Tuesday, 10 December 2013

I need a good sort out

Over the years I've used a whole bunch of web tools for different things. The tools I use most in both a work and a non-work context are:

One of the keys to their usefulness is that all work well on mobile, tablet and desktop and sync seamlessly across these platforms (apart from Diigo - the apps for which aren't great and I find it only works really well on a desktop - so I email to Diigo and tag later). I use GoodReader on my iPad to view documents offline (it syncs with Google Drive, Dropbox and Microsoft Exchange) and is particularly good for annotating PDFs.

But before I leave for Bristol I need to do a good tidy up of all these different tools. How I use them has evolved, and the tools themselves have evolved as well, so which one I use for what has become a bit blurred in places. I especially need to sort out my tags and notebooks in Evernote and decide if I need to use Dropbox at all or whether I can just use Google Drive.

Does anyone have any tips?

Monday, 9 December 2013

Leaving Leicester for Bristol

So, my big news (which I announced a while ago and so most people already know) is that I'm going to be the Director of the Careers Service at the University of Bristol. It's a very exciting move for me, but after 8 happy years at Leicester it's going to be a bit of a wrench to leave. We have made great progress at Leicester in careers over the past 3 years and it will be good to take that experience to a different setting and a new challenge. The University of Bristol has a fantastic reputation and everyone keeps telling me what a great city it is. What's not to like?!

I start on 27 January and looking forward to my family joining me as soon as possible...

Friday, 29 November 2013

A very fine evening at #THEawards 2013

Well we didn't win Outstanding Support for Students this year (congratulations to Essex who did) but we did have a very fine evening. The University of Leicester did win Research Project of the Year though, for the discovery of the remains of Richard III (so I've no hat to eat).

Sandy Toksvig was an excellent host and @timeshighered did a great job with the tweets :)

Thursday, 28 November 2013

#THEawards 2013 short list - Outstanding Support for Students

Tonight is the Times Higher Education Awards and the University of Leicester is short listed for 2:

  1. Outstanding Support for Students (that's for us in the Career Development Service)
  2. Research Project of the Year (for the fantastic and extremely collaborative discovery of the remains of Richard III)

I don't know how we'll do in the former (we're up against Derby, Essex, Plymouth, Stirling and Sunderland) but I'm pleased to get short listed. I'll have some hat eating to do if we don't win the latter though.

It should be a good night (apart from the minibus ride home in the early hours of Friday morning).

Monday, 18 November 2013

The First 90 Days

On 27 January I start as Director of the Careers Service at the University of Bristol. I'll blog about the move some other time, but in an effort to get myself back into the blogging habit (again) I thought I'd mention a book I intend to read as part of my preparation. 3 people have independently, and without prompting, recommended The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. So that's firmly on my reading list. Any other recommendations?

Thursday, 7 November 2013

LinkedIn Alumni search

I think I'm pretty late to the party on this... I'd heard that the LinkedIn alumni search was really useful but I've only recently started playing around with it. I knew you could use it to filter by Where they live, Where they work and What they do, but I hadn't scrolled right on the search panel to see that you can also filter by What they studied, What they're skilled at and How you are connected. And all this on a free account. What a great feature!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Which? University

If you want to compare courses at different universities and you haven't checked out Which? University yet, you really should. It works off the same data sets as Unistats but is less clunky and more user-friendly. Here's a quick screencast I did to demo it at our Employability Summit last week (no audio)...

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Quick NACE reflections (part two)

The NACE conference is now over so I'm just jotting down a few more thoughts. The sessions I attended since the last post were:
  1. Mobile Career Services: The Next Frontier in Student Engagement
  2. Keynote Address: Anna Deavere Smith “Snapshots: Glimpses of America in Change”
  3. Keynote Address: David Spector “Recruitment and Technology—The Journey So Far”
The mobile session (or 'mobul' as they say here) was useful. The take home for me was that whilst at Leicester we have given a lot of thought to our communications and use of social media in the past we need to revisit it. We could certainly do more to deliver useful and engaging content via mobile.

The other really useful thing about the last few days has been meeting people, both from employers and college sides. Some really useful connections have been made and I'm looking forward to keeping up with them on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Tomorrow and Tuesday we're visiting NYU and Penn univerity careers services. Having met some of their staff at the conference I'm really looking forward to finding out more about them and sharing ideas. Lucky me :)

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Quick NACE reflections (part one)

Well it's day 3 of the NACE 2013 conference and I've got a bit of reflection time. This is more of a 'note to self' than for anyone else's benefit as I need more time to reflect, but just so I capture a few thoughts...

The sessions I've been to so far are:
  1. Keynote Address: Jeremy Gutsche “Exploiting Chaos”
  2. Motivating Your Students to Get on the Ball
  3. Limitless Opportunities for Student Engagement
  4. The Future of Career Services: Challenges and Opportunities
The keynote was loads better than I expected. Jeremy Gutsche's message was very apposite given the current context in which careers services are operating in, both in the UK and US. The importance of an engaging,cwell connected message that links specifically to 'what exactly are you trying to do' was helpful.

The Limitless Opportunities for Student Engagement session was very useful. The careers service at NYU has clearly made a big impact in terms of student engagement with their #iamlimitless campaign. It was a great example of people relatively new to social media just getting on and doing it without any 'expert' help. The trick will be though to translate engagement into results. Something I'm looking forward to talking to with them about when we visit NYU on Monday.

The most fascinating session was the Future of Careers Services. It was clearly a popular session with, I reckon, at least 500 people attending. The really interesting thing for me was that the US are battling with exactly the same issues as us - student engagement, scalability, hard measures, flexibility of service delivery and institutional responsibility. I'm pleased to say we're in the process of addressing all of these at Leicester, but we have much to learn from our US colleagues. 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Systems thinking report

Kim Smith has been working with us since the end of January on, amongst other things, our systems thinking project. Below is the Prezi she used at our team meeting yesterday to explain some of the findings and the key learning points.

Our systems thinking journey so far hasn't been straight forward (as I've expressed in a couple of previous posts, e.g. this one) but I think we are getting there (slowly). We are now focusing on a narrower aspect of what we do, so rather than looking at the whole system (the purpose of which we defined as 'help me get the graduate job or further study that I want') we are now focusing on the support we offer students in applying for jobs or study ('help me get to the next stage of the application process').

More to follow, but progress...

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Employability Partnership Agreement

I'm working on the Employabilty Partnership Agreements that we plan to develop with each academic department over the summer ready for the start of the academic year. The idea is to present the student profile and destinations data, review activity in the previous year, in particular levels of student engagement with the Service (thanks to Target Connect), then activity for the coming and finally an action plan detailing timings, responsibilities, resources etc.

Clearly the agreements will develop as we discuss them with departments (and each will be slightly different, depending on the needs/context), but the screenshot below gives you an overview of my current thinking on the structure. What have I missed?

Thursday, 23 May 2013

NACE 2013 conference

In 10 days' time I have the privilege of going to the US with Bob Athwal to the National Association of Colleges and Employers conference in Florida. There isn't really an equivalent organisation in the UK as NACE is a combination of both employers (here represented by the AGR) and university careers services (here represented by AGCAS).

NACE describe their mission as:
The National Association of Colleges and Employers connects campus recruiting and career services professionals, and provides best practices, trends, research, professional development, and conferences.
In addition to going to the conference,  Bob and I will also be visiting our counterparts in NYU and University of Pennsylvania. I'm really looking forward to seeing how careers services are set up in the US and sharing ideas. It's a real privilege to go and I'm determined to make the most of the learning. It may even get me back into blogging...

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Mark's bread

Following on from my brown cake post of two years ago I thought it's about time I posted another recipe, so here Mark's tweet-by-tweet recipe for his amazing bread that he sent me last week. It's so delicious I've made it four times already!

Digital literacy follow up

Further to my post last week on Our transferable skills framework and digital literacy, with some help from Alan on the content (plus all the useful comments - especially Tris's natty Seven Cs of digital literacy) and Ian (our careers-adviser-who-is-also-an-occupational-psychologist) on the wording, we have come up with the following. Digital literacy is just one of nine competencies in our transferable skills framework - which is intended to be a framework that encompasses both the skills that our students need to develop and the skills employers are interested in. It's not final yet but it is much closer to what I'm looking for. Any comments would be gratefully received

Uses email appropriately and effectively

Understands and uses the range of email functionality and demonstrates positive email etiquette. For example when to use ‘Cc’, ‘Reply to all’, subject lines, how to manage your inbox, acknowledging received messages

Develops a range of online information acquisition strategies

Uses a range of search engines and bibliographic databases to source and cross check the authenticity of information

Uses word processing packages to format and present written work professionally

Produces professionally formatted and presented documents

Uses spreadsheet packages to process data

Understands the purpose and value of spreadsheet packages, and has grasp of core functions including inputting and sorting data, writing basic formulas, presenting data appropriately

Optimises use of presentation packages to support the development and delivery of presentations

Maximises functionality of presentation software, combined with knowledge of creating strong presentation design e.g. uses images appropriately, displays the right amount of information, clearly structures presentation, presentation engages and adds value, uses animations to enhance

Utilises online bookmarking tools to improve online productivity

Uses online bookmarking tools regularly to store, organise and retrieve information. Familiar with key bookmarking tools and functionality

Uses technology to support collaborative working

Utilises shared documents, video conferencing, screen sharing to carry out collaborative working efficiently and flexibly

Manages personal online identity

Proactively manages digital footprint to create a professional online identity to enhance professional credibility and employability

Uses a range of tele-communication technologies

At ease using various tele-communication methods, including telephone, mobile and online video conferencing tools

Manipulates images

Uses software or online resources to create, edit or utilise images for purposes of work e.g. presentations, training material, websites. Aware of copyright issues

Uses statistical software

Inputs data appropriately and running and interpreting relevant statistical analyses

Uses or creates video

Uses software or online resources to create, edit or utilise video for the purposes of work.  Aware of copyright issues.

Getting into Evernote

I've had an Evernote account (the free version) for several years now, but I've only recently started to use it more and I'm finding it really beneficial. I've always found it useful for making notes in meetings but more recently I've started to use it for book marking (so much so that it's now replaced my use of Diigo - anyone know if I can import my bookmarks?) and also project work. I use Google Docs when I'm collaborating but for just making notes and jotting down ideas Evernote I find better than Google Docs and it's a million times better than putting thoughts down in a Word.doc that I can then only access on campus. The iPad and iPhone/Android apps are really good, and audio and image support is fantastic, but what I'm finding especially helpful is the emailing to Evernote (instructions on the Evernote blog), using:
  • @ to put things in a particular notebook, and
  • # to give things a particular tag.
I've had to rename my notebooks so that it works (they need to be a continuous string of text), so mine are:
  • 01_Default
  • 02_Clippings
  • 03_MeetingNotes
  • 04_Projects
  • 05_Kids (this is where I save pictures of stuff my kids have made me)
 I've also had to hyphenate any multiple word tags for the same reason (e.g. 'social mobility' has become 'social-mobility'). But now it's working a treat and is especially useful for inbox zero.

How are you using it and do you have any suggestions?

Monday, 15 April 2013

Our transferable skills framework and digital literacy

I'm trying to get back into thinking about skills development and how our transferable skills framework can support it. We have a draft transferable skills framework identifying 9 separate competencies - one of which is 'using technology'. After a useful conversation with Alan earlier this morning (and links to a couple of his blog posts) I'm trying to get my thoughts organised.

The first step is to change the name from 'using technology' to 'digital literacy' - but then that begs the question - what is it? I've not got time to spend hours getting up to speed with the debate but I do need a much better summary of what digital literacies (for undergraduates and employees) looks like. Our transferable skills framework includes a descriptor (skills knowledge or attitude related to a particular competency - in this case 'digital literacy'), behavioural indicators (observable behaviours to provide evidence that the competency is being demonstrated) and examples of activities (inside or outside the curriculum) to develop and assess the competencies). Our framework also divides the descriptors and behavioural indicators into levels - level 1 being the more basic stuff and level 2 the more advanced.

Clearly this is work in progress but here's first very rough stab...

Things to include

  • Using email professionally - when to use Cc, Reply to all etc. how to manage your inbox
  • Using spreadsheet packages to process data - sorting, basic formulas, presenting data appropriately (could have a level 2 for this too - pivot tables)
  • Using presentation packages to support presentations - using images appropriately, displaying the right amount of information, clearly structured and easy to follow
  • Using bibliographic software to find and reference information (less employer focussed perhaps?)
  • Using technology to support collaborative working - shared documents, video conferencing, screen sharing
  • Using social media to build your networks and actively engage... (? suggestion please...)
  • Manage your online identify - not just to avoid posting things you will regret but proactively managing your digital footprint
I'd really appreciate any links to what people are using already (either in HE or graduate recruitment/development - there must be lots!) as well as comments on the above.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

AGR Development Awards 2013

Last week at the AGR Graduate Development Conference we didn't win the Preparation for work by Higher Education (single initiative) Award but we were were highly commended. Our submission was based on the 'no prep, no entry' work that we implemented for our Festival of Careers back in November. Here's a short exert from the press release.
Shortlisted for the AGR’s annual Development Awards alongside graduate employers like BskyB, National Grid, Accenture and IBM, the University was ‘highly commended’ for its pioneering ‘no prep, no entry’ approach and the support it delivered to almost 4,000 students in a five week period.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Systems thinking needs time

(Click for source)
I seem to have a love/hate relationship with systems thinking. I love the potential that it has to help us redesign our services around the needs of our students but I'm hating the amount of time it's taking. 'Hate' is too strong a word but it does take a lot of time and that is something I don't have at the moment. Having said that, I'm convinced that it can help us do things better, I just need to stick with it and calve out some more time. Related to this I had some advice from Systems-Thinking-Pete the other week and he said I could blog it, so here goes.

You should try to dedicate time to study the system

The more time you devote to study the quicker we get there. Because it’s about a different way of thinking you won’t get to the same place if you rely on other people to uncover and present back to you. Also consider who else you might want to co-opt to get involved (it’s always better to have staff closest to the work who understand how things really operate involved in the team).

Be clear about when you’re studying and when you’re operational

This is best served by you blocking out time rather than having meetings to review progress. Also ties in with the first item about dedicating time to study.

Don’t mix the two i.e. tamper whilst you’re studying

I understand the urge to improve based on what you find whilst you’re studying and I’m not saying that you mustn’t do this. However until you’ve been through the journey you may not know what is right to fix and what is knee jerk reaction. It is also harder to study a moving system, blurs the distinction between when you’re studying the system and when you’re operational and impedes what we want to get out of the systems thinking exercise (because systems thinking helps to develop a completely different and opposing way of thinking to a traditional approach and there’s no middle ground).

Be clear about the system you’re studying and purpose of that system

Studying the Career Development Service as a whole with a purpose of ‘help me get the graduate job or further study that I want’ is fine. Excluding the Curriculum aspect to this to focus on the responsive side of what you do for the time being I think is fine and doesn’t change the purpose of the system. In fact it will give you clues as to how well the Curriculum programme is working.

Make the learning that you are getting from this visible

Whilst we may want to re-jig some of we’re capturing making what we’re discovering visible on your wall is a positive development. If you want to tidy or re-jig any materials (or need to use your whiteboard again) then that’s fine but do keep the original content just in case…

In terms of structuring the content you might want to think about:
  • System description - ‘provision of responsive Careers Service offerings’
  • Customers - Current student
  • Purpose - ‘help me get the graduate job or further study that I want’
  • Scope - describe anything we’re not looking at
The above stuff should be fairly static whilst the following will evolve:
  • Demand Analysis - type and frequency of demand (by category), value/failure, resolution etc
  • What Matters and Measures - description and data
  • Flow (as and when) - we’ll worry about this later
  • Current Operating Principles i.e. in the current system it is ok (or not ok) to…..
  • Anecdotal Evidence - things people might have said etc
  • Issues/things to look at - anything that crops up or things that occur to us that we should look at
  • Learning – focus on the things that have surprised you

Good advice. Now all I need to do is do it...

Friday, 1 March 2013

Making a success of the HEAR conference

On Wednesday I was at the joint AGCAS/CRA conference on Making a success of the HEAR. In case you don't know, this is what HEAR is:
The Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) provides a single comprehensive record of a learner’s achievement, as recommended by the Measuring and Recording Student Achievement Steering Group in the Beyond the Honours Degree – the Burgess Group Final Report (October 2007).
And this is what the HEAR s supposed to do:
The HEAR enables institutions to provide a detailed picture of student achievement throughout a students’ time at university, including academic work, extra-curricular activities, prizes and employability awards, voluntary work and offices held in student union clubs and societies that have been verified by the institution. 
The event was pitched to:
  • Review the implementation of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) in UK HE.
  • Consider how the HEAR, and the processes that underpin it, can contribute to the development of student employability.
  • Receive an up-to-date account of employer engagement with the HEAR led by AGR.
  • Have the opportunity to consider how careers services may take a leading role in this development.
Zara has already blogged about it as a 2-parter (part 1 and part 2 definitely worth reading for more detail) so all I want to do is note down a few quick observations using the event objectives.

Review the implementation of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) in UK HE.

The project has been running for a long time (10 years) and implementation is, so far, patchy. Whilst the case study instituions have clearly done some good work, I was surprised that they weren't further along than they are. At least there is now a website ( and when you put HEAR into Google it appears near the top (it's been difficult to find up to now).

Consider how the HEAR, and the processes that underpin it, can contribute to the development of student employability.

The focus by most early adopters seems to have been on the process of recording details of programme contents, results gained and the overall classification (sections 4.1 and 4.2) - a process governed by the Registry function of institutions. Deena Ingham from the University of Bedfordshire gave an excellent workshop on how the University of Bedfordshire is engaging with the HEAR, in particular the work she has done on breaking down the academic jargon so that employers (and students) can better appreciate what courses are about - starting with the course titles, then 'graduate impact statements', then module titles, then assessment methods. I need to mull this over more to get my head around how it fits with the identifying employability in the curriculum stuff that I started a while ago.

The more obvious area of focus regarding student employability has been section 6.1, which is the bit where all the other stuff gets recorded - student achievements, additional awards, volunteering etc. - verified by the institution. It's that last bit, "verified by the institution" that's difficult. I don't think anyone has got a really good process or system for doing this yet, at least not at scale. and it certainly needs more work.

Receive an up-to-date account of employer engagement with the HEAR led by AGR.

This was the best bit for me. Jane Clark (seconded from Barclays to the AGR to work on this) gave an update on her excellent work on engaging employers with the HEAR. I was particularly pleased to see it connected to the potential social mobility benefits. AGR has produced some useful publications for employers (HEAR the whole story: your Higher Education Achievement Report toolkit and Don't miss out on the best: your guide to social mobility in recruitment. Unfortunately these don't seem to be on the AGR website yet so here's a photo of a useful page (Top ten reasons why you [employers] should support the HEAR and Key misconceptions and why they're wrong.

Have the opportunity to consider how careers services may take a leading role in this development.

Perhaps I shouldn't say this but this was the most disappointing bit for me. Marc Lintern did an excellent job of presenting back the results of the AGCAS Heads of Careers Services survey but the responses were somewhat lukewarm. Clearly there are obstables to overcome in terms of employer uptake, but careers services and universities really need to get behind this if it's going to work, and if it helps with social mobility that's got to be a good thing.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

How to do the cunning plan

After my slightly tongue-in-cheek Cunning plan post last week I've been mulling it over and think it might actually have some legs. The question is how to do it; how to move students from unrealistic to realistic and unfocussed to focused in their approach to careers and employability. As a Service we are doing lots on this already but I'm just wondering (thanks for the encouragement, Andy) if the model will help students understand what we are trying to do (I'm sure there are models like this in careers theory already, I just haven't read any, so I'm making my own up to help me think it through).

I mentioned that we need to be 'careful not to discourage ambition' and I think that's all about starting early. You can be as ambitious as you like as long as you start early preparing for it. Ashely Hever quoted Paul Redmond in a tweet last week saying that "first year is the new final year at university", and I think he's onto something there.


This is where advice and guidance is really important - helping people figure out what they are suited to and what they would like to do. During a student's first year it's not unusual for them to be very unsure about what they want to do, and in the first year this is fine. There are loads of opportunities to try things out and figure out what a person likes and is suited to. It's only a problem when someone is in their final year and they are filling in applications to be a teacher, a police officer, an accountant and apply for postgraduate study all at the same time because they don't know what they want to do (you need a back up but you need to have some clue as well!).


If someone comes to us at the beginning of their first year and says they want to be an investment banker, that's fine too (as long as they are doing a relevant degree - you have to start even earlier to get that bit right). We'll probably advise them to join the Traders and Investors Society, get some relevant work experience during their vacations, aim to get a relevant internship between their second and third year, that kind of thing. If they come to us in their final year and say they want to be an investment banker and they've done nothing that's relevant up to that point (this happens), then we have a problem.

So, this is just a brain dump for me to come back to and a chance to get some comments from others to check my understanding...

Monday, 18 February 2013

I need some systems thinking advice

I've been thinking a lot about systems thinking in the last three weeks or so but after:
...I've hit a brick wall.

I mentioned in my very first systems thinking post that I thought that our system was more complicated than the case studies I heard about at the conference; now I'm convinced this is the case. The value steps of the distance learning administration case study (UoL login only) were "I enquire, I apply, I pay and register, I study, I am awarded and graduate" - but the support the Career Development Service provides to students doesn't fit into to a tidy little process. Perhaps I'll be proved wrong and after finally getting through 'Check' (it's taking us forever) we'll have a tidy little series of value steps, but I doubt it.

Systems thinking seems to lend itself to processes (see Who's using it? in UoL). At the conference the examples were definable processes; the breakout sessions were about expenses, maintenance and DL administration, and the keynote (UoL login only) was about selling insurance; but I don't think what we do can be boiled down to a process. Our 'process' is more akin to the 'I study' step of the DL administration example, i.e. a one to four year period where lots of stuff happens, much (most) of it requiring students to learn and develop independently, and that seems to me to be far too messy and unpredictable to be summarised in as a series of value steps. 'Help me get the graduate job or further study that I want' is always going to be more complicated than 'make me a student' or 'make me an employee'.

How far we can get with this depends on whether or not it will be worthwhile concentrating on just narrow aspects of our system, which we could then (potentially) patchwork together. This is what we had planned to do originally in order to keep things simple (starting with student appointments in the Hub) but then we realised that what was going on in the Hub couldn't be considered independently of what was going on elsewhere. I think it could work with our Leicester Award programmes because I imagine they can be boiled down to a relatively simple series of value steps similar to those identified for DL administration, but I'm struggling to see how we can pull this together across all our areas of our activity.

So I'm completely stuck. And I think the reason I'm stuck is that what we do isn't a simple process. I'm committed to getting this working but I'm struggling to get it any further unless we really narrow the focus.

Can anyone give me some advice? Or point me in the direction of some messier, non-process based case studies? What am I missing?

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Our cunning plan

Students who are focussed in their job search strategies and realistic in matching their skills and experience to the kind of role they are applying for are more likely to get a role (though we need to be careful not to discourage ambition). So we're trying to shift students from unfocussed and/or unrealistic to focussed and realistic. Then it's a much smaller step to a graduate role.

Are our students modifying their behaviour to fit our system?

Image by Ben Oh
I think the penny is beginning to drop. Slowly.

I had a systems thinking conversation with Kim yesterday and we both realised something. I blogged last week about the fact that we have been coding our demand data too early and so the help desk have been unintentionally squeezing demand data into our categories that the demand may not necessarily fit. For example, a student might come into The Hub and say "I'd like help with my CV" and we might hear this as (and categorise it as) "I want an appointment", which may not be what they actually want (they might just want a link to a web page that can help them or they may just want someone to check something quickly or it may be that the help desk can answer their query directly). This I got last week.

What I only got yesterday, however, is that students may actually be modifying their behaviour and language to fit with our systems. So they may come in and actually say "Can I have an appointment" because that's how they understand us to be set up to help them, when they might actually mean "I need help with an assessment centre that I have next week", which might be a demand that could be met by us via a workshop that we are running or a web page or a quick chat with someone - but not necessarily an appointment. We are therefore now recording the demand in more detail - not just in their own words (this bit we started doing last week) but checking what they actually mean by, for example, if they ask for an appointment asking them why they want one. Kim is then going to categorise the data from this before we have a meeting with the very helpful Systems Thinking Pete.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Leicester students starting their job search early

A colleague has just pointed out to me this article in The Telegraph from last month: Students look for jobs 'much earlier' in university career, based on Early Career Focus survey from The Telegraph article says:
The survey carried out by found that more than one-in-five students at British universities now look for graduate jobs before their final year of university, in stark contrast with just one-in-20 in 2002. 
The article says that this is due to 2 reasons:
  1. Students are becoming more career-minded
  2. Top companies are approaching students earlier
And second on the list, with 56% of students starting their career search before final year is... University of Leicester, which is heartening.

We know that early engagement is key and we are putting in a lot of work to get students to start thinking about careers and employability from the first year. Perhaps it's beginning to pay off.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Using pivot tables to analyse data

I know I'm late to the party as far as pivot tables are concerned but I've been meaning to blog about this for a while (and now I'm back on a blogging role). We started using TARGETconnect back in September (as far as our students are concerned it's called MyCareers) after integrating it with our student record system over the summer. We're very pleased with what it does on the whole the reporting is limited; until we discovered pivot tables that is. For a few days I faffed around with COUNTIF functions and then realised that this is what pivot tables are made for. So after having a 10 minute tutorial with Laura - Matt, Gareth, Andy and I are massive pivot table fans! Here's a quick Screenr.


Apparently being frustrated is a normal part of the systems thinking process, which is good because that means I'm doing really well. After collecting demand in the Hub for 2 months it turns out we're doing it wrong and need to start again. I'm keen to get this right so with Kim, Nusrat and Matt's help we're starting again. It's not completely wasted (we have learned some things from it) but it's not authentic enough to draw any definitive conclusions from. Our systems thinking colleague (who is genuinely very helpful) has pointed out that we were coding the data too early and the help desk were (through no fault of their own) squeezing the demand into our categories and subcategories rather than accurately recording it in the customer's own words. This I get, and like I said, we're determined to get it right, so we're starting the process again. This time we aren't getting the help desk to categorise but simply getting them to record the following information a spread sheet:

  • ID number
  • date
  • time
  • method (face to face, email, phone)
  • who (student, staff, employer)
  • demand (verbatim - or as good as)
  • our response
  • whether this was us solving it, passing it on (to someone else) or passing it back (to the customer)

We've also realised we need to collect demand at all points of transaction simultaneously - previously we had hoped to keep things simple by getting the collection right in the Hub first and only then rolling it out to other parts of the Service. Instead we're now going to try and collect it in all parts of the Service at once, at least the ones that are customer (student) facing, so that's all staff involved in:

  • the Hub
  • appointments (guidance and feedback)
  • experience related activity - volunteering, Leicester Award, internships, enterprise, internships and Unitemps

Other points of contact are the curriculum (although that's mostly staff contact) and employers (employer contact), so we're going to leave those be for a while. Also, given the pressures on the Service at the moment we're just going to start with volunteering and Leicester Award (although I haven't told them this yet!) - this will involve all staff in these teams collecting demand for a couple of weeks. Once this is done we'll sit down with our systems thinking colleague again and properly analyse the demand.

So it feels a bit like we're going round in circles but unless we get this beginning bit right we'll be working off skewed data. So far we're still on stage 2 of check - so plenty more still to do. I did ask when the frustration stops and it feels like we're making progress - there's no definitive answer to this but I hope it's soon! One thing that's obvious is that whilst we're not lacking enthusiasm (although, to be honest, that does wane occasionally) we are lacking expertise. In principle the approach is simple, but in practise its easy to get it wrong and end up barking up the wrong tree.

Onward and upward!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013 pages

I've been meaning to blog about this (and a lot of other things besides) for a while. If you've not yet got an page I think you should. My first reaction when I saw it was "why would I need one of those?", but having used it for a while I think it's really useful. I've had mine for about a year now and I started putting it on my work signature about 6 months ago. I used to put my blog URL on my signature but since I've been blogging less that was looking a little redundant. I know colleagues that put their twitter address (bit risky) or their LinkedIn address (bit boring) on their signatures, but seems like a good alternative. You can create a good looking page very easily (not that mine's great yet) pulling together all your social networks into one place. You can see mine here, and if I wasn't using a dynamic views template on Blogger I could embed it in this post or on a page or in the layout. There's a really good iPhone app too (hurry up with the Android one!).

I really like the way you can pull in loads of different pages into one space and get a really neat preview on the page (although does anyone else find that the Twitter and Blogger previews aren't quite up to date?). I've not added my Facebook page because it says "Adding Facebook will allow visitors to your page to see all of your recent friends, photos, and status updates, even if they have limited access on Facebook". Which I don't want, but I have added Twitter, Blogger, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+ (although you do need to be a bit careful about bringing everything together in one place).

I was reminded about all this yesterday when I (along with every other user on the planet) got an email update about them going independant again (AOL bought them out a few years ago) In the email they describe their commitment to be "the best personal identity service on the web", which they may well be.

Stuart Johnson
Deputy Director
Career Development Service
University of Leicester

Friday, 1 February 2013

Systems thinking next steps

I feel like I'm going round in circles.

A quick brain dump following a couple of systems thinking meetings, including one with the Systems Thinking Intervention Manager and one with my boss and 4 other members of the team.
  • We've revised (and hopefully finalised, our purpose - "Help me get the graduate work or further study that I want" (the '"that I want" bit is quite brave - we might revisit that bit)
  • We need to think about data that we have to verify our assumption that students who engage with us early are more likely to gain graduate work or graduate study
  • As part of our demand capture we need to record actions taken and whether or not the demand was 'one stop', 'passed' on' or 'passed back'
  • We need to be careful that our codifying of data doesn't loose the richness and need to be particularly careful to ensure that demand is captured in the customer's own words (not our interpretation to fit our neat categories)
  • We need to look at the last 2 months of demand capture more carefully to infer what matters to customers and therefore determine what we should measure
  • We need to get the whole team on board with this
More to follow - I bet you're finding this fascinating

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Systems thinking summary - check, plan, do

I've just found this helpful summary of what systems thinking is and I've copied and pasted it below. You can find the original on the University's system thinking pages, there are also some pages on containing information and resources from last week's Why systems thinking conference (that I blogged about here).

We've done 1 and 2 of check but there's still plenty more to (plan and) do...


This involves the following stages:
  1. Identifying purpose of the system (e.g. admissions) from the student's perspective ('Make me a student')
  2. Analysing demand, e.g. value demand - 'I want to find out more about a course' and failure demand - 'I can't apply online', to identify what matters to the student
  3. Looking at our capability to respond to that demand
  4. Studying the flow of work; identifying value work and wasted work (e.g. duplication, handoffs)
  5. Identify what are the system conditions which prevent us from doing value work (e.g. process design, IT system, training)
  6. Look at the thinking behind the system conditions


This includes:
  1. Identifying the value steps (against what matters to a student)
  2. Identifying new operating principles and measures


This involves an experiment. The team who did the check will take a small number of students out of the current system, and using the newly identified operating principles will try and test new ways of working, solving problems along the way. The experiment allows a clean flow of work to be established. More will be rolled into the experiment and tried and tested. The experiment allows us to be clear about what capacity is required for a new way of working, what resources, roles and structures. At this point decisions are made about further roll-in.

Saturday, 26 January 2013


Systems thinking requires you to define the purpose of the service in the customers own words. Here's my attempt at refining our original stab.
"Advise and support me to develop the skills and experience I need to gain graduate work or study"


We've now simplified the purpose to:
"Help me get the graduate work or further study that I want" 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Quick reflections on yesterday's system's thinking conference

This is one of those 'notes to self' posts rather than something for the benefit of anyone else (although comments still very welcome). I really need to start to organise my thoughts more on systems thinking and I'd also like to get back into the blogging habit. So here are my quick reflections on the University of Leicester's Why systems thinking conference that took place yesterday, particularly in relation to what we need to in the Career Development Service.
  • We need to pull in systems thinking expertise (there are now two members of staff in Corporate Service whose roll is to act as internal consultants).
  • I think that our system is more complicated than the case studies I heard about in one of the sessions on distance learning (though I may be wrong). The case study involved a team of less than two FTEs, they were able to pull in a eight people for the initial 'check' stage over a six week period, and the flow seemed relatively simple (I enquire, I apply, I pay, I study, I graduate).
  • As a Service we need to devote more time to this (demand analysis in the hub has been running now since the end of November last year and is now begin recorded and categorised routinely). The next stages, I think, are to review the demand on a regular basis and also to establish what our 'flow' is.
  • We also need to re-establish our purpose in the customers own words and more precisely. Perhaps: "work with me to gain the advice, experience, skills and opportunities I need to gain a graduate job or graduate study" (something like that).
  • Resolve how employers and staff fit into the system.
  • Also need to figure out how to capture demand at all points of transaction, not just the hub (Unitemps, TARGETconnect, individual staff etc.).
  • Need regular and cumulative reviews of demand in order to identify what  is normal variation in the system and what are the genuine peaks that need addressing (need to be careful not to just tamper with the system).
And if we can do all that we'll be laughing! I think I might second myself to the project. And I really must finish reading that book!