Can Digital Education Help with Career Development?

The internet has changed the way we manage our careers, particularly with regards finding specific career information and jobs, but also in managing our careers longer term.   This post summaries a useful  paper entitled 'Building online employability: a guide for academic departments (Longridge, D., Hooley, T. & Staunton, T. (2013).), which looks at the opportunities the digital world offers in terms of career management, and suggests how 'digital career skills' can be taught to ensure that individuals are in a position to make the best use of the information, resources and tools available.

 The paper mainly focuses on how this type of information can be taught within universities but I would suggest this way of thinking could be adopted at all stages of education, including adult, to ensure that those who chose not to go on to Higher Education (or did not have the opportunity for one reason or another) can also make best use of what is available and to help aid social mobility.

The authors suggest that there are four key ways of using the internet for career development:

  1. To find general career information. For example vacancies, job descriptions, information about different sectors and companies, career pathways that can develop from any given job, how to create vital tools such as CV's and cover letter's, interview tips, where the best job opportunities may lie in the future (for example place and sector). As the paper points out, it may be easy to search for and find a lot of this but there is a skill in asking questions of, understanding and interpreting the most useful of the vast amounts of information the internet has to offer.
  2. As a way of interacting with employers. Students have traditionally used careers fairs and employer talks as a way of engaging with potential employers, and the wider population who may not be in education may have relied on personal contacts and the general/industry press as a way of finding out more about a company before going down the more formal route of applying through job adverts and recruitment agencies. Digital provides a whole new way in which individuals can communicate with prospective employers, create a good early impression, get an understanding about an organisation, and find out about potential job opportunities before they arise. The paper points out that although the tools are there (Linked In and Twitter for example), they are often not used to best effect. Although many people are well versed in using social media to organise their personal lives, they are not so clued up when it comes to using it to develop their work lives.
  3. A place to build and nurture a network of contacts. This links to point 2 above, in as much as social media tools allow you to build and nurture your networks online which can complement and help develop the ‘face to face ‘ connections someone may make. Networking can play a pivotal role in successful career development but this might not be something innately understood, particularly by less experienced individuals. The value of networking and tips as to how to go about it (on and offline) is something that should perhaps be taught more widely.
  4. A place to build a reputation and profile. Individuals have the opportunity to craft an online presence and build a reputation. They may use social media and blogs to demonstrate an interest or level of competence in a given subject. This can be designed to catch the attention of certain organisations and individuals which can sometimes give people a head start when entering a formal job application process.  It could even lead to the offer of a job before it is even advertised.  Certainly it gives individuals a chance to start a dialogue with a target industry.  As in point 3 the techniques for crafting an effective online reputation usually need to be taught, particularly as there are so many pitfalls which could lead to a negative 'digital footprint'.

The 7 C’s framework

To ensure users develop their 'digital career literacy' skills and are in a position to capitalise on these career development opportunities, the paper suggests that education support packages should be created based around what they term the '7C's' framework.  The '7C's' comprise of 'Changing, Collecting, Critiquing, Connecting, Communicating, Creating, Curating.  A fuller explanation of each can be read in the paper but in summary:

Changing – being able to adapt to an ever changing online landscape and learn how to use new tools/technologies as they emerge

Collecting – how to find useful, relevant information

Critiquing – being able to assess how credible an information source is

Connecting – understanding how to build online relationships and networks

Communicating – how to communicate professionally across all available online platforms

Creating – creating content that represents you in an appropriate manner such as work history, interests, areas of ‘expertise’

Curating – how to build and develop a positive ‘digital footprint’

Learning these digital career skills can be of great benefit  for individuals wishing to start / change and develop a career. As such, in order to create greater equality of life opportunities and social mobility, it's important that the chance to learn some or all of these skills is offered to individuals at different levels of education and from a wide variety of backgrounds.  The question is, as ever, how can this be funded and implemented in practice.  Digital technology itself (digital learning platforms available to all) is possibly one part of the answer to this. 

If anyone has any knowledge of such digital education programmes taking place then we would love to hear more about them.