Happy birthday, Graham Attwell

Today the fellow-bloggers on Pontydysgu site can congratulate Graham Attwell on his birthday. I hope there is no home-made rule that would prevent us from celebrating this day via his own website.  Cheers, Graham!

Years and more …

Happy birthday, Graham Attwell

Today the fellow-bloggers on Pontydysgu site can congratulate Graham Attwell on his birthday. I hope there is no home-made rule that would prevent us from celebrating this day via his own website.  Cheers, Graham!

Years and more …

Graduate jobs, skills and productivity in the UK?

There has been much commenting in the press today over a report from from the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which claims that 58% of UK university-leavers are entering jobs that do not require a degree, with graduate over-qualification now at “saturation point”.
The Guardian says reports that “the mismatch between the number of university leavers and the jobs appropriate to their skills has left the UK with more than half of its graduates in non-graduate jobs, one of the highest rates in Europe,
The Huffington Post quotes Ben Wilmott, CIPD’s head of public policy, as blaming New Labour’s 1999 landmark pledge to send 50% of young people to university, and  the Government’s failure to create high-skill jobs.
Wilmot called for better careers advice, a renewed emphasis on driving up apprenticeship numbers and a re-think of the disparity between further and higher education funding. “We had the assumption that increasing the conveyer belt of graduates will allow the UK to transition into a higher-skilled economy, but research shows that if you compare graduates and non-graduates who are doing the same or a similar job, skill requirement is not enhanced by the presence of a graduate”, he said.
The report raises a series of issues. Firstly just what is a graduate job. The definition appears to stem from Reasearch by the Institute for Employment Research at warwick Univeristy which led to the division of jobs in the Standard Ocuaptional Classification system used int he Uk into 5 different categories.
The Prospects web site summarises them as follows:
1. Traditional graduate occupations
These are the established professions for which a degree has historically been required.
Solicitors, research scientists, architects and medical practitioners are all examples. They typically require the post-holder to be an expert in a very specific area.
2. Modern graduate occupations
The expansion of higher education in the 1960s, and the development of new professional fields in areas such as IT, have resulted in the development of a range of newer professions requiring graduate-level qualifications.
Software programmers, journalists, primary school teachers and chief executives are all examples of modern graduate occupations. They require the post-holders to be ‘experts’, but also often to have more strategic or interactive responsibility than a traditional graduate job.
3. New graduate occupations
These are areas of employment that are often rapidly expanding in today’s labour market. The nature of these jobs has changed relatively recently to mean that the most accepted route into them is via a graduate-level qualification.
Marketing, management accountancy, therapists and many forms of engineer are examples of new graduate occupations. They typically require a higher level of strategic responsibility or of ability to interact with others, and less need for them to be an expert in a topic.
4. Niche graduate occupations
This area is expanding. Many occupations do not require graduate-level qualifications, but contain within them specialist niches that do require degrees to enter.
Nursing, retail managers, specialist electrical engineers and graphic designers all fall into this category. Often they require a combination of skills, such as managerial and expert skills, but equally often the need is for an ‘all-rounder’ with a range of abilities.
5. Non-graduate occupations
All jobs that do not fall into the previous four categories are considered ‘non-graduate occupations’.
Obviously there are questions as to whether objectively a university degree is a necessary or best qualification to be say a physiotherapist or a marketing manager. And does university really teach students to take on “strategic or interactive responsibility”?
Is the expansion in university education in the UK driven by  the need for graduates in employment or is the high number of graduates leading to qualification inflation?
At a more macro level it appears that as CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese says there was an “assumption that we will transition to a more productive, higher-value, higher-skilled economy just by increasing the conveyor belt of graduates”, a policy he believes to be  flawed. The UK government policy of labour market deregulation may have been successful in creating jobs, but many of these are low paid and part time. Productivity in the UK is stubbornly low.
In a paper published on the Social Europe web site entitled “How ‘structural reforms’ oflabour markets harm innovation“, Alfred Kleinknecht, Professor of Economics of Innovation at  Delft University of Technology argues that easier hire and fire and higher labour turnover will, in various ways, damage learning
and knowledge management in the ‘creative accumulation’ innovation model that is based on accumulation of firm-specific knowledge. Besides, lower wage cost pressure will lead to an ageing capital stock, owing to a slow adoption of labour-saving technologies.”
With low productivity and a slow adoption of new technologies, there is simply limited demand for graduate employment. But at the same time university graduation has become almost a rite of passage in the UK. Much has been made of the higher wages that graduates earn during their careers. This is supposed to more that offset the now very substantial university fees in the UK and the resultant high levels of debt on graduating. But of course this represents a historical figure and it is easy to see that such premiums may no longer apply in the future, especially as companies like Ernst and Young announce they will remove a degree from the job recruitment requirements. And despite the rhetoric of developing and promoting apprenticeship routes to skilled work, the reality remains that many of the so called apprenticeships in the UK remain on the low skilled spectrum of employment. And funding cutbacks are particular savage in the Further education (vocational college) sector.
All in all it is hard to see any joined up policy here, apart from a blind belief in austerity and that the markets will sort it out. But it does point to the need for integrated policy making linking education, labour market and innovation policies. That seems to have been absent in any recent Government, Labour, Coalition or Conservative.

Professional identities and Communities of Practice

Technology Enhanced Learning, at least form a research perspective, has always tended to be dominated by the education sector. Coming from a background in vocational education and training, I was always more interested in how technology could be used to enhance learning in work and in particular informal learning in Small and Medium Enterprises.

Much early work in this area, at least in Europe was driven by a serious of assumptions. We were moving towards a knowledge economy (remarkable how quiet that has gone since the economic crash) and future employment, productivity and profitability, required higher levels of skills and knowledge win the workplace.. Prior to the rise of the World Wide Web, this could be boosted by enhancing opportunities for individual learning through the development of instructional materials distributed on disc or CD ROM. Interestingly this lead to much innovative work on simulation, which tended to be forgotten with the move to the online environment offered by the World Wide Web.

One of the big assumptions was that what was holding back learning in enterprises was the cost of releasing employees for (formal) training. Thus all we had to do was link up universities, colleges and other training providers to enterprises through providing courses on the web and hey presto, the problem would be solved. Despite much effort, it didn’t really work. One of the reasons I suspect is that so much workplace knowledge is contextually specific and rooted in practice, and trainers and particularly learning technologists did not have that knowledge. Secondly it was often difficult to represent practice based knowledge in the more restricted learning environment of the web. A further issue was a failure to understand the relationship between learning nd professional development, work practice and professional (or occupational) identities. That latter issue is the subject on a paper entitled Facilitating professional identity formation and transformation through technology enhanced learning: the EmployID approach, submitted by my colleagues from the EmployID reject, Jenny Bimrose, Alan Brown, Teresa Holocher-Ertl, Barbara Kieslinger, Christine Kunzmann, Michael Prilla, Andreas P. Schmidt, and Carmen Wolf to the forthcoming ECTEL conference. Their key finding is that there is “a wide spectrum of how actual professional identity transformation processes take place so that an ICT-based approach will not be successful if it concentrates on prescribing processes of identity transformation; rather it should concentrate on key activities to support.” They go on to say that “ this is in line with recent approaches to supporting workplace learning, such as Kaschig et al. (2013) who have taken an activity-based approach to understanding and supporting collective knowledge development.”

The following short excerpt from the paper explains their understanding of processes of professional work identity formation:

“Professional work identities are restructured in a dynamic way when employees are challenged to cope with demands for flexibility, changing work situations and skill needs (Brown, 1997). The work activities of practitioners in Public Employment Services (PES) need to be trans- formed due to the changing nature of the labour market. As their roles change, so do their professional identities. Work identities are not just shaped by organisations and individuals, but also by work groups (Baruch and Winkelmann-Gleed, 2002) or communities of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991; Brown, 1997; Ibarra, 2003). PES practitioners in particular need to develop multi-dimensional (individual and collective) professional identities to cope with socio-economic and technological change (Kirpal, 2004). This shift is underpinned by the increased importance of communica-tions skills, a willingness to engage in learning and reflexivity, while reflection on experience over time may be particularly significant in the build-up of implicit or tacit knowledge as well as explicit knowledge (Eraut, 2000). At the individual level, emerging new demands and associated skills shifts generate a potential for conflict with traditional work orientations and associated values, norms, work ethics and work identity patterns of employees. One important focus for support are individuals’ strategies for dealing with such conflicts. While any identity formation process has to be realized by the individual, the process of acquiring a work identity also takes place within particular communities where socialization, interaction and learning are key elements. Therefore, supporting networks, of ‘new’ communities of practice (Lave, 1993; Wenger, 1998; Billett, 2007) and feedback from other practitioners are important aspects on which to focus.”


Baruch, Y. & Winkelmann-Gleed, A. (2002). Multiple commitments: a conceptual framework and empirical investigation in a Community Health Services Trust, British Journal of Management, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 337-357.

Billett, S. (2007). Exercising self: learning, work and identity. In: Brown, A.; Kirpal, S.; Rauner, F. (eds). Identities at work. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 183-210.

Brown, A. (1997). A dynamic model of occupational identity formation. In: Brown, A. (ed.) Promoting Vocational Education and Training: European Perspectives. Tampere: University of Tampere, pp. 59-67.

Eraut, M. (2000). Non-formal Learning and Tacit Knowledge in Professional Work. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 70, No. 1, pp. 113 – 136.

Ibarra, H. (2003). Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Kaschig, A., Maier, R., Sandow, A., Lazoi, M., Schmidt, A., Barnes, S., Bimrose, J., Brown, A., Bradley, C., Kunzmann, C., Mazarakis, A. (2013). Organisational Learning from the Perspective of Knowledge Maturing Activities. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technol- ogies 6(2), pp. 158 – 176
Kirpal, S. (2004) “Researching work identities in a European context”, Career Development International, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp.199 – 221

Lave, J. (1993). The Practice of Learning. In S. Chaiklin and J. Lave (eds) Understanding Practice: Perspectives on Activity and Context, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.

Lave, J. , & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thinking about a career developing apps?

Last week I wrote about projections of future demand for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM – or in Germany – MINT) occupations. I suggested that predictions of skills shortages were overstated.

The same applies to computer programmers. According to the European Commission, “many vacancies for ICT practitioners cannot be filled, despite the high level of unemployment in Europe. While demand for employees with ICT skills is growing by around 3% a year, the number of graduates from computing sciences fell by 10% between 2006 and 2010.

If this trend continues, there could be up to 900 000 unfilled ICT practitioners’ vacancies in the EU by 2015.”

This is not the first time the European Commission has predicted skills shortages for ICT practitioners. Prior to the Millennium bug, there were once more predictions of a massive shortage of programmers. And I suspect, with a little internet searching, it would be possible to find annual predictions of skills shortages and unfilled vacancies, especially from industry lobby bodies.

One reason for this, I suggested in my previous article, is that the ICT industry has an interest in keeping wages down by ensuring an over supply of qualified workers. In this respect, a report last week on the size and value of the apps industry in Europe is interesting. The  report published by industry trade body ACT, claimed that there are currently 529,000 people in full-time employment directly linked to the app economy across Europe, including 330,000 app developers with another 265,000 jobs n created indirectly in sectors like healthcare, education and media, where apps are increasingly prominent.

At first glance then, this is a rosy area for young people with a good future. But digging deeper into the data suggests something different. According to the Guardian newspaper, “In the UK specifically, the report claims that 40% of organisations involved in developing apps are one-man operations, while 58% employ up to five people. It also points out that 35% of UK app developers are earning less than $1,000 a month from their work.”

1000 dollars a month is hardly a living wage, let alone a sufficient level of remuneration to justify the expense of a degree course. However this does not discourage the industry group who amongst other measures are lobbying the European Commission to strengthen the single market and develop “a flexible and supportive business environment for startups and entrepreneurs.” In other words, more deregulation.

There are a number of problems in looking at skills shortages in this area. My suspicion would be that although the numbers graduating from computer science have fallen, graduates in computer and ICT related courses has risen. And demand for ICT practitioners covers a wide range of occupations. Rather than increasing the number of computer science graduates, more useful would be to ensure that ll graduates are skilled in designing and using new technologies. Of course developing such skills and competences should start at a much younger range. It is encouraging the ICT has been included in the primary school curriculum in England from next year.

The EU policy on future employment is based on the idea of job matching – of trying to match skills, qualifications and vacancies. Of course this does not work. What they should be doing is looking at prospective competences and skills – at giving young people the educations and skills to shape the future of workplace3s and employment. That could include the ability to use technology creatively in a socio-technical sense. But of course that would not suit the various industry lobby groups who are more concerned with protecting there profits than shaping the future of our society.