Pearson

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

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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!

The logical failure of the 2017 CBI Education & Skills Survey

Like any membership lobbying organisation, the CBI support their members to make them look as good as possible and promote the greater value of and worth of business to society. They have their work cut out, surveys show that the general public is distrustful with less than half believing British businesses act ethically, so their annual survey of business leaders (The CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey) is a chance to shift the focus elsewhere.

The 2017 iteration is drawn from an online questionnaire completed by 344 employers. (It is worth comparing at the outset this methodology against other recent employer surveys such as the recent DfE Employer perspective survey (which I blogged on here) which was drawn from telephone interviews with over 18,000 establishments across the labour market including non-profit organisations but more on that later).

The scale of employer engagement in education is an important topic with the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) tasked with expanding this work to improve CEIAG provision and so prove the research evidence of the benefits to be gained for students. Future qualification and pathway policy is also heavily geared towards gaining employer buy in and engagement. This means that establishing a base point of employer engagement is vital in judging progress and knowing where to target resources. The CEC has already made progress in this area with their Cold Spots research. Using a range of data points and sources, this shows that outcomes for young people (much like HE progression and academic achievement rates) varies greatly across the different regions of the UK.

coldspots1

One of the data points used to model the amount of employer engagement is the UKCES Employer Perspectives Survey 2014. This is the preceding biannual release of the DfE Employer Perspective Survey mentioned above before the closure of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in March 2017 which the DfE then took over.

That the CEC is using this data on employer engagement and not information published by the CBI is the first hint that the two sources on employer engagement tell very different tales.

The CBI survey offers useful views on the value business leaders places on their required skills from school leavers

cbi2

plus their satisfaction on school leaver skill levels

cbi1

and a plea for more young people to be speakers of foreign languages (page 34). The Employer Perspectives survey meanwhile does not break down employer satisfaction with school leavers into skill areas but by age of recruits (fig 3.7) so comparisons are difficult but, at all ages, it found employers were more satisfied than dissatisfied with the skill levels of their young recruits.

The survey begins to raise eyebrows though with the claims of employer engagement with education including the number of firms that offer work experience. Let’s remind ourselves what the 2017 Employer Perspectives Survey reported,

  • That 65% of employers thought that relevant work experience is a critical or significant factor when taking on a recruit but only 38% of employers had offered a work experience opportunity in the past 12 months
  • There is a huge variation between the sectors that offer work experience (fig 3.9)
  • Only 10% of employers offered work inspiration activities to students

This differs drastically to the findings of the CBI Survey that 81% of employers had some links with education

cbi3

and that these links were “extensive in all parts of the UK.” Not only is this claim widely divergent with the finding from a methodologically more detailed and comprehensive survey, it also undermines the very basis on which the CEC has prioritised its work across the country. Regarding employer links with education, the CBI says there are no cold spots.

The differences continue in the value of work experience with only 23% of businesses reporting that relevant work experience is an “important” factor when recruiting a young person (fig 2.1 pictured above) which is well below the 65% of employers reporting similar in the Employer Perspectives Survey. There is also a lack of consistency of expectations in the CBI results with employers also stating that 54% were not satisfied with school leavers relevant work experience (fig 2.3 pictured above). Why would employers be unsatisfied with something they’ve also deemed not important to recruitment?

The data on the types of provision employers offer through their links with schools is couched in a presentational sleight of hand as the percentages are offered as percentages of those business who have education links, not a percentage of the total businesses. Thus

cbi4

So the CBI is not claiming that 81% of employers provide careers advice talks but that 81% of the 81% with links to education provide careers advice talks. Because we have the total numbers of employers the CBI received responses from (344) we can work this back – 81% of 344 = 279, 81% of 279 = 225, 225 divided by 344 = the CBI is actually reporting that 65% of employers offer careers advice talks. The Employer Perspectives Survey concluded that just 10% of employers offer careers inspirations activities including careers talks.

The differences between the two surveys continue when discussing work experience. The CBI concludes (using the same method above) that around 63% of employers offer work experience placements. The Employer Perspectives Survey reported 38% of employers offered placements and that differences between industries can be stark.

skills report4

The CBI survey also includes business views on both the work of the CEC and the current state of CEIAG provision. They find that the CEC still has plenty of scope to increase their connections with business as only 7% of respondents were engaged with the Company.

cbi5

That 79% businesses were unaware of the work of the CEC is not surprising when you also consider that only 28% of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system.

cbi6

The CBI though are wholly positive about the need and remit of the CEC

The CBI fully supports their work which has a focus on practical, enabling solutions.

and

Underpinned by sufficient resources, the CEC should play a major role in England in
supporting schools and businesses to develop productive relationships to the benefit of young people.

but the views of the businesses surveyed are extremely negative about the quality of CEIAG provision

cbi7

84% of businesses reporting that Careers advice is not good enough is an overwhelming verdict but also similar percentage to the four previous survey results show in 3.16. The CBI goes strong on its verdict on current Careers provision

These are seriously troubling results. They highlight the urgent need for radical improvement.

This all adds up to a muddled picture offered by the CBI.

They and the employers they surveyed are claiming that 81% of business have links with schools across the country, 65% offer careers advice talks and 63% offer work experience placements. This equates to a large-scale engagement with education yet, it is these same employers from whom 79% had not heard of the work of the CEC. It is from these same employers that less than a third were aware of the introduction of whole new GCSEs and grading systems. The same employers who are engaged with education to offer huge amounts of careers provision but 84% of them also reported unsatisfaction with the Careers advice offered. The solution offered by the CBI to change these views? More engagement with education through the CEC.

Establishing hard quantitative data on employer engagement is not easy as previous studies have shown. Using only limited survey data though can mean results with the failures of logic shown above. The CBI cannot continue to claim that the majority of employers are playing their part in provision only to then be overwhelmingly critical of the scale, quality and outcomes of that provision.