Developing digital literacy through change – is transliteracy the answer?

Digital literacy I hear you say it’s everywhere! It is certainly a topic I hear much more frequently now than I ever used in my current role as a Career Consultant in higher education. As a term it feels ubiquitous but strangely also feels  like we’re all talking about it but sometimes with differing meanings and purposes – (do you ever get that feeling about “employability” as well?).   For example, for some of the students I work with they initially take the term to mean just using social media platforms or in some cases very specific software.  To help us understand some of the problems with becoming digitally literate it’s useful to think of our environment and starting points.

Some of you may have heard of Prensky who coined the terms digital ‘natives’ or ‘immigrants (settlers)’ as a way of distinguishing between those born into the digital age club and those amongst us (myself included) who get in via their analogue ticket (R.O.A.R).


If you’re not digitally native you’re not coming in!

Ironically, there’s a certain paradox here in the settlers very often being tasked to aid the natives in their digital development!  Maybe there’s more going on here than meets the eye and we need to extend our view of what it means to operate in 2017 and indeed prepare for the future – I’ll come back to this later on. But coming back to Prensky the terms suggest two ends diametrically opposed and the assumption  – to use the same analogy – that both clubs have strict entrance policies and play different music – Daft Punk versus Blondie perhaps!

But at what point given the widely accepted pace that technological developments occur do those lines become blurred and the demands placed on  natives and settlers to keep pace remain equal for all concerned even if our start points are different? Now, within education (and I know I’m generalising a lot here) is it also feels like the issue dealt with in a couple of ways:

  • Staff should do more to embed digital literacy and promote its use but may not feel equipped – this could be both in capability and time.
  • Throwing an increasing supply of sophisticated technology at the problem to somehow generate capability. e.g Sign up for LinkedIn and you’ll network your way to a job.

So what is the way forward?  Without pretending to have the precise answers I believe a solid starting point is dealing with our own understanding of what is “digital literacy”. I loved reading this article 20 ways of thinking about digital literacy in higher education. Without trying to show favoursitism these are the four ideals that stood out for me.

  1. Literacy is not static.
  2. HEIs need to help legitimise digital practices without trying to own them.
  3. Engage students in this debate and ensure that they too have ownership of this agenda.

However, one statement connected with me more than the others that I think helps bridge the divide between Presky’s ‘native’ and ‘settler’ debate and allow us all entry into a club that values our diversity and capabilities.

Digital literacy as an important part of transliteracy.  It is the literacy of convergence, unifying literacies past and present across different platforms, media and cultures.

This suggests we all have a contribution to make in being able to support our own and each others digital literacy development but also acceptance of where we have all come from and who we want to be both now and in the future.  What is comforting about transliteracy is that it includes and values other measures of what it means to navigate the 21st century life. It isn’t tied to a particular concept or piece of technology and it has space for the relationship we have with technology that at times feels just like a inevitable dystopian future of job losses.

There’s a great short video about developing transliteracy from Jeremy Brueck that gets you to consider what a lifestyle in a transliterate world means.


But as digital literacy remains so visible amongst us I’ve also produced a short presentation that explores some of the prevailing concepts and capabilities that helps us understand its relationship to employability.





The Graduate Market 2016 -creating App(eal) with students


Rather belatedly this year I’ve got round to reading The Graduate Market 2016 produced by High Fliers.  If you want to compare this years report to previous years, I wrote similar pieces in 2015 and 2014.  If you have an interest in graduate recruitment it’s well worth a read with the research focus being the Times top 100 graduate employers.  I’m not going to summarise the report as the executive summary does a fine job of that already but rather  focus on an area that holds interest for me and my role working with higher education students; that of graduate vacancies.


Unfilled vacancies  – so what lies beneath? The report notes:

A noticeable rise in the number of graduates turning down or reneging on job offers that they had previously accepted meant that over 1,000 graduate positions were left unfilled last year, reducing the graduate intake at almost a third of the UK’s leading employers.

Reasons given for this included graduates becoming pickier, having increased choice due to  a more buoyant job market, last minute changes in targets and harder to fill specialist vacancies.

Missing for me within the rationale is still recruiters over reliance and focus on Russell Group universities.  I can understand and appreciate the argument of a limited resource and recruitment and marketing budget but the average number of universities targeted by employers is twenty with six of those probably appearing in most recruiters cross hairs.

It seems strange to me how given the immense talent that exists in all universities some employers – and by no means do I mean all in the top 100 – may do well to rethink their current  strategy and engage with a wider field of talent.  Now there is open interpretation by what “engage” may actually mean for employers.  For some this might be brand ambassadors in target universities and for others it may mean working more closely in curriculum.  In fairness employers aren’t ruling out applications from elsewhere subject to entry requirements but we know in a labour market that is congested with competing choices and large numbers of potential applicants diversity won’t just appear by accident.

 This led me to read with interest an article in the Telegraph  on a new app called Debut which promotes itself as “the world’s first mobile student and graduate careers platform”.  The basic premise is that undergraduates download the app and can then play employer sponsored games to get fast tracked to interview.

Now this reminds me of an up to date version of the MI6 recruitment strategy of posing almost unsolvable puzzles in newspaper ads to get an interview with them.  I do find this an intriguing approach as part of the marketing blurb on the website talks about trying to “disrupt”the graduate jobs market.  With the app being free and easily accessible to download on your device it could certainly have mass market reach.  It claims to flip graduate recruitment with the employer approaching the employee – although I’m pretty sure LinkedIn had that function nailed a long time ago.  This is all based on the profile the student completes and performance in the employer endorsed games I mentioned earlier.  There were 41 employers on board at launch so I’d be interested to see what the take up is like a year down the line – both for employers and students.  One side effect of the disruption they talk about may be students playing these games in lectures.  We shall see….


At least in my mind part of this strategy seems just like a new tactic in the employers arsenal of trying to attract and select the best applicants.  I say arsenal as that appears to be in line with graduate recruiters vocabulary of weaponised lexicon. Let me explain! I’ve heard  the term “tag & bag” used to describe an employers attempts to get applicants selected and onboarded to their graduate scheme and “weapons of mass rejection” used to describe applicant tracking systems.  It just goes to show that with employability there is no silver bullet – no pun intended.

Social mobility and graduate earnings IFS report

I’ve just been perusing the recently released and lengthily titled report from the IFS  How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background.  It’s interesting because it uses a big data approach tracking the student cohorts between 1998–2011.   For the record the published research from the IFS used anonymised tax data from HMRC and student loan records for 260,000 students up to ten years after graduation.

For a shorter summary the Guardian have also ran a piece based on the report “Richer students have higher graduate income, study finds”.

My own particular interest stems from two related angles.  Firstly I graduated from a post 92 university in 2001 so therefore would have been included in this data set and secondly as a careers practitioner with an interest and view on social mobility.

In many respects the report summary and article are depressing reads. Although there are a couple of exceptions with regards to graduate v non-graduate earnings and the rise in student numbers.

I’ve included a brief snapshot taken from the summary report:

Differences in earnings by parental income

“Graduates from richer family backgrounds earn significantly more after graduation than other graduates, even after completing similar degrees from similar universities. The average gap in earnings at the median between students from higher-income households and the rest was £8,000 (£5,300) a year for males (females), ten years after graduation”.

“Even after taking account of subject studied and the characteristics of the institution of study, the average student from a higher-income background still earned about 10% more than the other students at the median”.

If we were left in any doubt about the impact of family background has on future earnings we do not need to look far:

“the 10% highest-earning male (female) graduates from richer backgrounds earned about 20% (14%) more than the 10% highest earners from more modest backgrounds even after taking account of subject and the characteristics of the university attended”.

There was also the release of data concerning the impact of the subject studied on future earnings.  Perhaps no surprises in the gap in earnings of say medicine v the arts but from a careers guidance perspective stark figures on the impact of subject choice.  Further down the road you also wonder how sustainable the current policy on fees and repayment will be.  The governments own figures estimate 60% of students will never repay their loans.  To give this some context  a recent graduate with a healthy starting salary of £40k will not repay their loan after 30 years – and that is assuming 3% inflation & graduate earnings growing at inflation + 2% per year.  I’ve said for a while that student debt is effectively a graduate tax with slim hope of full repayment for most.

Gender gap

Gender pay gap issues are also exposed:

“For graduates with incomes greater than £8,000, the median income for male graduates was £30,000 compared to the female median of £27,000”.


Although government policy over the last 15 years  has done much to widen participation and access to higher education the same cannot be said of its legacy for social mobility.  Your family background, gender, what university you went to and what subject you studied all play major parts in your future career.  Structural issues in our society still persist and given the lack of diversity in both central and local government top jobs you wonder whether the will to challenge the status quo exists in any meaningful way.

Given the nature and power of careers work to impact positively on social mobility you have to question whether policy has again improved or stripped the profession’s ability to make the impact we know it can make (think Connexions and the post code lottery for careers guidance for young people  that we have at the moment).

Finally, for those of you familiar with Bill Law’s community interaction theory I thought it worth highlighting a key point concerning the power of influence has on all of us.

“Career management, then, becomes a matter, not so much of what you know concerning decisions and transitions, but of who you pay attention to among the people you know”.


Hello. It’s me….

I was pointed in the direction of this video by a colleague and I have to say he has come up trumps this time.  I was skeptical at first as I’m not an Adele aficionado but this parody hit home.  I’m not going to throw in too much of a spoiler but it’s a satirical look at one graduate’s attempt to secure work – just in case you were wondering what is it doing on my humble blog.

Now, this does throw up one question.  Is it really that tough  a market for graduates at the moment?  Reading  Charlie Ball’s (HESCU) blog post The 2016 graduate market in the UK then no it’s not doom and gloom.  Rumour has it grads aren’t all rolling in the deep and that skills shortages in many sectors leave many graduates in a strong position.  The AGR Winter Survey 2015 also backs the trend in vacancy growth but with the caveat of skills shortages leaving some roles unfilled.

But I think there’s some truth in the video.  I don’t know if it’s just me but I’ve seen more and more stories doing the rounds on social media of motivated graduates outside train stations and the like with placards seeking work.  Fortunately many seem to have a happy ending but lets not underestimate the sheer volume of work and emotional energy it takes to keep applying for roles following rejections.

I’ve also  heard firsthand stories from many graduates of the frustration at a lack of etiquette from employers following interviews in not getting back to them – even for feedback (in fact I’ve experienced this myself on a few occasions which I’ve always thought as unprofessional at best).

If you’re a recruiter then  pick up the phone and as Adele might say “Hello, it’s me”……..


Used under CC from


The graduate market in 2015

I’ve just finished reading the annual High Fliers graduate market report for 2015 and so I wanted to report its main highlights for those of you with limited time. First off it’s worth noting the research by High Fliers is focused on The Times Top 100 graduate employers for 2014, so it’s a snapshot of the labour market, but nonetheless an interesting one. More comprehensive data on the UK graduate labour market can be sourced through , Higher Education Statistics Agency’s Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE), the AGR and the ONS.

I must admit to getting a sense of déjà vu from the 2014 report which I blogged about here. Many of the headline messages and themes are the same – especially around job growth and graduates needing work experience. So I’ve grouped together what I think are the main findings and points of interest below.

The graduate job market is healthy with continued growth. We’ve also broken through the psychological barrier of passing pre-recession 2007 levels of recruitment.  Student numbers into HE have dipped from the heights of 2009/2010 but are still strong which means there are more vacancies for undergrads/grads to apply for.  What may be a game changer is the removing of the cap of student numbers into higher education.  It is questionable if supply will keep up with demand with such a transformational policy.

This substantial increase in graduate vacancies for 2015 takes graduate recruitment beyond the pre-recession peak in the graduate job market in 2007 and means that there will be more opportunities for this summer’s university-leavers than at any time in the last decade.

The UK’s leading employers plan to expand their graduate recruitment even further in 2015 with 8.1% more entry-level vacancies than last year, the third consecutive year that graduate vacancies have increased.

The 1st year is the new final year. The recruitment and selection pipeline gets earlier and earlier and the 2015 report echoes the same messages from the previous year. I think this is one of the main factors driving the employability agenda in HE. Careers services are savvy enough to know that if students are not ticking certain boxes their chances to get on the graduate treadmill (if that is the aim) are severely diminished. It also demonstrates why universities are investing heavily in employer engagement staffing and activities. The term “business development” is also becoming more prevalent in HE circles are institutions strive to create mutually beneficial relationships with business.

Recruiters have confirmed that 31% of this year’s entry-level positions are expected to be filled by graduates who have already worked for their organisations, either through paid internships, industrial placements or vacation work.

Over four-fifths of the UK’s leading graduate employers are offering paid work experience programmes for students and recent graduates during the 2014-2015 academic year – an unprecedented 13,049 paid work placements are available.

Two-thirds of employers provide paid vacation internships for penultimate year students and over half offer industrial placements for undergraduates (typically lasting 6-12 months as part of a university degree course).

Many more employers now also have work experience places for first year undergraduates – over a quarter of organisations offer paid internships and two-fifths of employers run introductory courses, open days and other taster experiences for first year students.

A change in perception and approach: Students very often gravitate towards well-known, trusted prestige brands when applying for graduate positions. Aldi may not initially be on everyone’s shopping list (sorry!) but the salary makes you sit up and take notice. If recruiters talk about the “talent” (so not necessary the subject knowledge and degree title) then surely the synergy to this is graduates must look at the “opportunity”.  I think this is an important point for careers professionals to make to students in their discussions.

The highest published graduate starting salary for 2015 is at Aldi (£42,000)

More places, more applicants. Evidence of the employability agenda shining through in HE? Seems to suggest undergraduates and graduates are making more timely and better quality applications.

A third of employers said they had received more completed graduate job applications during the early part of the recruitment season than they had last year and a similar proportion believed the quality of applications had improved too.

Together, the UK’s top employers have received 6% more graduate job applications so far, compared with the equivalent period in the 2013-2014 recruitment round.

High Fliers 2015

Employability v Individuality: A bitter pill to swallow?

First off this isn’t a rant against the employability agenda sweeping through higher education in the pursuit of making graduates more employable graduates. In principle that’s a good thing and is hard to argue against. In fact since the rise in tuition fees in England many institutions have received an increase in complaints from students regarding value for money which is a very commodity driven, market reaction.

So if students quite rightly pay (or shift debt) into their name they can quite legitimately expect or hope for a return on their investment. So does this represent a cultural shift amongst students, staff and institutions? I think so but I wanted to focus on one particular aspect. This is the drive to creating the employable graduate or super grad. Employers can quite easily and rightly reel off a list of attributes and attitudes they require of a graduate in order to A) pass their ATS systems and assessments and B) perform in the organisation and role. This list is fairly homogeneous and covers most sectors and careers.  If you take a look at the CBI skills survey report from 2011 on page 23 those skills are listed and broken down.

Crucially these attributes and attitudes should be assessed and evidenced/articulated by the graduate which is why careers services have so much demand for help with paper based (CVs, cover letters) and online (Linkedin, personal statements, applications) methods of application and assessment. So students and universities logically want to do well in this process  – as we are all benchmarked one way or another – and so we have the employability agenda driving change through the curriculum. The purpose of what is education for isn’t new. There has always been the long standing argument that tends to polarise opinion towards the purpose of education as being either the predict and provide solution for industrialised nations or a representation of the civilised world we are incumbent to supply in order to explore self-expression, self-actualisation  and knowledge growth of the human race.

This got me thinking of a rather outlandish idea (and pays reference to the blog title) that if there was a pill that students could swallow that instantly and permanently enhanced desirable traits that employers valued would they take it? Let’s assume this is the year 2100 and this pill has got through all its efficacy trials! Perhaps this isn’t so outlandish after all given our preoccupation in film  – think Gattaca as an example – of seeing progress of the human race as a removal of weakness whilst accentuating strengths.

If so, would some traits such as eccentricity, introversion and narcissism be excluded? (You may wonder why I included narcissism but this is often considered a trait prevalent in leaders.  It is also a trait that creates divide and ambivalence. Whilst on the surface domineering and egotistical qualities  aren’t revered they do seem to aid one’s career by helping certain individuals rise to the top and even lead to better interview performance).

The notion of a pill as a way to correct and enhance is really just an extreme variance of how society at large attempts to normalise and encourage selected behaviours. But I would like to think there is a place in the world for everyone’s uniqueness and individuality to thrive.

The world needs behaviours such as risk taking, introversion, narcissism and many other traits that never seem to end up in job descriptions, person specs and assessment centres. Wouldn’t life and the workplace be boring if we were all the same and good at the same things? There is a conformity to fit into the employablity agenda and become malleable to the needs of employers and society. This raises important questions.

In the pursuit of trying to create more employable graduates is it possible within the gains of this agenda there are also losses?

Specifically within the value of certain traits and how useful they are deemed and therefore valued.

Is there also a risk the individuality and uniqueness of the human spirit is lost within assessments, benchmarks, performance measures, employer wish lists and all the other terminology used in recruitment?

So where does the individual fit into this and have we now got a system that means doing well in the recruitment process can be compared to whom can best paint by numbers?

In the ever increasing competition for roles there is seemingly more investment and science placed in methods such as application tracking systems and an increased assessment inventory (psychometrics, group exercises).  In essence it feels like these are just reductionist attempts to standardise and measure very narrow fields of a complex being which creates the potential for talent to fall through the gaps.

If you enjoy TED talks take a look at this one from Ken Robinson, it’s a heady mix of humour, enlightenment and perception but it also raises important questions on what education should be which relates to some of what I am trying to get at in this post.

Ted Talks videos and text are embedded on this blog under the Ted creative commons license]

So from cradle to grave we are assessed and probed and fairly soon it becomes ingrained into culture and the individual psyche.  But if we stop and standstill just for one minute and think about what the hell terms like “talent acquisition” actually mean I’m fairly certain the process doesn’t fit the intention.

I’ll leave you with a quote that I think sums up what I am trying to say – some might say I could have just read the quote and not wasted my time with the preceding 800 words – it was attributed to Albert Einstein.

You did great at our assessment centre so you must be very talented!

You did great at our assessment centre so you must be very talented!


Careers services in Higher Education | A changing landscape

Yesterday I attended the first AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) HE Careers Professionals Midlands Showcase at Stamford Court, University of Leicester.  The title of the day was called Reinvention, Innovation and Transformation  in the Midlands.  The format of the day was various keynote speakers such as Eluned Jones, Director of Student Employability, University of Birmingham and AGCAS President Elect and the renowned  John Lees, Career strategist and author, Council Member and Career Development Institute member.  There were also several university career service led workshops around sharing practice (we had our own session created and delivered by my colleague Tom Staunton which he blogged about here) as well as the opportunity to network to see what other university careers teams were getting up to.

A view from the floor before we got started

A view from the floor before we got started

It was an enlightening day but I wanted to share with you some of the tweets from the first keynote speaker Eluned Jones.  Her talk focussed on the rise of the employability agenda within HE and its inescapable link with student recruitment, which has placed university careers services under the spotlight like never before. I created a storify board which I hope gathered some of the main themes as well as my own extended thoughts on each tweet to try and give a broader picture.



In HE, careers professionals cannot now just fill the remit of guidance practitioners.  The role is much broader.  In a snapshot we are expected to influence and shape curriculum (embed CEIAG), be LMI specialists (think DLHE), expert keynote speakers (present to hundreds with engaging content), social media gurus (embrace LinkedIn, Twitter, et al), manage stakeholder relationships (academics, business, students ) have knowledge expertise (most HE consultants are linked to Colleges or faculties)


Universities have invested in their careers services so like any business expect a return on the investment.  Demonstrating impact is key.  The move is towards tangible benefits even though CEIAG and employability outcomes are tricky to measure and quantify at times


The expectation is a year on year increase in DLHE results and performance (% in work further study and graduate destinations).  Therefore, careers services cannot rest on their laurels and stand still


Highlights we are in a fiercely competitive marketplace and graduates rightly expect a return on their investment as a direct result of HE study.


A point made by Eluned on the limitations of DLHE.  Just a 6 month snapshot and institutions and academics rightly argue that the benefits of HE are very much longitudinal.


Just highlights that the careers and employability agenda is now more prominent than ever before within HE (which is good, it’s nice to be wanted and noticed) but that this can present issues on matching guidance with outcomes and focusing delivery on the quick wins.


Relates to competition.  If all universities offer CEIAG what makes ours better than the one down the road.  Bring this to  a business perspective. What is our USP and how do we add further value above and beyond the norm.


Careers services can no longer work in isolation.  Actually, the terminology is very much how you would want an SME to perform.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on any of those tweets.  If you’re on twitter you can pick up a sense of the day by searching for the hashtag #AGCASMIDSHOW14