Employability Symposium

For my project to be a success, I have always felt that it is necessary for me to gain as much knowledge as I can about Careers Information and Guidance services (CIAG) in Scotland, and how they are actually delivered at the point of service. For this very reason, I was delighted to be invited to the employability symposium at UWS Paisley on Friday 22nd May, which was organised by the Careers Guidance and Development department on behalf of their newly graduated careers advisers.

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A number of excellent speakers were at the event. There was representation from the Career Development Institute (Julie-Ann Jamieson, Scottish Chair of the CDI), Higher Education (Lorraine Amies, Careers Consultant, RGU), Further Education (Lisa Hardy, Student Advice and Funding Manager, CoGC), Jobs and Business Glasgow (Nancy Burns, Head of Youth and Learning), Glasgow City Council Education Services (Abigail Kinsella, Principal Officer), Inspiring Futures (Margaret Graham, Regional Director), Skills Development Scotland (Isobel Wilson, Area Manager), and the University of the West of Scotland (Colin Dewar, Careers and Employability Service Team Leader; Carol Vaughan, Information and Administration Co-ordinator).

In addition to the above, there were talks from previous students of the course (Carol Andrews, Glasgow Kelvin College; June Cunningham, Glasgow Caledonian University & the University of Strathclyde; and, Lorraine Wilson, Skills Development Scotland).

The symposium was a tour-de-force in terms of the information and advice it afforded. It showcased the broad variety of roles available to qualified professionals within the sector, and the numerous points of entry for those who are newly qualified. The speakers each relayed their experiences of working in CIAG related roles and what they entail, and advice/tips on the job-seeking and interview process from the perspective of the employer.

One thing that really struck me about the event was the diversity of the career options available to advisers. CIAG sprawls across the public and private sector, operating in schools, independent schools, colleges, universities and as a point of service for the general public across a variety of other organisations and charitable bodies. Despite this, many of these organisations work in partnership, and it seems that there is a genuine cohesion and familiarity amongst those working within the sector in Scotland (CIAG is a ‘small world’, I was told by one of the speakers).

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A key theme, and one which was laced throughout each of the presentations, was the need for careers advisers to network with others in the industry whilst searching for work, and onwards into their career. Social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter were referenced a number of times as valuable supplementary tools for networking. Particular emphasis was also given to the way in which recruiters now often treat such tools websites as live CVs (and will Google prospective candidates as part of their screening process). As such, delegates at the event were encouraged to:

  • Think about their professional brand (both off-line and online)
  • Create edifying online profiles
  • Cast their net wide and connect with appropriate people
  • Develop relationships with those in the sector
  • Be organised and plan an approach to social media use
  • Set clear goals and utilise networks wherever possible

Additionally, Carol Vaughan delivered a presentation which focused directly on the use of social media by careers advisers: 1. For the benefit of their own careers (in terms of professional development, access to information, and communication of ideas and expertise) and, 2. For helping clients of CIAG with their careers, and by setting a positive example. She noted how the modern careers advisor would actually be letting their client down by not incorporating guidance on social media use into their service provision, and spoke at length about the informational value of LinkedIn and how to create a strong user profile.

Overall, I thought it was a fantastic event. From my own point of view I learned a great deal about CIAG which will hopefully inform my own research work – knowledge I am keen to extend in the future. I also picked up some great advice about the job-search and employment process, and enjoyed the opportunity to network with a number of different people from the sector. The speakers, course convenors and the graduates were all very welcoming and friendly, which speaks volumes for their profession. Undoubtedly I will cross paths with some of them in the near future.

Many thanks to Graham Allan and Janet Moffett for inviting me to the symposium.

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Social loafing and the lurkers

I have been reading a lot of theories recently which have been used to explain the phenomenon of widespread social media use, and the nature of that use (as you will probably be aware, the growth rate of social media adoption has been exponential in recent years).

One of these theories in particular caught my eye: social loafing.

Essentially, the act of social loafing occurs when an individual exerts less effort to achieve goals when working within a group context than they do when working alone. This can be a negative thing for virtual communities, and for online social networking generally, given that social media relies on content being created and shared by members of those communities. When you think about it, would Facebook be viable if nobody shared anything on their wall or posted any status updates? Of course, it is easy to be cynical about self-aggrandising behaviour, endless dinner photographs, or wistful ‘I can’t get to sleep/I missed my train again’ soliloquies. But really, they are the lifeblood of social networking sites.

The idea of social loafing also draws parallels with the concept of the “lurker”, a term most prominently associated with online discussion forums (or messageboards), and which refers to somebody who monitors content without ever actually making a personal contribution. Lurkers are attracted by the information which is available on the forum, but face an unknown barrier to actively becoming involved in the community. However, research does suggest that they are less likely to trust the benevolance, or the integrity of other users within the community.

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So what does this all mean? Is it a good or a bad thing?

Well, it’s hard to say, but it certainly creates an interesting situation.

Before online networking became widespread, people would have been forced to access information derived from their informal social capital resources via face-to-face communication, or by telephone/mail. Now though, social networking sites give you the opportunity to to access your social capital instantly, directly, and across geographical boundaries.

And whereas previously buidling new social capital would have involved a concerted effort of socialising and attending events, now you can set up a Twitter account (anonymously even), and follow people from all over the world at the click of a button. You can connect with people who are experts in their field, expounding valuable pieces of knowledge pertaining to your direct informational need.

As for discussion boards, in many cases you don’t even have to bother setting up a profile to view topic threads. Looking for a job or employment information? There are forums available where the general public are continually providing assistance which could be relevant to your situation.

Of course, there are several caveats to all of this. For example, how do you know when to trust the information which is essentially coming from other human beings? This requires a good deal of critical thought on the part of the user. Also, whilst lurking/loafing on social media has the potential to lead you to some very interesting and beneficial resources which would have been otherwise difficult to access (without breaking into houses or tapping telephone lines), getting information tailored directly to your circumstance is likely to require you involvement on some level, by way of asking questions.

In summation, social media tools provide an ideal platform for social loafing behaviour, if the user knows where to look, and who to follow. Unfortunately though, such behaviour does little to add to the community, or to group cohesion.

PhD outing

I arrived home from the Firbush outdoor centre near Killin in Stirlingshire this afternoon, following a short trip away. It’s an outdoor centre owned (and built) by Edinburgh University, in a very picturesque wee setting up north (see picture below, taken by yours truly).

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The trip was organised by the School of Computing here at Napier to allow us to participate in some team-building outdoor activities. Additionally, we had an open forum regarding life as a researcher in the SoC, and each gave a 20 minute presentation of our individual projects.

I have to say, I was a tad apprehensive about being away from my desk for the best part of three days, given the amount of work I have coming up in the next couple of months. But as is invariably the case with these things, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip when I got there and feel as though I have benefitted immensely from the experience.

So, by way of a quick run-down….

On Monday I scaled a small mountain, which name escapes me at the moment (maybe one of my colleagues can help me out? It’s a Gaelic tongue twister). 10-12 of us were in the hiking group, and the weather was very kind indeed – the views at the top were pretty spectacular. I’ll post some more pictures up of the gang at the summit, as and when I get a hold of them from the others.

On Monday evening I gave my presentation – ‘Networking and career management skills: the role of social networking and social media in job search and career development’. It went well – I enjoy the platform and get a bit of an adrenaline rush when I am up there talking. It’s also a liberating experience being able to air your work in a room full of people and get feedback. You spend so much time debating your work in your mind that it is important to hear it out loud and gain an outsider’s perspective. I feel refreshed by the experience, and certainly have some new ideas.

Yesterday a group of us went cycling into town to see some castle ruins – those of Clan Macnab I believe. One of the guides at Firbush showed us the ‘beheading pit’, which is basically a hole in the ground next to the dilapidated building where people were kept overnight before their morning execution. He also regaled us with a tale of an extremely violent pitched battle between rival clans in the area – something to do with cattle-rustling neighbours (the area is firmly within Rob Roy country). A reminder of Scotland’s rather colourful past!

Last night we had a marathon of 10 student presentations, followed by a couple of beers in the common room and a battle of wits over Trivial Pursuit. My team didn’t win…(I mean, can Bill Clinton’s favourite meat really be considered general knowledge?? Answers on a postcard folks).

Anyway, below is a list of all the students present at Firbush, and their presentation titles. I have included a link to their university profiles where possible to allow you to find out more about their work. You will see that the SoC has a very rich, and broad base of research currently being undertaken by its PhD students. In most cases it was my first opportunity to become acquainted with their respective topics, and even though some of the concepts were beyond the scope of my knowledge, I learned a great deal from the way in which the others presented their slides and addressed the audience. Overall, a very worthwhile exercise.

“The role of online information in reputation management” by Frances Ryan.

“Bio-Inspired autonomous generation of mechanical multi-body systems” by Paul Lapok.

“Context-aware Pervasive Computing” by Gopal Jamnal.

“The value and impact of public libraries on citizenship development in the Information Society” by Leo Appleton.

“How can sound visualisation methods improve communication for the sensory impaired?” by John McGowan.

“Urban Interaction Design” by Shenando Stals.

“Weighted Clustering Algorithms for wireless sensor networks” by Alsnousi Essa.

“File Fragment Classification and Identification – Big Data and the Nightmare for Digital Forensics’ by Philip Penrose.

“On Efficient Routing in Internet of Things (IoT)” by Baraq Ghaleb.

“Distributed and Robust Sharing within Secure Cloud-based Architectures” by Elochukwu Ukwandu.

“Context-Aware service discovery Protocols for internet of things” by Mamoun Qasem.

On Load-balancing Cluster Based Protocols for Wireless Sensor Networks” by Mohamed Eshaftri.

“The challenge of visualising large and highly complex biological data sets” by Thanasis Vogogias.