could afford them a great deal of flexibility and opportunity if they are struggling to fund further education, or want a boost to their CV.  But with so much at stake with their exams, the cost for young people could be high if they overdo it

It is unfeasible for careers advisers to know the ins and outs of every platform, but we should at least know roughly how platforms work and what the key issues are, both in terms of risks and opportunities.  These could include

  • worker rights law
  • time management
  • how to critically evaluate platforms and their practices
  • depending on the platform, the basic skills to build a business 

My PhD project at University of Derby is about young people’s involvement in the online gig economy.  I want to find out to what extent young people are already thinking about or even using these technologies – and if they are using anything we haven’t even thought about yet!  The first phase is a survey of careers professionals who work with 16-19 year olds.  If you belong in this group, I would be grateful if you could take 10 minutes to fill it in.

Complete the survey

Work, rest and what you will


Yesterday was 1st May – International Workers Day. Various things were being circulated in honour of this around the internet. I particularly liked this picture which I think reminds us that career development and self-actualisation is based on the kind of balance that we strike between our work, life and leisure. Of course we each have a lot of influence on this individually, but our opportunity to influence this operates within a social and economic context.

What the makers of this picture understood in the late nineteenth century, and which many of us seem to have forgotten, is that the social and economic order are not fixed, but rather contestable and open to change. They developed the eight hour movement to fight for this change which was ultimately achieved in the twentieth century as the normal working day. This was not about limiting what people could and couldn’t do (overtime was always a reality, but we used to get paid for it). Rather it was about creating a set of social norms between employers and employees about what it was reasonable to expect. Many of these have crumbled and I think that it is to the determent of all of us.

What does it mean to be a citizen at work?

Matthew Taylor raises the issue of employee engagagement and job quality. I’m not sure that he really comes up with anything new, but it is good that he makes the argument that these issues should be public policy goals. Obviously I think that he should have mentioned career support as a way to link together individual aspirations and engagement with organisational goals.

Nonetheless, this is worth a watch.

Known knowns and known unknowns in my engagement with social media

I had an interesting conversation yesterday about the research that exists on career, professionalism, social media and the digital environment. All in all we agreed that there were hell of a lot of “known unknowns”, and also that there were a lot of “we think we knows, but no one has ever really proved it” floating about.

I try and keep some sort of a track of the literature in this area on my citeulike using the social media tag. However, my reading of a lot of this literature is that it is pretty fragmentary with lots of people carving out little corners to research but little systematic work. In terms of forming my own theories about the role of social media I have been strongly influenced by Clay Shirky’s work, particularly in Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, but these books only skirt round the edges of the issues of education and employment that I’m primarily interested in.

Elsewhere on this blog I’ve looked to see what other people are advising in terms of how to manage your career online. However, these books are generally pretty limited and pretty clearly focused on how to use particular tools.

In my own work I’ve looked at various different issues: how do students use social media at university; what is the value of social media for career guidance (also with respect to policy in this area and specifically in relation to blogging); how can researchers use social media for their professional development (and for social research). I’ve also looked at how we can support students to develop their digital career literacy, written up little experiments that I’ve tried on this and tried to pull together all my thinking on the internet and career.  Hopefully this body of work (combined with my regular outpourings on this blog filed under socialmedia or social media) provides some useful starting points.  However, I’d be the first to admit that it has been developed in a rather oportunistic fashion.

So what I would like to propose is three research questions that I would really like to know the answer to. If people think that these have already been answered then please direct me to the relevant literature. If not then please direct me to the relevant pile of research funding.

  1. How do the internet and social technologies in particular change individuals experience of the education system? How are educators and educational institutions using these technologies and perhaps more interestingly how are learners using technologies in unofficial and unsanctioned ways to support their learning?
  2. How do the internet and social technologies in particular change individuals experience of transitioning from education to work? How can we use the opportunities provided by new technologies to support this process of transition?
  3. How are people using the internet and social technologies in particular to pursue their careers and develop their professionalism? What are the dangers and opportunities that this presents and how do these interface with organisational issues.

OK, so those are three fairly big issues. I don’t expect to answer all of them myself, but they represent an attempt to define a clearer research agenda in this area.

Any thoughts?

Hi ho, hi ho, back to blogging I go

As you may have noticed I’ve been pretty tardy on my blog over the summer. The joint pressures of finishing off various “it must be done by the end of the academic year” kind of projects, moving house and taking a couple of weeks of off the grid camping holiday have all conspired against me adding the usual mix of links, opinions and occasional bits of comment. Normal service will be resumed presently. I’ve been thinking about all sorts of posts as I’ve been up to other stuff over the holidays so watch this space for various leftfield thoughts prompted by things that I’ve been up to.

I’ve only just got back and will return to work properly tomorrow – so I’m going to spend some time trying to wade through the email lake that awaits me before returning to the blog later today or tomorrow. I hope that my absence from the blogosphere won’t have turned anyone off of the blog.

Thanks for waiting!

NICEC Seminar on Youth Unemployment

Last week we (NICEC) held a very interesting seminar on youth unemployment at the University of Derby. Jo Hutchinson (iCeGS, University of Derby) kicked things off with a discussion of how the Coalition’s policy around NEETs was developing and how it might differ from Labour’s policy. Kelly Kettlewell and Eleanor Stevens (NFER) then discussed the research that they are undertaking which is examining the interventions that schools can make to prevent NEET. Finally John Goodwin and Henrietta O’Connor (CLMS, University of Leicester) provided a historic perspective by contrasting the current period of youth unemployment with the 1980s.

There were a lot of interesting points made during the seminar, but what came through most strongly to me was the need to double check your assumptions when you are looking at NEETs. John and Henrietta pointed out that much of the current media scaremongering about the “lost generation” echoes identical claims made during the 1980s. Difficult transitions do not necessarily result in the permanent loss of the individual from the labour market. Jo, presented figures that demonstrated that the recession was having a fairly minimal impact on the overall numbers of NEET young people. Finally Kelly and Eleanor argued that many young people who are NEET did not under-achieve at school and are therefore very difficult to identify before they reach the point of being NEET.

Many of the speakers also highlighted the fact that “NEETs” were not a distinct species set apart from other young people. Rather, it is important to recognise that NEET is (for most) a temporary status rather than a permanent condition. The experience of being NEET is actually typified by a high degree of churn and of moving in and out of the labour market. John and Henrietta referred to this as precariousness and to the group of people whose labour market experience is like this as the precariat. They also pointed out that this precariousness is a far more accurate picture of unemployment than much rhetoric about inter-generational and long-term unemployment (which is fairly rare).

One of the problems that struck me was that much policy is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of NEET. Some very broad truths (NEET levels are rising, poor attainment leads to NEET, NEET leads to lifetime unemployment, NEET correlates with crime and anti-social behaviour) have been transformed into absolute rules and accompanied by a media-fueled moral panic which seeks to demonise young people and locate the blame for wider social problems with them. In reality the picture relating to NEET is more complex and requires more subtle handling.
My feeling was that the approach that has been adopted to NEET for the last decade or more has been excessively focused on the idea of targeting and “finding the NEETs”. The current development of Risk of NEET Indicators (RONIs) is just a recent example of this idea that it is possible to diagnose NEETness and root it out before it takes hold. All of this targeting has the unspoken assumption that once someone drops out of the labour market or learning market they are lost for ever. I can’t help thinking that a more universal approach whereby all young people were supported to make transitions, where there was less panic about periods of churn and where there was considerably more support and opportunities for people to re-engage with the learning and labour markets once they had fallen out of the system, might just be more effective.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Far more considered opinions on these matters can be found in the publications written by the speakers at the event. Some good starting places for these include:

Goodwin, J. and O’Connor, H. (2007). Continuity and Change in Forty Years of School to-Work Transition. International Journal of Lifelong Education 26(5): 555-572.

Goodwin, J. and O’Connor, H. (2009) Whatever Happened to the Young Workers? Journal of Education and Work (Special Issue: Continuity and Change in 40 Years of School to Work Transitions) 22(5): 417-431.

Goodwin, J. and O’Connor, H. (2013) Ordinary Lives: ‘Typical Stories’ of Girls’ Transitions in the 1960s and the 1980s. Sociological Research Online, 18(1)4.

Filmer-Sankey, C., & McCrone, T. (2012). Developing indicators for early identification of young people at risk of temporary disconnection from learning. Slough: NFER.

Hutchinson, J. (2012). Teenage Mothers and Family Career Planning. Derby: International Centre for Guidance Studies (iCeGS), University of Derby.

Hutchinson, J., Korzeniewski, R. and Moore, N. (2011). Career Learning Journeys of Derby and Derbyshire NEETs. Derby: International Centre for Guidance Studies, University of Derby.

O’Connor, H. and Goodwin, J. (2007). Continuity and change in the experiences of transition from school to work. International Journal of Lifelong Education (Special Issue: Transitions from Education to Work) 26(5): 555-572.

Spielhofer, T., Benton, T., Evans, K., Featherstone, G., Golden, S., Nelson, J., & Smith, P. (2009). Increasing Participation: Understanding Young People Who Do Not Participate in Education or Training at 16 and 17 (DCSF Research Report 072). London: DCFS.

Spielhofer, T., Golden, S., Evans, K., Marshall, H., Mundy, E., Pomati, M. and Styles, B. (2010) Barriers to Participation in Education and Training (Department for Education Research Report 009). London: DfE.