Archive for the ‘disciplines’ Category

Where are the real skills shortages?

September 13th, 2013 by Graham Attwell

The debate over skills shortages is looming again. For some years national governments and the European Commission have been warning over shortages of qualified workers in Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) . Yet a number of studies refute these claims.

A blog post on SmartPlanet quotes Robert Charette who, writing in IEEE Spectrum,  says that despite the hand wringing, “there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs.” He points to a study by the Economic Policy Institute that found that wages for U.S. IT and mathematics-related professionals have not grown appreciably over the past decade, and that they, too, have had difficulty finding jobs in the past five years. He lists a number of studies that refute the presence of a global STEM skills shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for one, estimates that there was a net loss of  370 000 science and engineering jobs in the U.S. in 2011.

I doubt that figures in Europe would be much different. One of the issues is how to define a ‘STEM” job. In the UK jobs are classified through a system called Standard Occupational Classification. This itself has its problems. Given the desire for comparability, SOC is only updated every ten years (the last was in 2010). In a time of fast changing occupations, it is inevitably out of date. Furthermore jobs are classified to four digits. This is simply not deep enough to deal with many real occupations. Even if a more detailed classification system was to be developed, present sample sizes on surveys – primarily the Labour Force Survey (LFS) would produce too few results for many occupations. And it is unlikely in the present political and financial environment that statistical agencies will be able to increase sample sizes.

But a bigger problem is linking subjects and courses to jobs. UK universities code courses according to the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS). It is pretty hard to equate JACS to SOC or even to map between them.

The bigger problem is how we relate knowledge and skills to employment. At one time a degree was seen as an academic preparation for employment. Now it is increasingly seen as a vocational course for employment in a particular field and we are attempting to map skills and competences to particular occupational profiles. That won’t really work. I doubt there is really a dire shortage of employees for STEM occupations as such. Predictions of such shortages come from industry representatives who may have a vested interest in ensuring over supply in order to keep wage rates down (more on this tomorrow). For some time now, national governments and the European Union, have had an obsession with STEM and particularly the computer industry as sources of economic competitiveness and growth and providers of employment (more to come about that, too).

However, more important may be the number of occupations which require use of mathematics or programming as part of the job. One of the problems with the present way of surveying occupational employment is that there is an assumption we all do one job. I would be pretty pushed to define what my occupation is – researcher, developer, write, journalist, project manager, company director? According to the statistics agency I can only be one. And then how the one, whichever it is, be matched to a university course. Computer programmers increasingly need advanced project management skills.  I suspect that one factor driving participation in MOOCs is that people require new skills and knowledge not acquired through their initial degrees for work purposes.

My conclusions – a) Don’t believe everything you read about skills shortages, and b) We need to ensure academic courses provide students with a wide range of skills and knowledge drawn from different disciplines, and c) We need to think in more depth about the link between education and work.

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Crowd sourcing the European foresight study: your chance to be an expert

January 20th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Here is a bit of fun. I have been invited as an ‘expert’ “to participate as an expert in a vision-building process on the future of learning aimed at assisting European policy-makers in addressing the challenges that lie ahead. This is a great opportunity for you to have an impact on European policy making and actively shaping the Future of Learning.”

The invitation continues: “Before giving you instructions on what we are asking you to do, we would like to briefly introduce the context and methodology of the study.

The context of this study
The European Commission has recently launched a foresight study on “The Future of Learning: New ways to learn new skills for future jobs”. This study intends to develop visions and scenarios on the ways in which new skills and competences will be learned in Europe in 2020-2030. The study addresses the following dimensions:
(1) Emergent skills and competences associated with future jobs
(2) New ways and practices of acquiring knowledge, skills and competences
(3) Associated changes in the roles of the participants in the learning process, i.e. learners and teachers
(4) Implications for existing Education and Training institutions, systems and policy frameworks
(5) The role of information and communication technologies in transforming and supporting creative and innovative learning
(6) Changes and challenges to assessment, certification and accreditation
(7) Implications of the envisaged changes for present policy action and support

The project team is made up of researchers from the European Commission Institute for Prospective Technology Studies (IPTS) in Seville; TNO, the applied research and technology organisation of the Netherlands; the Open University of the Netherlands; and AtticMedia, a specialist learning communications agency from London. This team will, over the next 12 months, develop a number of visions and scenarios on the future of learning and review their implications for policy making.

Your contribution to the study
As a first step in this project we would like to invite you as an expert to contribute to a vision building process using the group concept mapping method (GCM). As communicated in the invitation, you will be involved online (using e-mail) in two stages of the methodology, namely (a) individual brainstorming of ideas and (b) individual sorting and rating of ideas. In the brainstorming phase you will be asked to generate ideas about specific aspects of education of the future. This phase will typically take between 10 and 15 minutes. A week later, you will receive an aggregated list of ideas generated by all experts involved to, first, sort the statements in groups of similarity and then rate them on some scales (e.g. importance and feasibility). If you would like to know more about the GCM methodology, a short description with examples from various projects is attached to this e-mail (Concept System Introduction). Those of you familiar with the classical concept mapping approach, will probably notice substantial differences with the GCM methodology.

Please read the following instruction for the brainstorming phase of the study carefully.

Instruction to the first phase of the study
We all have the feeling that education in 20 years will have to be different from education today. Education then will possibly deal with a new set of skills and competences, new curriculums or types of curriculums, innovative ways of learning and assessment, different roles for teachers and educational institutions, different impacts of technology, just to mention a few.

1.       We ask you to generate statements about your thoughts about education in 20 years, and to do this using the following format:

One specific change of Education in 20 years will be that:”

I am not sure about my qualifications as an expert in this study, nor indeed that experts are the answers to such a study.

Anyway my somewhat esoteric list is posted below. But what do you think. Post your ideas in a reply – who knows, we might do better than the “experts”, and if enough reply I will find a way to move to stage 2 which involves the sorting and rating  of proposed changes

My ideas

  • We will recognise people for what they do rather than what qualifications they have
  • Open learning through the internet will become common
  • Learners will be expected to take control of their own learning
  • Formal learning  will become more episodic with people entering and leaving education at various points in their career path
  • Digital identities (and portfolios) will replace traditional CVs
  • Management of digital identities will become a crucial competence
  • The workplace will become a major context for learning
  • Mobile internet enabled devices will become the major tool for learning
  • Practice will become a focus for learning and will be captured through mobile devices and integrated with cloud based portfolios
  • Augmented reality applications will be a major tool for learning
  • Schooling will become a less important focus for learning as learning moves into the workplace, community and home
  • Higher education will return to its traditional core purpose of research
  • Vocational education and training become the major organisational form of learning
  • Systems and services will be developed to allow mutual peer group learning between groups of interested learners
  • Text books will be replaced by electronic multi media publications
  • Blogs and other internet based multi media will be recognised as legitimate publications for researchers
  • Multi User Virtual Environments will render physical attendance in school and university unnecessary
  • The financial crisis will lead to the increasing privatisation of universities
  • High course fees will deter many working class students from attending higher education
  • Open Educational Resources will become widely adopted
  • Virtual mobility will break down barriers between national education systems
  • There will be a lowering of the school leaving age as it is recognised that other contexts for learning may be more effective and more motivating than school
  • We will cease to rely on experts as the source of knowledge and curriculum and move towards quality based on use and endorsement through internet systems
  • Context specific learning materials and tasks will lead to more localised learning
  • Personal Learning Environments will replace institutional Virtual Learning environments
  • Occupational profiles will become broader incorporating elements of what are now seen as individual occupations
  • It will become common for people to move between occupations with learning key to supporting such moves
  • Traditional disciplinary boundaries will break down with learners pursuing individual learning programmes based on multi and inter disciplinary learning
  • Educational institutions will be reinvented as community knowledge centres serving both geographical communities and wider dispersed communities
  • Inter sector and inter subject networks of institutions will combine to form networks based on purpose and interest
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Understaning Academic Tribes (trying…)

December 21st, 2009 by Cristina Costa
Academic Tribes and Territories, Intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines by Tony Becher and Paul R. Trowler [Random thoughts about texts I have been reading. Please notice that I am still trying to make sense of this all and therefore welcome your critical comments. I am sure they will help me look at the topic [...]
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    The gap between poor students and their more affluent peers attending university has widened to its largest point for 12 years, according to data published by the Department for Education (DfE).

    Better-off pupils are significantly more likely to go to university than their more disadvantaged peers. And the gap between the two groups – 18.8 percentage points – is the widest it’s been since 2006/07.

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    Graduate Jobs

    As reported by WONKHE, a survey of 1,200 final year students conducted by Prospects in the UK found that 29 per cent have lost their jobs, and 26 per cent have lost internships, while 28 per cent have had their graduate job offer deferred or rescinded. 47 per cent of finalists are considering postgraduate study, and 29 per cent are considering making a career change. Not surprisingly, the majority feel negative about their future careers, with 83 per cent reporting a loss of motivation and 82 per cent saying they feel disconnected from employers

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