Now I have delivered my paper at the EDiNEB conference I thought I would share the rest of it with you guys.
The conference itself was a fascinating meeting of minds and an inspiring view of the future of business education. But more about that later, for now here is the rest of the Skills Hive paper. (remember you can read the first half here).
Method – Who’s thinking different?
We all have a responsibility to support this organic evolution by helping groups affected most by unemployment to understand the opportunities and interpret their role in the new paradigm. Skills Hive is already engaging five key audiences, beyond the existing freelance community, keen to learn about what can be achieved in a more fluid working landscape.
- Undergraduates and Graduates
- Parents at Home
- Career Transitioners
- NEETs (Those not in education employment or training)
- Social Entrepreneurs
Skills Hive is a commercial business offering virtual team consultancy and project management as well as a range of publicly accessible tools through our Online Dashboard. The tools are currently free to access and we plan to make that permanent for anyone in education (freelancers will be charged a percentage of earnings).
Undergraduates and Graduates
The “catch 22” of gaining employment without experience is as much of an issue as ever. Even top degrees from the best Universities don’t guarantee a place on a graduate program any more. Competition is fierce and those who succeed tend to be those who take responsibility for their skills, understand their relevance and how transient that can be, they commit to continuous development and creating standout for their personal brand. Some get creative to get themselves noticed and secure a job with a major corporate, a few realise the benefit of generating multiple income streams as a freelancer or small business, but many more expect some guardian angel to deliver employment to them on a plate, or even worse, they don’t think about it at all. The majority need support to understand how the world of work is changing, recognise the opportunities this presents and take ownership of them. However, encouraging statistics include a 75% increase in the number of young people looking for support in starting their own business (Princes Trust 2012)
The Skills Hive system enables people to clearly communicate their personal brand identity as well as their skills, finding the right language to create relevance and resonance. It helps them think strategically about collaboration, identify the people who share their views and can help them deliver their vision, and it makes it easy to communicate what needs to be done, finding the right people for the task and measuring results.
As well as meeting a need among micro-businesses and the growing number of freelancers, it was clear that the Skills Hive tool could help academic institutions meet the demands of students and parents looking for more than just a certificate for their money.
“…over half (57%) want universities to do more to help them understand employability skills, such as customer awareness, team working and self management. And two thirds (66%) would like more support in developing these skills. (CBI Press Release 2011)
Supporting the University of Greenwich’s mission to prioritise graduate employability, enterprise, entrepreneurship and employer-engagement (E5), Skills Hive developed a model to integrate our online tools into their Personal, Professional Development (PPD) program.
The initial trial provides support for Business School students to learn about the changing face of employment, understanding the landscape and communicating their personal brand. The approach includes access to tailored lectures, ongoing support and advice, networking events involving businesses and freelancers and work experience on consulting projects. It also links the PPD program to other enterprise initiatives within the (E5) strategy, opening up the relationship further between students and London businesses.
Presenting the Opportunity
To start with it was important to introduce some new ideas but in a familiar setting. To this end we created a 1 hour presentation/lecture that could easily be incorporated into the PPD schedule. Starting in October 2012, I stood in front of 50-100 students at a time to begin to explain how they might take advantage of the emerging opportunities presented by the current instability in traditional employment. How they could be early adopters of the paradigm which allows them to test their skills while they study, engaging smaller businesses and gaining paid work experience on a short term project basis.
As a group, we considered the move away from a “Job For Life” mentality and agreed that security is something you create for yourself. Many students offered up their own insights and experiences to the group outlining the journeys they expect to take into the careers they have chosen. Interestingly these varied from those already looking at starting businesses to others with specific corporate employers in mind, others were not yet considering the options or had an unrealistic or limiting view of the landscape.
Considering the number of Skills Hive profiles created following the initial PPD lectures an encouraging number of students were inspired to take control and become (in Dr James Bellini’s terms) Marketing Director’s for their personal brand. For those still not sure we have since designed workshops to take place in Employability Week that handhold groups of students through the creation of their written profile and support them in the development of their personal brand pitch, capturing that as video to be hosted in Skills Hive.
The online profile they generate becomes their “Shop Window” both internally for the University and externally for potential employers and collaborators. Not only this, but the format is much better suited to their “life-stage” than other tools they are also encouraged to use such as LinkedIn. Those profiles tend to be dependent on time, they reflect what you have done and who you know, collateral still lacking for graduates and undergraduates. In contrast, Skills Hive profiles are all about who you are and how you think, allowing less experienced people to clearly communicate the value they can deliver by demonstrating creative thought leadership on what is happening in business right now, where trends could be going in the future and what they, as individuals, can do to help deliver commercial growth.
Now that the profile usage is becoming more established we are working closely with the Business School to develop new elements within the PPD cycle that make “assisted reflection” even easier and help turn the insights generated into appropriate content for the profiles. A new online survey and tutor discussion tool is being developed by Skills Hive and a Social Enterprise partner that uses the CBI Employability Skills Framework to structure questions that will help translate experiences into relevant core competencies such as Problem Solving and Learning Agility. The tool also utilises a range of proven metrics such as Belbin’s Team Roles and Myers Briggs’ Psychological Preferences.
As a whole the project has provided an excellent demonstration of how teams and departments who often operate as silos can effectively work together to deliver increased value for the students and the University. One of the most impactful linkages was through the joining up of the PPD activity with the work done by the Enterprise Directorate to engage external businesses with programmes such as Flash Innovation. Once this series of funded workshops and vouchers came to an end, we formed the Skills Hive Swarm!
This event takes the form of a monthly pop-up collaboration space hosted at the Business School’s I3 centre and attended by between 20 and 30 business owners, freelancers, academics and students. By inviting this cross section of people to work out of one location for the day we have created the conditions for informal networking and discussion that allow project opportunities and collaboration to arise. As well as spawning 4 micro-business collaborations we have also secured paid project work for 3 students across the Business School Engineering Faculty and Computer Science degree courses.
Prof Chris Birch Director of Enterprise at University of Greenwich’s I3 Centre had this to say…
“In our position as champions of enterprise and innovation, it is always rewarding to see how introducing external entrepreneurial spirit can help change the way we do things in the University. People’s attitudes change and they approach opportunities and problems with a more collaborative sense of purpose. As a result we all benefit and achieve things that wouldn’t have seemed possible just a few years ago.”
Projects, Portfolios and Payment
Because the micro-businesses are looking at agile, staged business development they are more open to taking a small risk on working with a student as part of their virtual team. Asking an undergraduate to define their own value as an hourly rate and complete some research or review some marketing copy is seen as an opportunity to leverage their creative talent at the same time as giving them some valuable paid experience. Bring into the equation the fact that the individuals can be found and engaged remotely with the profile and milestone management tools embedded in the Skills Hive online system, we start to establish a model that works for everyone. Agile businesses can access skills at short notice and students can gain valuable relevant work experience they can manage around their commitment to their education.
“I joined the Graduate Internship Program but being located out in Essex reduced the opportunities for me to get work. In the end I was able to secure valuable work experience carrying out Social Media research for an SME based in Surrey, working remotely via Skills Hive. Completing the project using the task tools has helped me develop my marketable skills and I have since secured longer term employment.”
Timson Aigbe – Engineering Graduate
“I set up my profile as part of the PPD Program in the Business School and was surprised and amazed to be contacted so soon by a Social Enterprise wanting help with their web communications. Having completed the task milestones successfully and received useful feedback, I’m now looking forward to the next opportunity.”
Jade Lowe – Events Management Undergraduate
As the central point in the PPD program the Skills Hive profiles help lecturers, tutors and other academics across the institution monitor and measure progress against the key performance indicator of employability. After each stage of the PPD journey students are encouraged to update their profile to reflect what they have learned about themselves and their marketable skills. This creates hard data in terms of the fields completed and information added but also softer measures such as how well the student’s are getting to know themselves and the way they operate. All these outputs can then be cut at various levels including which seminars and workshops they attended, which tutors they worked with, their course, school, faculty etc.
“Skills Hive gives the University a way to track a range of key outputs; from the strength of students’ initial engagement with our employability agenda, to the auditing and verification of their acquisition of soft and hard skills, we can measure engagement with employers via an additional innovative and attractive platform and can maintain the relationship with alumni as they continue to benefit from paid project based work opportunities and transition into potential employers themselves. Skills Hive also provides a unique “social“ channel for tutors to communicate, interact and gather insight into their students’ employability aims and ambitions.
Matthew Housden – Senior Lecturer Marketing and Employability Lead
Results and Conclusion – Review, Refine and Repeat
Other Universities are already showing an interest in adopting the model, we are making it clear that it is adaptable to suit any institution committed to employability in the age of collaboration; as the fundamental principles of profile development, reflection, networking and collaboration are deliverable in many forms. Our work with University of Greenwich is demonstrating that students and academics alike are engaging with the tools and making them work to deliver their various objectives. While the results are still being collated as the trial activity continues, the benefits already being delivered are clear.
- Prompted reflection to understand and communicate skills – Lecture delivered to c.500 students
- Measurement of impact on employability over time via Skills Hive profiles – Over 100 registrations
- A well structured “shop window” for students to promote themselves now and after graduation
- The opportunity to complete short term tasks and projects for micro-businesses – 3 completed so far
There have been many learning points already, probably the most important is the engagement of PPD tutors to lead by example and use their own Skills Hive profiles within communications. The plan is to embed the tools fully as formative assessment within the PPD syllabus next year, following the initial success of the trial. This will ensure more comprehensive usage by both tutors and students with support from the most enthusiastic early adopters and a clear linkage with the summative assessment of achieving degree level education.
There is potential for more Universities to utilise the Skills Hive system to re-define employability and employment for undergraduates and graduates, leveraging relationships across the organisation and global industry to drive engagement and enterprise. I was asked recently what was the main purpose of a University and I answered immediately “Networking”. I met my business partner at University 20 years ago and many more commercial relationships can be enabled and nurtured based on the technology and connectivity available now. I agree with much of the thought leadership provided by Seth Godin, his recent blog post spoke at length about how the internet is creating an abundance of talent and opportunity, and I too certainly…
“…can’t wait until we return to zero percent unemployment, to a time when people with something to contribute (everyone) pick themselves instead of waiting for a bureaucrat’s permission to do important work.” (Seth’sBlog March 2013)
It would be great to hear your thoughts on any of what I have written, what don’t you agree with? What really important angles have I missed? What are you working on in this area and how can we help each other?
I will work out the best way to share the slides from my presentation, some of the video elements are being added to our facebook page so take a look