technology

Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals – Nudging to better CEIAG outcomes

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I’ve posted before about the work of the Behavioural Insights Team (previously known as the Government nudge unit) and their work on designing and implementing changes to frameworks and procedures in the public and private spheres that result in greater positive gains.

Behavourial Science is a field with significant overlap in supporting CEIAG work. How young people make decisions at important transition points, why they aspire to certain routes, how people make and then stick with plans to enact change in their circumstances are all questions which mesh with Careers work both at the strategic, Government message level enacted via the Careers & Enterprise Company and at the much smaller, individual careers guidance sessions with clients level.

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Two of the team members are the latest to publish a book about their work. How “Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals” differs is that is takes the lessons from the big strategic projects the Insights Team have worked on and shows how the behavioural science theories then can be applied by individuals to their own circumstances.

As a read, I found the tone of book accessible but very convinced by the infallibility of behavioural economics as a science. They may have good reason to with the recent award of the Nobel Prize to Richard Thaler, but the absence of any mention of traditional psychological work or evolutionary science to explain behaviour and decision making is noticeable. Also obvious is the much repeated technique of involving the lives of the authors or their office colleagues to show how behavioural change techniques work for real people. While this is useful once or twice to show practical implications, by the fifth or sixth time the reader is hearing about Owain’s plan to balance his extremely well paid job with more exercise and the demands of his home life, your sympathy and interest does wane.

Spread throughout the book though are some fascinating nuggets that Careers practitioners could (and many probably already do to some extent) incorporate into practice.

For individual clients

Practitioners will know that an action plan should not merely be a wish list of future achievements but realistic steps which are time limited. This has shown to be effective for individuals across a wide range of public policy initiatives

Making a simple plan that sets out when, how and where you are going to follow through on your intentions has been shown to be effective at helping people to eat more fruit, increase public transport use, reduce discrimination, get more exercise, diet, improve academic performance, quit smoking and recycle more.

but for individuals the key seems to be linking actions to regular moments in a daily routine

you’re much more likely to follow through on the things you need to do to achieve it if you create a simple plan. And the best way of doing this is to create connections between moments in your daily routine and the actions you need to take.

and asking clients to write these action points down themsleves

The first, simple step, is to do exactly what the individuals in the re-running of the experiment did: write your commitment down.

Asking clients details of their daily routines to link commitments to is more the kind of intervention that a life coach would make rather than a careers practitioner but I could certainly see how a simple change towards the end of a guidance interview of asking the client to write their action points down themselves could drastically enhance the impact of that interview.

For longer term or returning clients, a practitioner may want to investigate more of the cycle of actions that “Think Small” proposes to spur change and adherence to that change.

SET

  • Choose the right goal
  • Focus on a single goal and set a clear target and deadline
  • Break your goal down into manageable steps

PLAN

  • Keep it simple
  • Create an actionable plan
  • Turn the plan into habits

COMMIT

  • Make a commitment
  • Write it down and make it public
  • Appoint a commitment referee

REWARD

  • Put something meaningful at stake
  • Use small rewards to build good habits
  • Beware of backfire effects

SHARE

  • Ask for help
  • Tap into your social networks
  • Use group power

FEEDBACK

  • Know where you stand in relation to your goal
  • Make it timely, specific, actionable and focused on effort
  • Compare your performance with others

STICK

  • Practice with focus and effort
  • Test and learn
  • Reflect and celebrate success

Some of those steps are common sense which any educator asking for improvement from a student would implement but steps such as “Put something meaningful at stake” (the book gives the example of wearing a rivals football shirt for a day at the office) can add a level of social fun that you can easily see working in practical situations with clients.

For cohorts

Many practitioners will also run group sessions for learners or work with year group cohorts. The book references studies that I’ve previously posted about that showed that sending letters of encouragement to high achieving young people in Year 12, “penned” by students from similar backgrounds, increased the number of applications and acceptances to Russell Group universities.  What may come as a blow to Careers practitioners though are the findings that presentations of data or talks

about the long-term benefits of attending university – are not effective. What does seem to work is pupils hearing about what it’s like to go to university from former pupils; such pupils inevitably dwelt on the lifestyle benefits as well as future career prospects.

In these instances it is the authenticity of the person delivering the message that seems to have the impact on learners rather the (ahem) more impartial or informed Careers practitioner. The lessons for practitioners is to ensure that their program of alumni engagement is collecting contact details and that a pool of ex students are ready to be approached to revisit their old haunts and deliver sessions to current learners alongside the impartial delivery. It is their stories that will help snowball your positive destination outcomes.

For us all

Careers practitioners will regularly speak to clients about the value of work and how different values appeal to different clients in finding job satisfaction and happiness at work. It seem though that a constant is there

if you rate your relationship with your boss one point higher on a ten-point scale, it is statistically equivalent to a 30 per cent pay rise

You have to find a good boss.

Overall

I would say that the book has some good lessons for CEIAG practitioners but readers should always be keeping in mind the wider literature around careers theory and social mobility. “Nudges” are clearly based upon interesting and provable behavioural science but the reasons that the State would employ such techniques (ease, low cost for return etc) are the opposite of the time intensive, personal service that CEIAG practitioners strive to offer clients.

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Careers Advice for an unpredictable AI future

All Careers practitioners know that a portion of their professional skills toolbox should be dedicated to gaining an understanding of the future labour market and the winds of change that are likely to shape that market.

For years, Careers Advisers and the wider education system have been accused of practicing their roles with a lack of regard of the skill demands of the business world that young people will enter into. In recent years, curriculum’s have been rewritten, qualification routes come and gone and entire new types of schools founded all with the aim of aligning education to be closer to the labour market.

Careers practitioners know the barometer for the requirements of this word of work that is forever in the future is known as Labour Market Intelligence (LMI). Through the data of job growth and decline in regions, in industry areas and at qualification entry points, the future demand for certain skills, qualifications or numbers of workers can be predicted.

This data isn’t always easily obtainable or decipherable for the (young) members of the public who it would benefit so it falls to Careers practitioners to be the translator and broadcasters of these resources. Sites such as Nomis, services such as LMI for All and local resources such as LEPs offer the data and practitioners determine when to use it, how to use it and what messages to amplify. We rely on the clearness of the message. If the data says that manufacturing jobs are not likely to grow in the north of England, then we paint a clear picture of the challenge facing a young person wanting to work in that area. If our local LEP is clear on the growth prospects of the nearby airport, then we work hard to get to those employers in contact with our young people to shape their employment prospects view.

Facing the Careers profession today though is a very muddled picture of what is surely the most fundamental disruption of the labour market in the next five to ten years; the growth of artificial intelligence, robotics and automation across a wide swathe of workplaces.

For some, T2 is just a skull crushing step away

On the one hand, the prophecies of doom make for more arresting headlines and grab the attention.

These predictions build likely or probable scenarios onto small-scale tests of technology

Consider: Last October, an Uber trucking subsidiary named Otto delivered 2,000 cases of Budweiser 120 miles from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs—without a driver at the wheel. Within a few years, this technology will go from prototype to full production, and that means millions of truck drivers will be out of a job.

to extrapolate out disaster scenarios.

That isn’t to say that they don’t consult expert opinion but the futurists they do consult are unwavering in their belief in the progress of AI.

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And these experts, such as Max Tegmark, MIT Professor, or Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots, are explicit in their advice that, not only should society and the State start preparing for the consequences of AI (through policies such as Universal Basic Income) but that children should be receiving advice on this future work space now.

For others, AI will complement people skills

Other studies are reaching similar conclusions that automation and AI will fill the labour market in roles requiring logic, process or repetition but that it will be the very human skills of community building and socialisation that will still lead to in-demand employment.

Research by David Deming, a professor of education and economics at the Graduate School of Education and a professor of education and public policy at the Kennedy School, shows that workers who combine social and technical skills fare best in the modern economy

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And that, educators and advisers, should be nurturing the skills of change management, teamwork and project work in their students to prepare them to succeed in this labour market.

Other skills such as literacy or numeracy (which the current UK education system places heavy emphasis on) are also ones which will computers will (and already do) outperform humans.

Almost a third of workers use these cognitive skills daily in their jobs and yet their competency levels have already been matched by computers. About 44 per cent are still better than the machines. The remaining 25 per cent have jobs that do not use these skills every day.

This is not to say that low skilled jobs will completely vanish but that even those workers will need to build their human skills to be able to work alongside technology

Research by Richard Blundell, an economics professor at University College London, suggests the low-skilled tend to fare better in big companies that invest heavily in research and development. They have higher wages than other low-skilled workers and tend to stay with their employers for longer.

This collaborative ideal is still a fundamental change in the labour market due to the numbers of low skilled roles that will be affected. The question remains on the scope of this new market to soak up the displaced and provide employment at the levels we see today.

And that Governments should act upon the things they can control. If the capital and resources gained by technological progress is more fairly redistributed by the State, then the offsetting factors of commercial expansion and growth would provide new employment opportunities elsewhere in the labour market. The pool of employment opportunities would change shape but not drastically shrink.

In this scenario, Careers Advice becomes a sign poster of the future jobs such as Drone Traffic Controller or Augmented Reality Designer.

And for some, AI won’t make much of a difference at all

Here, the faith is placed in the churn of technological progress and investment in new areas of business to bring new jobs to replace those lost to automation. Economies with high levels of automation such as Germany and Japan have strong job growth. The percentage of people in full-time work in the USA and the UK is growing steadily. In short, there just isn’t any evidence that AI is effecting the jobs market.

How can the CEIAG profession react

In a recent post, Professor Tristram Hooley covered much of the same ground in this post and suggested that, due to this uncertainty between competing visions of the future labour market, advice could be offered across three frameworks:

  1. Adaptive Guidance – Preparation for change
  2. Expanded Career Guidance – broaden concepts of meaningful work
  3. Emancipatory Guidance – encourage realisation of and challenge of the system

and that a possible curriculum

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would plan opportunities for clients to grow these capabilities.

Which is all work Advisers would be happy to cover and would provide clients with enriching learning experiences but what strikes me is the fact that the profession is tasked with preparing for this wide range of eventualities. The lack of clarity from both Governments and Business voices on the shape of the future labour market is unhelpful. The Business lobby is not shy on coming forward with the skill demands they place on education and CEIAG to meet more definitive labour market needs. Whether looking at the strategic needs of nation economies or drilling down to an oversupply of graduates from a particular vocational area, Business leaders are clear on what they require from education. For such a large disruption potential to employment, the lack of clarity on what we should actually be expecting is noticeable. The type of preparation work outlined by Professor Hooley would be much better served alongside as clear guidance from business leaders on what will likely be the reality of the impact of AI and automation on the labour market.

What can the National Careers Service do to help me?

As part of the recent Education Select Committee report into just what the flip has happened with school’s careers services since September there was a lot of talk of a new or adjusted role for the National Careers Service.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmeduc/632/63202.htm

Paragraph 74 raises the suggestion that the NCS should become a broker between groups of schools and those offering IAG services to help ensure that schools are spending their budgets wisely and getting a quality service for their cash.

As I blogged about here:

https://fecareersiag.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/careers-guidance-for-young-people-the-impact-of-the-new-duty-on-schools-education-committee-report-aka-graham-stuart-says-whoa-there-pickle/

that’s all fine and good and will help many schools but, those have reacted with speed and efficiency to the new duty will not require this support. There is, though, an interesting push behind that idea; that the NCS could be doing more to help schools floundering to do the best for their students regarding impartial IAG but without the time or expertise to do so. So what can the NCS do to assist as many schools as possible, within the realms of their constrained budget. What would I be looking for from them?

1) Their current online offer is a strange beast from a school’s point of view. On the positive side, the website has some job profiles which we can use with children but that’s about it.

The skills tests feel very basic in their presentation compared to the comparable parts of Fast Tomato or Prefino. The user interface looks like a an old maths GCSE paper has been scanned in and a multiple choice box tacked on down the side and the small number of tests with students I done haven’t gone well.

The best part of the site, or at least the part I regularly use with students, especially students searching for apprenticeships, is the online CV builder. It’s clearly laid out and the majority of students can work their way through the different sections under their own steam and it produces a professional looking document.

This is massively outweighed by the negatives though. Students under 16 (i.e all of them) can’t sign up for a Life long learning account so nothing can be saved and everything has to be done in one session.

In fact this one positive is massively hobbled by a 30 minute time out clause on that part of the site which means that students will input their details, text their mum because they’ve forgotten the address of their work experience, look up their predicted grades in their planner only for the site to log them out automatically after half an hour. It makes a good online resource pretty much impossible to use with students.

To help schools, their skills test tools should be made much more student friendly and accessible without the need to sign up for a Life long learning account.

2) This week saw the launch of an exciting scheme from Barclays called LifeSkills

https://www.forms.barclays.co.uk/lifeskills/index.php#.UTtIztbfV8E

which holds much promise. Included in the resources for schools that sign up are a number of clearly laid out, easy to understand lesson plans for teachers to deliver around personal presentation and branding, interview techniques etc. I’ll definitely be incorporating parts of them into some lesson plans I’ve already got.

This is extremely positive and welcomed educational input from an employer but why the NCS aren’t already covering this part of the scheme? Hosting a few well written PDF’s with lesson ideas that are as clearly laid out as the Barclay’s examples shouldn’t be beyond reason. From a school’s point of view the sheer amount of online careers resources is blinding. It takes time and networks to spread good word of mouth about sites or resources for a school to start using a site as a regular part of it’s careers education offer. Why doesn’t the NCS become the sign poster of excellence in free online careers resources?

The NCS should have an online section with careers lessons for a basic careers education program that schools could adapt to suit their own needs and situations.

So there are two, both online, both inexpensive in the scheme of things, activities that the NCS could do to assist schools in making solid steps towards a comprehensive careers program. Involving themselves in this sort of work would also have greater benefits in the future as the young people become aware of their brand and so would be much more likely to utilise their services if they needed to throughout their future career.