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”.


AI, Robots and the future

I’ve noticed  a recent spate of articles in the news as well as the  blogosphere on robots, AI and the impact on society and the labour market so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.  I wanted to  highlight a couple of  thought provoking pieces I’ve read recently in the Guardian that reference   a recently released BOA report that drew on research from Carl Benedikt Frey & Michael Osborne in this area.

The first was Robot revolution: rise of ‘thinking’ machines could exacerbate inequality which focuses on how the global economy will transform over the next 20 years.  The content isn’t overly radical  – for example the cost efficiency of using robots over people even through offshoring – but it does summarise and tie together important themes.  Unsurprisingly there is no universal agreement on the impact of technology on society as a whole and the article duly refers to it as the “stark divide between techno-optimists and pessimists”.

So what’s my stance on this?  I blogged about technological determinism a while back “Why is everyone so busy? Why our technological future hasn’t really delivered” particularly around the lifestyle gains technology was supposed to deliver.  John Keynes is referenced again and I’m in complete agreement when the piece refers to the need for a societal rethink between the relationship between work and society.  It makes me wonder where the end game may be as efficiency gains from technology continue unabated in conjunction with the continued growth in the world population (here’s a geeky world population clock which I quite like ).  This all does make me question how sustainable education and effective career management could be as agents to offset the fast paced change within job sectors and roles in our lifetimes.

Surely, somewhere in the future the endgame is that we don’t need to work for basic human need?  This would therefore require a huge economic and cultural shift to meet John Keynes utopian vision of 15 hour working weeks.

What if we're already too late?

What if we’re already too late? Image used under CC from

The second article I read mirrors the first.  “Artificial intelligence: ‘Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of gods and the rest of us”.

Picking out a real danger from the advancement of technology  the dangers of marginalisation and inequality are identified.

“technology is leading to a rarification of leading-edge employment, where fewer and fewer people have the necessary skills to work in the frontline of its advances”

It doesn’t yet feel like society has got to grips with the demise of our usefulness in developed economies or the societal changes needed to live in a future world where our role may be one of play and leisure rather than work.  For example, the way those unfortunate enough to be out of work (most of us have been there) are often demonised as a collective group in society tells us perhaps we aren’t ready and conditioned yet.

Alas, both articles are a great read and as ever the blogosphere is a lonely place so make your views known!

Need motivation? Just do it

Just sharing a video that has given me an awful lot of amusement today from Shia LeBeouf.  I’m actually a big fan of videos for learning and inspiration, especially the TED series.  However, the latest motivational offering from Shia has gone viral (which was the point right) and has spawned hundreds of parodies thanks to the  – likely – intentional green background. Perhaps these reductionist messages are just what we need……

Anyway, I can’t help but watch it and think he actually nailed it.  Just to warn you it’s quite loud!

You know what, I think it does work in a TED style mashup.

But on a more serious point, here is the full video.  I also admire how he is brave in stepping out to explore his craft.


Why is everyone so busy? Why our technological future hasn’t really delivered.

Chancing upon an article in the economist titled “Why is everyone so busy” was my muse for this post.  Quoting an early passage the piece centres around from the hugely influential British economist John Maynard Keynes who stated in 1939 when predicting future work/life balance:

“Our grandchildren would work around three hours a day—and probably only by choice”.

It resonates because it’s something I and many others can probably relate to.  With so many technological and socio-economic advances since the industrial revolution and indeed since the birth of the internet age, why does life feel so rushed and pressured? The article refers to the notion of perception and contrast rather than a reality that we actually all have less time.  This is succinctly summed up in the piece when it says:

To be pressed for time has become a sign of prosperity, an indicator of social status, and one that most people are inclined to claim.

This alludes to a paradigm of choice suggesting we have complete freedom and we are victims of our own self-determinism. But for me it really highlights the pernicious culture in the developed world of materialism and neoliberalism.  In these contexts the question of “what is success” could be measured by one’s wealth, professional status and social capital. So despite technology the gap between the have and the have nots is getting ever wider despite platitudes and policies by western governments to counter this.

The 2013 Oxfam report “Even it up” is well worth a read on this subject but it really adds validity to the attribution of policy as a driver for inequality. The Economist article also references this divide:

The struggle to earn a place on that narrow pedestal encourages people to slave away for incomparably long hours. So rising wages, rising costs, diminishing job security and more demanding, rewarding work are all squeezing leisure time

So there is the race to the top for the haves and the race to stay afloat for the have nots.  In the UK for example the huge rise in the number of workers on zero hour contacts and the paucity of investment in careers guidance (a proven and valuable component of any social mobility policy) really reinforces this systemic failure. Whilst still on this subject of the impact of careers guidance a recently commissioned “mobility manifesto” report for the Sutton Trust really hammers  home its value.  Governments take note!

Technological determinism has always been at the forefront of mainstream popular culture and prediction albeit following a divergent pattern.  For example we are often presented  with the  utopian (think Star Trek) and more box office, dystopian future (think Terminator). So where am I going with all this?  Well, I can’t help but think the combination of technological advancement and policy has not really worked out as the optimists may have intended.  Certainly not in the case of John Maynard Keynes predicted.

Many people have found the advancement of technology has eroded low skilled jobs and those in professional roles may not have seen the home working revolution we were promised (have you seen the traffic jams recently!). So it does make you wonder who the winners from us mere mortals really are doesn’t it?

Our life space has also suffered. Surely the most destructive device to work/life balance has to be the smart phone.  Again, I know many people who are “on call” well beyond their contracted hours and access and respond to work emails on their Blackberry because they feel compelled to.  Push notifications must seem to some to be the modern day Victorian servant bell.

Finally I am reminded of the story of the Mexican fisherman.  It’s well known but it’s stayed with me over the years.  For those of you unfamiliar please have a read because it’s a parable that  relates to a question I posed in a previous post, “What is Success?”

The moral of the story.  Sometimes we’re so busy trying to climb the mountain we forget the name of the mountain we’re trying to climb.  Food for thought.

Looking back to Connexions and my 1995 careers interview.

I’ve finally had chance to watch the video of the iCeGs 17th annual conference from Tristram Hooley’s blog which happened back in Nov (there is a link to the video and transcript as well) .  I’ve heard Professor Tony Watts speak before so was keen to listen to his final lecture before he retires from his professional life in career development.  The video is one hour and brilliantly captures the last 50 years of history, progress and events that have shaped where we are today.

My interest particularly peaked  during two points in the discussion that resonate with my own personal & professional life.  Firstly the idea of a golden age of careers in the mid 90s (well the claim it was as good as it ever has been) and the events leading to the rise and fall of the Connexions service.  My own personal reflections perhaps go against the status quo on the pervading feeling out there on this but I’d like to qualify them from two perspectives.

Golden age of careers in the mid 90s:  In the mid 90’s (well 1995 to be exact) I was preparing to leave compulsory education from a very bog standard comprehensive and head into the big wide world without a clue as to where I would end up.  I’d been the recipient of one Careers Advisor appointment which I’d found to be a rather random and forced process.   As memory serves me it went as follows.  A list of names were called out in morning tutorial time and those selected were told to arrive in the library at our designated slot for our one and only Careers Appt.  I remember the talk in the class at the time was that the Careers Adviser would be there to help tell us decide what we should do. Up until that point I didn’t know the Careers Service A) existed B) we had a Careers Adviser linked to our school C) any prior knowledge this appt would take place.  I’m pretty sure my friends didn’t either.

My recollections of the  appointment itself are that the careers professional was likeable and well intentioned but we never ventured beyond the main idea I’d presented to her which was to work in a travel agents.  This idea had been formulated from my one week work experience in year 10 where surprisingly enough I’d been told I was going to have to work at the local Lunn Poly (remember them!).  The option of a follow up appointment was never brokered nor was any real probing beyond the presented idea.  I came away non the wiser still confused as to my intended path, apart from having garnered some additional information on local courses as we were still pre-internet back then.  There was no what I call “track and trace” later on.  I was left to my own devices from that point onwards.  A couple of weeks later I was given a typed action plan from the meeting by my personal tutor.

I’ve read Paul Chubbs well argued guest post that points to the robust nature of mandatory service standards and funding at this time and in fairness there is balance to what he has written when referring to the churning out of action plans to meet targets. The practitioner in me will always ask the critical question, “how can we be sure we are meeting client need?”  Infrastructure and goodwill alone does not always correlate into the intended end user experience.  It has to flow down, regardless of how well we perceive things to be going at the top. One of the criticisms labelled from the coalition at Connexions was that it was patchy but my first hand experience of the mid 90s careers service on a local level was underwhelming and flawed.

The rise & fall of Connexions: I felt fortunate to work for the local Connexions service for just over 7 years so I was there for  a substantial part of its shelf life. It’s rise and fall and the reasons behind this have been done to death and the debate has now moved on to how and where the gaps it left need to be filled.  Some people are glad it’s gone, some are ambivalent and some like myself who worked on the inside and could see its true value now whistle be careful what you wish for.

Like any service it had it’s faults and some of the criticism was well-founded but the performance metrics drove behaviour (and funding) towards a targeted service which is what we were staffed and funded to deliver rather than the targeted and universal service we would have liked to deliver.  Careers work was always in Connexions, and many partnerships actually ring fenced staffing and split teams so it remained delivered and protected. Near the end, during the slow death of the service from 2010, dissenting agenda driven voices highlighted everything the service didn’t do, rather than what it did.  As a national preoccupation we are inherently good at knocking down something we carefully build up, (just ask our sport stars on that count) so it was sad to see the human cost of the dismantling with experienced, talented, passionate colleagues leaving the profession behind forever.  So there’s no going back but it’s worth remembering there was a lot worth saving amongst the patchwork. I for one was sad to see it go and am proud of what we achieved for the young people we served.

A bitter sweet symphony?

A bitter sweet symphony?

2014 blogging review: My five favourite posts.

I thought I’d do a quick post on my five favourite blog posts from 2014.  This was my first blogging year and although I’ve got nothing to benchmark it against I managed 6300 views last year, which I don’t think is bad! My yearly report if you want to take a look can be found here: Your year in blogging 2014

My five most viewed posts from 2014 are below:

My top five most viewed posts from 2014

My top five most viewed posts from 2014

The site stats top 5 doesn’t quite match my own top 5, so in reverse order, here they are and why I think you should take a look!

5) Logos, Pathos, Ethos: Three words that can transform your career: Three words that helped me re-think and evaluate my own public speaking and how people perceive you.   I left this interactive workshop with a feeling of having learned some vital skills.  I also left wishing I had attended a session like this  15 years sooner.  Better late than never.

4) What is success? The implications for careers work: I tried to drill down and highlight how our own values and perception of what success is can influence (negatively & positively) our own professional practice.  So what is success? I’ll let you decide.

3) The best advice I ever received: Based on a series of contributions from key influencers on LinkedIn under the title “the best advice I ever got” this post looks at how advice resonates with individuals to become memorable and meaningful.

2) Six Ted Talks every careers professional should view and why: I don’t profess to have seen all or even most Ted talks (there are over 1700 of them). In fact, I’ve only seen a very small proportion against the overall total. But here are six talks I have seen that I believe relate to my work and why they were thought provoking.

Drumroll please! Which leads to my number 1……

1) 10 things no one tells you before you become a Careers Adviser: The idea for this post came from reading an article by Carl Froch (he of pugilistic super middleweight boxing fame) when describing the woes and endeavour required to make it as an elite champion boxer and what they didn’t tell him before turning pro.  Why not then apply this to the Careers Adviser and delve deeper beyond the sugar coated world you often have in training before you start out.

My top 5 posts from 2014

My top 5 posts from 2014

Reflective practice: Mirror, mirror on the wall.

As we are soon to enter 2015 may I wish anyone reading this a healthy and prosperous new year both personally and professionally.  Many thanks to those who have read my posts I really appreciate and value your support. I just hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

This blog is really just a labour of love, a vessel for some of my thoughts relating to my careers work and an opportunity to perhaps write in a wider sense on related matter.  I wasn’t sure what my voice or approach would be on subjects when I started blogging exactly a year ago.  As it turns out, I think I found my writers voice after a few posts.  So this isn’t a theory blog (although it has theory and references in it) and (hopefully) it isn’t just a collection of uneducated ramblings either.  I like to think it occupies a healthy medium from  a practitioner perspective with a healthy dose of colloquial humour thrown in.  Well maybe….

Part of the reason I blog is because I feel reflection and the art (some would say science, I’m going to blog on philosophical perspectives of reflection in my next post I think) of a reflective practitioner is perhaps the most important and valued part of my practice. On a simplistic level we also need to remember we have  a moral and ethical duty to practice what we preach!

In the past I’ve enjoyed reading the work of Schon (1983) in being a reflective practitioner and wanted to highlight this passage which reaffirms the difficulty we often face in practice.

“In the varied topography of professional practice, there is a high, hard ground, overlooking a swamp. On the high ground, manageable problems lend themselves to solution through the application of research-based theory and technique. In the swampy lowland, messy, confusing problems defy technical solution. The irony of this situation, is that the problems of the high ground tend to be relatively unimportant to individuals or society at large, however great their technical interest may be, while in the swamp lie the problems of greatest human concern. The practitioner must choose. Shall he remain on the high ground where he can solve relatively unimportant problems according to prevailing standards of rigor, or shall he descend to the swamp of important problems and non-rigorous inquiry?”

This harks back  to an old adage which has done the rounds which proclaims ‘Theory without practice is meaningless, but practice without theory is blind’.  In my role I simply don’t have time to do all the reading I would like to do so in this sense fail as a scholar but conversely I have the privilege to work with clients and put theory into practice. It’s a juggling act whereby the only solution is to generate some extra hours in the day for additional reading and reflection!

As practitioners we need to try and constantly occupy that happy medium of conscious and effective evidenced based work so what  Schon advocated is the absolute value of reflective practice in this process.   The phrases reflect in action (while you are doing something, such as a guidance interview) and reflect on action (after you have done it) has become an influential basis for how we view professional development and the schema of reflective practice.

So in summary, the middle ground is a struggle. For added confusion I’m not sure the middle ground even exists, as the critic in me will always question whether I am getting it right.  I’d like to hear how other practitioners approach this dilemma and what mirror they use for reflective practice? How do we best achieve the  juggling act between evidence based practice and doing what we get paid to do?

Which reflective mirror should we use?

Which reflective mirror should we use?