Careers & WRL lessons

The demise of Plotr and what free online CEIAG diagnostic tools are left

With news that the Plotr website is finally shutting down and merging with Start Profile (itself a brand of U-Explore) I thought I would give a rundown on the variety of free online CEIAG diagnostic tools available and see if readers have their own links and views to share.

Plotr came onto the scene back in 2012 with the backing of the then Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock who considered it as

an excellent example of employers coming together, to create an innovative website allowing young people to really understand what employers offer

Others in the Careers community were not so sure as the new website received significant financial backing from central Government with an initial £700,000 from the Cabinet Office and the (then) Department for Business Innovation and Skills

and launched without public tender or consultation from the sector bodies. I remember from conversations at the time, Careers colleagues were distinctly unimpressed with the lack of co-ordination with professional or non-profit organisations that were already working in the space and the fact that the first CEO, Andrew Thompson, was a Director at the then Government’s favoured outsourcing firm Serco did not sit well.

In 2014 another £1.3m was injected by BIS for a revamp which included the diagnostic tool “The Game.” This was an exhaustive set of questions based on psychometric research that suggested job roles to the skills and abilities suited to the young person answering the questions. As a CEIAG tool it wasn’t great but it was free and, with a lot of assistance, you could get results out of it to talk through with a young person.

The company behind the site actually went into liquidation back in October 2016 and the obituaries for it written at the time weren’t pretty. As the Buzzfeed report details, the significant taxpayer investment did not produce anything like the engagement or traffic statistics from its target audience hoped for so the initial employer buy-in soon frizzled out.

Which all leaves Careers practitioners with what available free diagnostic resources to use?

Start Profile

After registering, students can access 4 areas (My Skills, My Interests, My Qualities & My Work Preferences) to enter their responses. This information is then used to suggest courses, qualifications, study locations and jobs that might fit.

start profile

Requiring students to register before using the site has its positives and negatives. As a practitioner, you can register and then monitor your students work but the sheer faff of getting a class or even individuals to sign up and then check their email account for confirmations is off-putting. Students can also search by Job Sectors. It’s cleanly laid out as a site that seems easily navigable to me, the job suggestions make sense from the information inputted and, with a cursory tour, the course information at providers seems up to date.

National Careers Service Skills Health Check

Still hosted on the plain .GOV.UK platform, the National Careers Service website is a sorry state these days. The Skills Health Section is not a tool I would advise for use for young people, it’s simply too exhaustive. Adult clients of mine have used it and found useful feedback in the Skills Report produced once the numerous question sections are completed but to complete the entire check requires a significant time commitment.

skills health check

It is not something I would suggest that could be completed in a session with a client, they would need to complete this in their own time for a discussion of the findings to take place at a later date.

The Skills Report suggests job areas that may be of interest which you can then click-through to the National Careers Service Job Profiles to further explore. The results of the Activity Skills sections can need some tact when discussing with clients who find those academic tasks more difficult.

ICould Buzz Quiz

At the opposite end of the time commitment needs is the ICould Buzz Quiz. This is a quick set of either/or questions that then suggests jobs through the bank of videos on the site and assigns the user a personality type.

icould

I have found the quick questions, videos and fun outlines of the personality types extremely successful when working with Key Stage 3 children or those with Special Educational Needs. Some of the skill terminology can need explaining to young ears (a “cold” personality doesn’t mean you’re always shivering) but these discussions can be beneficial in identifying skills and descriptive language. The lack of information inputted by the user though can be an issue, some of the suggested jobs can seem quite random and not allied to the interests of the young person at all. This can cause them to lose faith in the whole exercise so caution is advised. When leading groups, headphones are also required.

Prospects Job Match

Still in beta testing mode, this Prospects offer can be attempted without registering but the later stages of the job recommendations are only accessible after signing up. After 26 questions which are very on the nose (“Do you understand the law?”) and use language aimed at the graduate target market of the site, the user’s skill set is matched against job families. The user can then click-through to the recommended job profiles. I personally find the job profiles section excellent and use it regularly in one to one sessions, each profile has comprehensive and clearly written information on the skills required and duties likely to be encountered as well as the qualifications required. The links to associated job boards or industry organisations are also extremely useful and have broadened my bookmarks of useful sites to use with clients.

prospects

 

Pearson Career Interests Quiz

Similar to a section of the now defunct Plotr Game, the user is asked to rate duties in order of preference or select their top three most appealing tasks from a list. The questions are easy to understand and a typical student could rattle through them in 15 minutes. Some of questions require the statements to be moved into priority order and the design is all very intuitive. On completion of the questions, users are shown a sector matching chart

pearson

in which users can click on the sectors to encourage skill comparison but actual job titles or profiles are not then mentioned. Job profiles are held elsewhere on the site so why this connection is not made is strange and a real negative. Young people need to see what job titles fall into what sectors to begin to make connections between them and investigate what those jobs are, not making this link explicit is odd.

Skills Route Explore

Asks users to enter courses they are studying and suggests jobs associated with that course

skills explorer

so it’s fairly reductive and is not good at highlighting transferable skills. The job profiles then linked through as also fairly basic with little in the way of description that would help a young person understand what was involved. The charts showing the likelihood of automation, job satisfaction and wage are neat ideas but the job satisfaction one especially needs context as the average for all jobs is only 32% (it seems the data these charts is based upon asked a lot of unhappy people at work!).

Diagnostic tools are useful conversation starters when dealing with younger clients or those considering a complete career change and the more options you have to use in your toolbox, the more likely you are to use the right one for the right client. If there are any I’ve missed, please link in the comments below and let me know what you think about it!

April 2019 update –

The National Careers Service – Discover your skills and careers

At the time of writing this tool is still in beta testing so the URL or layout might change depending on the feedback received. This is a much shorter and easier to complete tool than the more in-depth Skills Health check described above. The questions seem clear but some of them are worded in a way which may not elicit and honest answer from a client but one which they think they should say so watch for that. It is though, something which could be completed in a 1:1 session and the results built into the Guidance discussion. The results from the client’s questions are disappointingly vague, in that they only suggest job areas which then require the use to click through to see job title in that area. More specificity in the recommendations would be welcome but it’s still a tool I can see Advisers finding useful.

CEIAG Kahoot

Delivering Careers lessons to teenagers wary of putting effort into something that “isn’t worth anything” can be a tricky business, especially as many of these sessions are for the purpose of information delivery. The outlining of processes (how to write a CV, how to use UCAS) or those setting out timelines (when to organise work experience by) are the bread and butter of ‘chalk and talk’ careers lessons but they can be dry and unsatisfying affairs. For those practitioners fortunate enough to work in settings were they are afforded more lesson time for employability discussion or skills identification or other topics, there are good resources to guide the way with more interactive task ideas for the learners to attempt but when the backbone of the session is you talking, you sometimes need help to achieve student buy in.

A resource which could add to your toolkit you use to achieve this is Kahoot.

Kahoot is a web based quiz application that allows users to design their own quizzes and then, using either your establishment’s I.T. or student’s own phones, get the entire class to take part in a quiz with timed, multiple choice answers, points and rankings for correct answers and a final podium for the top participants. All you’ll need is to design your quiz and then run through it on your own phone to familiarise yourself with the answers and timings before the lesson.

You can sign up and start making “Kahoots” for free here:

https://getkahoot.com/

There are plenty of “how to” guides and testimonials on their Youtube channel

and you can keep it as basic or in depth in your design as you like with the options to add Team games, music, background images and gifs to spice up your presentations. Whether as a starter activity or as a plenary to check learning outcomes, a Kahoot is a fun way to get your students involved and excited in Careers lessons. This approach isn’t quite the full Gamification of (Careers) Learning in the same way as Careers board games but purely as a more modern approach to a “pop quiz” traditionally run by teachers and one that achieves a sense of competition in the audience.

You can take a look at my first attempt that I used in a Job Search session for FE Construction students here and please do link to any other Kahoots that you have set up in the comments below.

Grofar

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Being online means, occasionally, companies and providers of services will get in touch to promote their Careers Education related products or ask for advice.

Last academic year I gave some time, alongside other Career Leaders and the CDI, to help the team at Grofar develop their Careers management platform. The Managing Director, James, visited me at my old school a number of times to test out new features and get feedback on how these would work in the practical day to day life of a school. I saw this week that the team at Grofar have been shortlisted for a CDI Career Development Award in the “Best Practice in the Use of Technology in Career Development” category. This is a deserved accolade as I saw how many iterations of the software the team worked through to shape the features of the final product to be as responsive as Careers Leaders in schools need it to be.

Grofar is a complete careers program management product. It is a database and recording tool, a planning and mapping tool, a central hub for all of the desk based stuff a Careers Leader in a school or college would do.

It allows you to plan your academic year of career events and provision, add to it as things pop up throughout the year, see where the gaps in your provision for each year group or subject area lie so to improve on for next year and then have your plan ready to show senior leaders or Ofsted at the touch of a button.

It allows you to integrate student data from CSV files or SIMS, track interventions for each student and send out meeting reminders through student emails. Destinations of leavers can be tracked and reports generated. Alumni records can be kept to use as a resource in future.

It can also help with the organisation and paperwork trail needed to secure properly vetted work experience placements if the school runs such a scheme.

In short, it offers to replace those folders of excel workbooks neatly saved on your school or college shared drive and post it notes stuck all over your monitor and school planner with a joined up record keeping and planning platform.

This isn’t free though and comes with a cost that Grofar do not want to make easily findable on their Pricing page. (I only vaguely remember what James said they would be aiming for).

To my mind, it’s frankly amazing that there are still companies out there willing to commit time and funds to developing careers products for an education system that is running on financial empty. Combine that with the wide range of free resources that can be found with a bit of research, then each sale must feel like pushing a boulder over a mountain. If you’re at a school that does purchase an annual licence for computer software or regularly buys physical products such as magazines or books, do let me know in the comments below as it’s good to hear the reasons why this is helping your practice and students in your setting.

A number of suppliers offering Careers products to schools still exist, Cascaid probably being the most well known who offer a range of both physical and computer products. But U-Explore, Trotman & Prospects Educational Resources also offer a number of physical & computer products.

All of these firms and more will be offering their wares at the National Career Guidance Roadshows coming up through February & March 2017 for you to go along and compare their products. For how long, there remains a market with funding able to allocate to such products, remains to be seen.

(This blog is not a sales pitch, I’ve included the links to Grofar so you can see for yourself the capabilities and layout of their product. You know your school budgets and priorities so, as a practitioner, you can make your own mind up where to allocate your resources.)

 

For those planning trips…

For those of us in CEIAG roles in schools, a frequent part of the job is to organise and run trips. Be it to a place of work, to another educational establishment or to a special event, it feels like I’m always chasing reply slips from students, filing out risk assessment forms and herding children onto coaches driven by wary drivers. It’s also at this time of a new academic year that we sit down and try to plan out what trips will take place for what year groups to achieve what aims throughout the terms. Need some apprenticeship info? Stick a visit into a local Engineering firm here. Some options advice? An afternoon of tasters at the nearby FE college about then. We all know though that, despite this careful planning and best intentions, that trips can be tricky things to pull off smoothly as this recent callout from musician and writer, Rhodri Marsden

showed with some great responses. No matter whether it’s the kids being kids, the sheer barminess of the actual point of the trip or just fate, trips are things which school children remember and cherish (sometimes not for the reasons you intend!) and gain huge amounts from. So, no matter the admin hurdles to overcome, put on some trips this year.

And a careers one to finish

The (occasionally NSFW) Storify is here.

A Journey into LMI lesson plans

Being sent out to schools at the moment are the lesson plans below. “A Journey into LMI” are lesson plans from the National Careers Service and are part of the Service’s remit to engage with younger learners. Back in October 2014 Nick Boles announced that all National Careers Service contracts were being amended to include a 5% spend on young people. Whether through online resources meant to engage directly young people or through resources for teachers and advisers to use, these are some of the results of that funding.

As part of a wider drive to improve the awareness of labour market intelligence, the site also has an LMI area map and each LEP area should be sending out an LMI newsletter. The sign up for the update for my own area (SEMLEP) is here.

My local contract holder has also trailed the possibility of some actual activities happening but, by the time the representative came to talk to school careers advisers in my town, we were told the funding pot for these activities had already been exhausted.

The National Careers Service has launched a resources pack for schools

As part of, what looks like from the outside, a refitting and refocusing of the National Careers Service towards supporting school CEIAG work an “E-Pack” of resources for teachers to use with students has been launched.

Link here: https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/resourceportal/Pages/AreaforSchools.aspx

The pack consists of a number of worksheets and power points that mainly advertise the National Careers Service to young people. This follows on the recent National Careers Council report which highlighted that the number of contacts the Service has with young people has fallen year on year:

The lesson plans, like the Barclays Lifeskills ones, are very general but might spark some ideas from you to fit into your own careers lessons or tutor plans.

There is also the usual collection of posters and leaflets also found on the National Apprenticeship Service site that no school would actually ever print off as the printing costs would be astronomical.

The final document, and perhaps the one I’m more likely to use first, is a “Support Requirements Form” that allows schools to book the Service to attend and run events.

The difference between a careers resource and PR excercise

This is a Youtube careers resource

it is about 6 minutes long, features interviews with young people as well as actual engineers with their job clearly indicated (“yes, this lady helps design space robots”) and could actually used in lessons. It’s not overflowing with production values but it has enough content to spark some CEIAG learning. Perhaps it could be the perfect starter for a careers lesson with a class debate about breaking stereotypes in job roles or you could ask students to redesign the science pages in your schools options booklet placing more focus on the engineering routes they could lead to or give them an empty careers ladder template and ask them to research the qualification steps to each engineering role featured.

This is a PR exercise

which has people dancing about to “Happy” in front of a lot of recently built stuff. In the description we’re told that:

The civil engineers behind some of London’s most iconic infrastructure projects have put on their dancing shoes to show the public – young people in particular – how happy they are to be engineers and the diverse and exciting careers on offer through choosing maths and science subjects at school.

Which leads me to ask then…Who are these people? What do they do? (are they all engineers?) What was their role in designing or building these facilities? Are we meant to guess? What do two guys doing robot moves on the Millennium Bridge have to do wanting to be a civil engineer? What were the career decisions these people took to get where they are? What challenges did they face? Did they all have to move to London? I’ve also racked my brain about how I would use this with students and drawn a blank – if inspires any activities from you, let me know.

At the time of writing one of those videos has just over 600 views and one has over 28,000 views and probably, a professional body very satisfied at their successful outreach project. My hunch though is that the lasting impact of such dispensable and slight resources without the attachable CEIAG learning thought through, will be negligible at best.

The @Reddit community and Career Guidance

Even in the short time that I have been involved with Career Guidance there has been a notable movement of companies and organisations towards using not just traditional websites but also social media to spread the word about employment pathways in their area to young people. While sites such as Plotr have been specifically tasked to appeal to the younger generation with bright, colourful career areas full of easily navigable pictures, it is well-managed twitter accounts such as the recently established @borntobuilduk backed by the UK Contractors group which offer youngsters the chance to more fully engage by both asking direct questions and interacting with a number of appointed young guiding lights already working within the industry.

Other models such as MyKindaCrowd offer the chance for young people to submit applications in various challenges to secure rewards of various interactions with business areas they aspire to. Here though the community aspect is held at arm’s length as the site relies on teachers or youth workers to provide the organisation of the young people on the ground to actually enter the challenges.

The chance for Employer bodies to build communities of interested young minds inspired by their area of business clearly appeals to managers conscientious of future skills shortages and these interventions are hugely welcome from those of us looking to find the hook to spark an interest in their future from youngsters but it is yet another model that really holds the most potential for me.

Recently, the community based social news site Reddit launched a new sub-reddit called “JobFair”, a dedicated space for members to quiz (or in the terminology of the site “AMA” – ask me anything) other users who volunteer to post answers about their careers. This peer-to-peer interaction, based in a moderated online environment with the enhanced community aspects of a karma voting system for other users to reward positive and penalise negative contributions, holds much promise for a direct, honest and collaborative method of sharing career knowledge not bound by geography or ambition. A youngster with a phone anywhere in the world can now ask tips on how to be a successful bee-keeper. It really can get that niche. With the site now regularly averaging over 16 million unique users a month, the scope and potential is vast and not just confined to questions about users job roles. Sub-reddits to search for open positions have been set up, get general career guidance advice or help finding a route into a specific career, a dedicated section on entrepreneurs, internships, interview advice, CV advice…the list goes on. It’s the internet; build it and they will come. The job boards can get country or city specific, the career sub-reddits specific enough to focus on career areas such as Archaeology or charity work. In its essence it really is just people helping people.

There will be those within the Careers community who will balk at the messy, unregulated and sporadic nature of this sort of exploration experience. The fundamental requirement for safeguarding automatically rules out a Professional recommending a young person to use tools like this. For clients of all ages there are issues to cause caution as well. There is no guiding hand of a Professional to try to ensure quality or relevance of advice, there is only the individual to reflect on their own strengths, weaknesses and traits and, while there is moderation of posts and some verification of claims, the anonymous nature of the site still leaves the door open for unreliable information to be passed on without checks on bias or integrity.

But it is worth reiterating that this is not a free for all message posting board such as Craigslist and all of the horror stories sites like that have. Rules are set, moderation does occur and the community self rewards and chastises so positive possibilities remain with careful use. A school Careers Professional could set up a school account to source information from other users with career experiences not found in their local labour market or established range of contacts and then pass that on to their young client base. Those working with older clients could signpost to users who have become trusted in the community who could answer questions or historical threads, the Professional could use the community themselves to increase their knowledge of requirements or recruitment practices in specific job fields and internship and work opportunities could be sourced to then disseminate. As ever with both online and offline Careers information resources, it’s best that each Professional decides whether to explore it or not and become comfortable with how they could embed it in their own practice as another possible tool for the toolkit.

The stories told and not told by school Destination data

A common theme throughout all of the recent commentary on the state of CEIAG in schools has been that the publication of Destination statistics for all schools is a ‘good thing.’ In the modern world, the argument goes, transparency of outcomes for schools should not just rely on qualifications gained by students but on the stability and suitability of the progress those students then make in their first steps beyond the school gates.

With this in mind I wanted to post something concentrating purely on the Destination Data of my own school’s leavers to show how this does and does not offer insight when looking at figures on a school size level.

I’ll be using 4 sets of Destination data to give some context.

Firstly, there is the data currently on the DfE performance tables website. This relates to our 2009/10 leavers.

Second, is the data for the 2010/2011 cohort that is due to be published on the performance table site in June.

So, what to notice between those two? The trend in our numbers to FE seem to be falling while the numbers to Sixth Form College are rising, Apprenticeships are steady and “Destinations not sustained” are falling. The FE and Sixth Form trends have the biggest swing in numbers so could tell the story of a more definitive trajectory. The Apprenticeships and Not Sustained numbers are pleasing but I’m wary of hanging out the bunting because, as you can see from the second table, the numbers of students involved are small. One or two students either way and those percentages alter significantly.

A hugely important factor to bear in mind is that this data is based not on a snapshot but on an extended time period. As the guidance tells us Participation is determined as enrollment for “the first two terms (defined as October to March) of the year after the young person left KS4″ and not sustained destinations are defined as  “young people who had participated at an education destination during the academic year but did not complete the required six months participation.” There is much to commend on the longer term measurement being used here which does more thoroughly test a school’s CEIAG legwork to suitably place their students post KS4. A negative consequence of this more considered approach though is the sheer amount of time that has to be allowed before publication to let the students travel through the system. The most recent set of data above covers students who left us 3 years ago. 3 years can be a lifetime of change in a school with new initiatives, new curriculum, staff turnover, Leadership changes, new priorities and events so to use this to judge that school in the here and now seems to be a little redundant.

The third set of data for our 2011/2012 cohort is from our Local Authority, who, alongside their Youth Service partners, work their way through enrollment lists, phone calls and house visits to get all of the stats which the DfE then utilise in future.

The first thing to notice is that some of the Destination terms are not the same. This immediately causes issues in comparison. Compared to the first two sets of data, the trend away from FE routes and towards Sixth Form (not differentiated between School Sixth Form and Sixth Form College here) reduces but continues. The NEET category (not known in the DfE data) is pleasing again (with the same caveat as above) while the Part Time Education numbers are odd and appear towards the larger end of the local spread (more about this below) but they lead to another concern; any conclusions we draw are only as sound as the data collection and entry job that went before them.

The biggest difference in the data sets is that the Local Authority data is a snap shot taken on the 1st of November 2012, just a few short weeks after the GCSE results. If published then, the immediacy of this data could provide interested parties such as Ofsted or parents much more reactive numbers on which to judge local secondary schools but this immediacy could also cause problems. Any snap measurement could offer a warped view of a reality that would produce very different data if captured on a different date (were the statistics exactly the same on the 2nd of November?) and perhaps not highlight gradual drop out as those learners went through the first term of their KS5 routes. To combat this and to show trends the Authority repeat the exercise in the following April with the same year group and the results of this follow up snapshot for the 2012 leavers are in the columns on the right below.

Clearly the largest change between the November and April is the Part time Education number now reads zero and the number of Apprenticeships has jumped by the same number to 12. How much of this change can be attributed to data entry decisions or to the steady progress of our leavers securing Apprenticeships in the year school would only be known to those with local knowledge of our alumni. It’s a tale not told in the stats.

So, what can we learn from all this data?

1) The considered publication timeframe on the DfE performance tables has both good and bad sides for judging school performance

2) When you drill down to school level, the numbers of actual students involved moving from category to category can be small enough so that only a few students fluctuating between them can significantly impact the percentages

and that

3) Trends in destination growth or reduction for different routes can only be properly identified with multiple data sets over a longer period

If Ofsted and stakeholders such as parents are to get the most out of Destination data in its current form, a considered and measured view and a desire to understand the stories behind the figures really will be required.