plotr

Careers apps

Back in December 2018, the DfE announced two winners of a £300,000 funding pot open for digital IAG tools that would help young people make more informed choices about their University choice both in regard to provider and subject. Now, in April 2019, both of the tools have launched.

Offering IAG through digital platforms to young people has a mixed track record (we’ll always have the memory of Plotr) but practitioners know they can be a fundamental resource to use with your client base.

The two apps take different approaches to how they inform and advise their users with the Higher Education data now available. It’s worth saying that both platforms are (at the time of writing) still in beta testing so improvements in design, layout and usability will be ongoing and any judgments should be made with that in mind. The first app, ThinkUni is described as a “personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare” and is from a team that has a good track record in offering social mobility enhancing schemes through the Brilliant Club. The current site looks fairly basic with text drop down boxes asking users on their preferences on University study (city or campus, course reputation or earnings outcomes etc).

think uni1On first impressions, I found there isn’t much to be impressed with here. The very first question assumes that the user knows what subject they want to study so relies on a baseline that simply isn’t there for a lot of young people and then site assumes that the user will be studying A Levels so widening participation also doesn’t seem to be a concern (I’m sure that other Level 3 qualifications will be incorporated into the site at some point but soft launching without them isn’t a good look). The “digital assistant” selling point is also over played with the course suggestion results being much the same as would result from a search using advanced filters on the UCAS search facility. If the user already knows their views on subject, location, course type etc. to input, then why not just go or be directed to the source site? Currently, the “assistant” part of ThinkUni seems extremely inactive.

The other competition winner comes from The Profs, a team who have previously built a Professional Tutor finding platform, and is a much more interactive looking experience. “The Way Up” games tasks users to pick an avatar and make choices on learning and earning routes at each step of their journey.

way up game1This approach develops a greater sense of ownership in the process and the results as the user is able to modify the route to reflect their own interests while still following the linear structure of the game. The interface isn’t the most aesthetically astounding you’ll see and I also thought that some of the presented LMI was easy to miss on-screen but, once you notice it, the format does incorporate a significant amount of LMI data into each stage. I also think that the biggest learning gain for young people using the platform might not be regarding their career choice or route but the realistic balance to be found when budgeting monthly in-comings and outgoings.

As a format for simulated learning, turn based, point and click games were also used back in the days of late 2000s Aimhigher University visits when one of the regular activities was a web-based game that allowed secondary school students to take control of a new University student avatar and make choices for their study, work and social life. The implications of those choices displayed in a character health chart which valued balance above partying too hard or studying too much. The user was able to see the realistic choices on offer and the consequences of those choices and reflect on how they would react in that possible environment. So the format isn’t new but the inclusion of the LMI and HE data is.

The “Way Up Game” is designed to have the widest possible capture point so that it includes career routes and choice options for lots of young people. At the more specific and detailed end of the simulation market, flight and even truck driving simulations are PC games that can require high level computers to run with the amount of detail their fan base demands while still offering career learning opportunities. More accessible versions of this format can be found in sector skills funded apps such as Construction Manager from the CiTB. Allowing users to take charge of a construction business, hire employees, pitch for contracts and then take on those jobs all presented within a SIMS type graphical interface make for an engaging career learning experience. Place these alongside digital diagnostic tools and digital communication tool there is a rich variety of online CEIAG resource.

Research

Research evidence on the value of digital and online IAG experiences offers some guidance to both of the creative teams on what could help their products have the impact they are looking for with users.

Two excellent summaries of research in this area are the CEC What Works edition: “Careers Websites” and this recent webinar from Tristram Hooley “Approaches to online guidance”

Neither of the two apps offer any links to expanding social networks or sharing results so building users social capital does not seem to be on the agenda.

The CEC document references research from Dunwall et al (2014) which evaluated the MeTycoon careers game and found that

87% of participants said playing the game had given them new career ideas and 66% said they had shared or discussed the game with friends.

The format of “The Way Up Game” more closely matches MeTycoon so those developers will be hoping for that level of impact with their users. The ThinkUni platform perhaps gains research backing with its slight nod towards the user involving CEIAG professionals in the findings from using the site. The CEC summary states:

The use of careers websites should be integrated into schools’ careers education provision, and may be more effective for pupils when use, at least initially, is mediated and supported by careers and education professionals.

Once the user has contemplated their suggestions, the final screen ThinkUni suggests

think uni assistant1

This is only a very slight prompt though. The user is not asked, for example, if they wish to email their results to a named individual which could be a CEIAG professional or school tutor so perhaps both developers would benefit from designing accompanying session plans that could enable teachers/CEIAG practitioners to use the apps in group sessions and build upon the learning experiences of the young people in the room. A further step could even be to incorporate “nudge” techniques by communicating to both user and professional so conversations could occur to see if further research tasks have been undertaken by the user. Neither of the platforms require the involvement of CEIAG professionals in the learning journey of the user.

This failure to build in involvement of practitioners places both of the apps well behind more detailed digital offers such as Start Profile. This program combines both personalisation lead by the user lead and exploration of career routes with LMI drawn from LMI for all and the ability for practitioner oversight and involvement. As this ICEGS evaluation of Start concludes

Start builds on much of what the existing evidence base tells us about the efficacy of online products. It brings together information and advice for a young person and allows them to personalise their learning journey. It offers a blended learning technology in which the school can connect the online learning to classroom based career learning. It builds on longstanding career assessment practices by building a personal profile of work preferences, qualities, skills and interests and using this to match users to jobs and learning opportunities based on their suitability and how available those jobs are in the labour market.

Differences do remain though between Start Profile and these two new apps in their data sources. LMI for All utilises a range of sources (detailed on page 10 here) but they (and so Start Profile) do not seem to include data from the Office for Students on HE access, continuation, attainment and progression.

By side-stepping CEIAG professionals both apps purely user focussed offers but this could still offer positive impact. The CEC Moments of Choice research concluded that young people desire the presentation of careers data that:

moments choice1

and it would be fair to conclude that both apps achieve at least 7 of those requirements to varying degrees. Young people can access the data in a method that is convient to them, when they require it, be safe in the knowledge that it is using reliable sources, receive suggested future actions and be able to personalise it. Only the involvment of influencers is missing.

International comparisons

These formats for offering HE focused CEIAG learning are also available in other countries. For example, Australia has Campus Quest which offers users two games, Campus Quest based on a student attending a University campus and E-Study Quest based on a student studying from home.

The graphical interface is slightly more interesting than both of the new UK apps but in particular the 3D presentation is more eye-catching than “The Way Up” game.

Value

For the DfE to offer funding, policy holders must hope that any resulting resources will add value to the marketplace of existing CEIAG digital products either through successfully filing a niche or building upon existing products. For me, currently the two apps (still at testing stage remember) do neither and they also choose to set aside a proportion of the research in this area. It may be more politically satisfying for the DfE to achieve a new CEIAG platform through this process but questions should be asked whether a more worthy platform could have been achieved through the adaption of existing products and how any resulting products are able to fit into, adapt and shape for the positive the current CEIAG landscape supporting young people.

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.

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.