Life Skills for the Digital Age: Choosing the Right Technology

In the last few months, I have been thinking a lot about the skills and knowledge that we need for the digital age. I’m not talking about technology skills, but life skills. In his book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, author William Powers observes that every new technology both solves problems and creates new challenges. He discusses the need, now that we are increasingly connected, to learn the art of disconnecting so we can deepen our both our real life and online experiences.

Disconnecting is not the only skill that we are now being challenged to learn. After a recent podcast interview that I did with Dr. Faye Mishna on cyberbullying and then witnessing several escalating email conflicts among colleagues, I am convinced that there are several new social skills needed to effectively manage relationships in the digital age, or at least the knowledge about where and when to apply skills in these new contexts.

In my own struggles to work productively, I realize that much of what I have struggled with recently has focused on figuring out how to effectively integrate technology into my work and personal life, and how to make sure that I, not the technology, am the one making choices about how and when to be connected.

Here are some questions I have considered that relate to some of the new skills and knowledge we are each now challenged to learn:

  • What social interactions are ideal for text messaging? Chat? Email? Which are not?
  • When does an interaction need to move from a text-based platform, to one that involves voice? Images? Face to face?
  • What is appropriate to share about your workplace on your blog/Facebook/Twitter? About your life?
  • What work tasks are best completed when connected to the Internet? Disconnected?
  • How can we set up our work areas/screens so we can maximize our ability to focus?
  • What evening routines (relative to technology/electronics) promote relaxation and restful sleep?
  • What’s the right balance between technology and non-technology-based activities for free time? What combination will result a true feeling of fulfillment at the end of the day?

As I look through that list, I realize how much of what I read these days focuses on just these issues, e.g., don’t read email first thing in the morning, problems with managing conflict through email/chat/IM, research on how backlit screens disrupt sleep. We are sharing our new life management insights over Twitter, the blogosphere, and productivity books–together we are creating a new knowledge base.

However, I am also aware of how uneven the knowledge dissemination can be and how much students, colleagues, friends, family, and for those of us doing clinical practice, our clients, may vary in how much they know or have even thought about these issues. And I wonder about how kids will learn what they need to know as they negotiate the world if the adults in their lives lag behind (or dismiss) the technologies they are interacting with.

Paradoxically, at the same time our new technologies are challenging us to learn new skills, there are some very old skills that are becoming increasingly relevant. Mindfulness (being fully present in the here and now while also having awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings) is the one that most strongly comes to mind as I review our current challenges. In living mindfully, I am able to observe and learn about how my choices and habits affect me, therefore I can learn from watching myself interact with the world. Perhaps this is the skill we need to be really focusing on as well as the skill we need to teach our children.

What skills or knowledge would you add to the lists I have started?

The Employment Paradox with Technology

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I attended a workshop on accessible employment recently and was reminded, as I’ve written about before, what a fraught topic employment is these days — for anyone, let alone those with access needs.

As welfare states come crashing down around the (western) world, the demand for employment and requirement to be employed increase. New Zealand’s welfare lexicon has changed from “beneficiary” to the default “jobseeker”.

Meanwhile industry and technology improves, meaning more machines, computers and robots do more and more jobs for us. I mean, that has been the whole idea of industrial and technological revolutions, hasn’t it? To decrease the need for humans to do stuff.

But, it’s like the world hasn’t quite caught up with itself. There are fewer things to do, but more pressure than ever for us to be gainfully employed. It’s all a bit Stupid, with a capital S, as Bernard Keane and Helen Razer might ubiquitously insist.

UK Research exploring “the future of work and how jobs, and the skills needed in the workplace, will change by 2030”, gives the following key messages:

  1. Technological growth and expansion: As digitalisation grows, we can expect a significant impact on employment and skills in the decades ahead, at all levels and in all sectors.
  2. Interconnectivity and collaboration: Work in the future will be more interconnected and network oriented.
  3. Convergence of innovation: We can expect more and more innovations to take place at the borders of disciplines and sectors.
  4. Increased individual responsibility: International competition and technological development is likely to continue to increase the flexibility that employers demand from their employees.
  5. The shrinking middle: The shrinking middle will challenge the workforce. The high-skilled minority (characterised by their creativity, analytical and problem solving capabilities and communication skills) will have strong bargaining power in the labour market, whilst the low-skilled will bear the brunt of the drive for flexibility and cost reduction, resulting in growing inequality.
  6. The four-generational (4G) workplace: The future workplace will be multi-generational, with four generations working side-by-side. Traditional notions of hierarchy and seniority will become less important.

(Key findings, The future of work: jobs and skills in 2030, UK Commission for Employment and Skills, p24-25)

If the world’s idea of employment were an ostrich, its entirety is well buried in sand, not just its head. We’re hardly thinking about these things — and we are far from conversing about them. Things like:

  • What happens when up-to-the-moment digital literacy is a pre-requisite for employment, given its exponential speed of development?
  • What factors influence who has access to interconnectivity and network orientation?
  • How are we encouraging innovations between disciplines and sectors?
  • What does increased employee responsibility look like?
  • If the high-skilled minority out-bargains the low-skilled majority, what becomes of “jobseekers”, who are out-bid before their seeking begins? After all, to seek successfully, one must also be sought.
  • How is the education system preparing school leavers to manage and lead people of their parents’ and grandparents’ ages? And how are employers preparing for this somersault?

These questions are fascinating to me, but I’m fairly sure they terrify many. But we’ve got to start using them to lead our conversations about employment in the future.

Quite simply the question, “How do more people become employed?” is not an adequate level of inquiry anymore. To meet the huge diversity, complexity and change that is ‘careering’ towards us in the next 15 years, we need to be asking, “What is employment becoming?” and “Who are the employees and employers of the future?”

But, most importantly, we need to grapple with this one: “What will become the valued, dignified alternatives to employment?” Because there will be more and more people, with and without access needs, seeking them out.

Realities of What a Traumatised Teen Might Have on Their Resume

Recently on a cloudy August morning, I was simultaneously texting a young person to see if they were okay after collecting their exam results the day before, whilst also putting together a resume for another youngster who had been struggling due to being excluded from school a few years ago.

I found myself getting quite upset on their behalf as they are both bright, remarkable young people who have survived abuse and trauma many of us cannot imagine. Yet, the same survival instincts and coping strategies their brain and body had to learn in order to survive has been what ultimately made accessing their education a very real challenge.

As it turned out, the exam results were not good according to ‘national standards’ and the resume proved tricky given the permanent school exclusion and the lack of understanding from the young person about what had led up to it. So, whilst putting the resume together with her, I got the urge to write a ‘real’ resume, so we can all understand and value these young people’s achievements and their life and work experience.

Key Skills

Keeping myself and my brother and sisters safe

Comforting a distressed and depressed parent

Keeping things secret to protect my parents

Knowing when to run or keep very still

Knowing how to hide evidence of living with alcoholic parent

Being able to read signs that trouble is coming

Caring about and for someone who scares me daily

Working hard to keep opinions and feelings to myself

Work Experience

Regularly clearing up broken glass and spilt food

Keeping a scary parent happy and a scared parent safe

Repeatedly getting self and siblings to school every day despite being awake most of the night

Helping drunk parent to bed

Ringing emergency services and securing assistance

Regular storytelling to keep things hidden

Qualifications in:

Self-preservation

Self-care

Protecting others

Detection of mood changes

Cleaning and clearing

High levels of discretion

Ducking and diving

No one would want a resume like this, but it is very sadly the reality for too many young people in the care and child protection system. Yet, they still have hopes and dreams despite their traumatic early years.

As professionals and society, we need to understand their journey fully, see them and advocate for them in the context of their achievements, courage and resourcefulness. We must help them identify their qualities, skills and tenacity, and how it will serve them on their onward journey.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnFcLspckus

How Being an Innovator Will Get You a Job

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There is no getting around it, you need to stand out in some way to get a job these days. More importantly, you need to network. Both of those things require you do something different from your peers in order to stand out. Most people will read this and say, “I don’t have time (insert excuse) to be creative in order to get a job.”

Well sit down and listen to a story my friend, a tale of wonder and excitement. After all, the internet is a space of excitement and wonder. Right?

Be Different

What does that mean? It means do things that your peers don’t and do them well. This could mean showing how unrelated skills could transfer into the workplace. Most people have hobbies, and surprisingly enough almost all those hobbies are useful.

First, make a list of the things you can do, and I mean everything, right down to annoying popping noise with your mouth that drives your friends and family nuts.

Second, cross everything off the list you believe is common in your peers’ skill sets.

Now, you have isolated the skills you have to choose from to help make yourself stand out.

Pick a Skill

Now that you have your list of skills, pick one. Does it needs to be applicable to your field? Here is an example:

I know how to use a video camera, I can edit and interview. I used these skills to volunteer for an organization that later hired me for that skill as well as the skills all my peers have. You get the idea?

Your skill needs to be useful to your prospective employer, you need to be skilled enough in it. However, you may want to keep any quirky and weirdness at a healthy dosage.

Let’s say you wanted to be an administrator of a program at a nonprofit that serves the homeless. Your skills are:

  • Cake decorating
  • Computer Programming
  • Yoga

Write down how these skills set translate into how you would use them on the job. It might look something like this.

Cake decorating

  • Aesthetically pleasing food
  • Creative in Art design and graphics
  • Help with visually appealing presentations and event planning
  • Can teach career skills to volunteers and clients

You get the idea right? Now you should do the other two.

Cultivate that skill

This is the hard part! You need to make this skill seem useful to the organization you want to work for. This might involve volunteering for them, attending events they maybe at, running your own events, or just creating a website that showcases the skill.

Then you need to tie it in! Take my own example, I used my skills and volunteered. Soon, people at the job were asking why I didn’t apply for a position there, and I eventually was hired.

By cultivating skills and volunteering, you can show work ethic, create connections, and most of all provide something useful to the organization.

It may not work 100% of the time, but it did work for me and many others I know. Also, using this approach may help you improve yourself while looking for a job. This one goes out to all the new graduates still looking for jobs and those just starting school. Now go out there and do something interesting. You think I am kidding right? I am sure this is your face right now.

If you are stuck, you can post your skills in the comments below, and myself along with the community can help you figure out how to use your skills.

Fundraising: The Skill that Stands Out

Students and college graduates across the country know that finding a job, and especially finding a job you like, can be a taxing and difficult process. The problem is the competitiveness of the job markets can put stress and limitations on the opportunities students can obtain. In addition, the social welfare field has strains such as limited job opening, overwhelming responsibilities, and not enough financial resources. Social work students work hard to obtain the necessary qualifications to get that perfect job come graduation. We as students are trying to figure out what experiences and skills are going to attract potential employers and stand out over our competition. One of the most valuable skills that any student looking to go into the human services field should learn is fundraising.

fundraisingFirst, it is important to clarify what fundraising is and the benefits from it. If you think fundraising is simply raising funds, then you do not fully understand it. Many students and professionals dislike fundraising because they are not comfortable asking for money or do not think it is important. Well I do agree that our society sometimes has an unhealthy relationship with money and wealth, fundraising is not just about the money. Fundraising is developing relationships with community members to obtain the necessary support for your organization.

I absolutely love fundraising. My social work cohort does not completely understand why, but I love it. I get the opportunity to connect with various community members, build relationships, and then offer the opportunity that is mutually beneficial. There are opportunities to help businesses market their brand, foundations impact the community, individuals feel a sense of reward, and communities feel the difference they are making. Fundraising has more purposes than making revenue, thus making it a vital skill for many organizations.

Fundraising has been a low priority for many human service agencies since the majority of funding can come from government grants or insurance reimbursements. Even though the amount of money from fundraising initiatives may be a small percentage of the total organizational revenue, it is still important to put effort into it, but could be hard to financial restraints. If social workers knew how to fundraise as well as provide direct care, they become a double asset for their agency. Even if their primary job is providing services, assisting the development team with initiatives can be have a huge impact for the agency. Program staffs that know how to fundraise are valuable and highly honored by nonprofit professionals. Program staffs also have a stronger connection to the agency that fundraising staff at times, making their contributions stronger.

As students, we have the opportunity to expand beyond our roles at times and assist in fundraising efforts. While we volunteer for special events or campaigns, we also develop important skills that will benefit us in our career paths. Fundraising is a valuable skill to know and social work students interested in the nonprofit world should explore options to learn more about it. I am currently a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Afpnet.org) and it is a great resource for professional fundraisers. I recommend looking into programs provided by the local chapter, or any other professional resources that will help develop necessary fundraising skills. Taking a course while in school or attending some training programs can be payoff as well. Learning to fundraise and learning to enjoy it will make a student stand out.

Education and Training Versus Experiential Learning

Having recently spent the weekend co-facilitating a leadership programme and then attending a job interview for a part-time communications position at a high-profile charitable organisation, I find myself reflecting on how much I do and have done that I haven’t actually been educated or trained to do.

I began learning to facilitate about twenty to 25 years ago, using my counselling training — communicating through questioning and reflective listening one on one — and applying it to a group situation. The process maps almost seamlessly — all that changes is the content, from an emphasis on personal issues and feelings to social issues and opinions (though feelings also often feature predominantly as well).

1176923_50609724When deciding to apply for the communications role I realised that, though not specifically, communications has featured in just about every role I’ve undertaken to date, but I’ve never trained in media or communications. From managing publications for the Human Rights Commission in the mid-90s, to promoting myself as a comedian, to writing and managing several blogs and websites for Diversity New Zealand and Diversityworks Trust, I’ve done it all, from traditional media releases to social media and networking.

The only other formal education and training I’ve  engaged in was school in the 70s and 80s, followed by two years of social work training in the early 90s.

Of course being self-employed builds the muscle for self-directed learning — anyone who has run a small business, particularly one that’s service-related, knows that you say, “Yeah, I can do that,” first and work out how to do it later.

Furthermore, particularly in the last decade or so of the internet’s existence, there’s probably not a single professional skill or attribute that hasn’t been blogged, tweeted, Facebooked or YouTubed about — and the twenty or thirty different ways of doing it.

Which brings me to the point I want to make. Formal education and training often focuses on only one or two “right” knowledge and ways of doing things, whereas experiential learning clearly highlights there is no single “right” information or way to do anything.

I’m not advocating against formal education and training — my schooling, counselling and social work training have served me well, not to mention various generic leadership and professional development programmes I’ve done over the years.

But in a world that is requiring people to hold far more breadth than depth of knowledge and competence, it’s useful to take stock of those secondary skills you pick up along the way in employment. They may pave the way to fascinating new careers, without the cost and time needed to formally retrain.

Want to Work With Children: 5 Skills and Qualities You Should Be Working On

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Most people love the idea of working with children but not everybody has the skills or the personality for it. Kids, contrary to what you might have been told or brought up to believe, are not simply “regular people in miniature form.” They are unique beings who are still developing into the people you’re used to dealing with in the adult world which means they haven’t yet learned most of the skills, coping mechanisms, and boundaries that you take for granted as being inherent.

Working with children is much different from working with adults. And furthermore, working with little kids is much different from working with older kids. If you’ve got your heart set on working with children (whether as an educator, an entertainer or in human services), here are five skills you need to hone.

Patience

Patience is listed first because it is the most important. Remember: children are not adults. They process things differently than adults do and bridging the gap between what you know and what they understand can be frustrating. You’re going to have to repeat yourself a lot. You’re going to have to explain a lot. You’re going to have to deal with distractions and a bunch of other focus-grabbers. You are going to need a deep well of patience to keep from getting frustrated.

Note: Kid time is much different than grown-up time. If you have ever played “house” with a young child, you’ll know what we’re talking about.

The Ability to Hide Frustration or Annoyance

Kids can pick up on even the slightest shift in your demeanor. It is important that you learn how to hide tiredness, frustration, etc. You don’t have to be happy all the time and it is okay to let a child know that you are not happy with him when he or she misbehaves. Groaning when they insist on a twelfth read through of The Hungry Caterpillar, however, can be demoralizing for them. Learn how to hide your boredom, frustration and exhaustion.

Hint: Movie night wasn’t invented out of thin air!

Keeping Calm in an Emergency

Kids freak out when adults freak out. This can make a stressful situation infinitely worse. It is important, then, to learn how to keep your cool when things go awry—even if your heart is pounding and things around you are chaotic. Working with children—especially in large groups—means maintaining a calm presence even when everything else is overwhelming. Remember—your kids will look to you for how to act and deal with everything.

Pro Tip: The best way to develop this sense of calm is to learn how to deal with difficult situations yourself. For example, going through first aid training and child and infant CPR classes will help keep you calm when emergencies happen because you’ll know what to do.

Communication

A lot of adults think that, to work with kids, they need to be able to “dumb down” the information they’re sharing. This is an unnecessarily burdensome misconception. There’s a difference between “dumbing down” information and using examples children can relate to when you need to illustrate an idea. Children learn primarily through examples and stories, so talking about situations they can relate to is the best way to teach them new skills and explain new concepts.

Enthusiasm

You have to actually like and enjoy spending time with kids if you ever want to work with them successfully. Kids know when an adult is uncomfortable and many get a kick out of exploiting that discomfort. You also have to have enthusiasm for the things you’re trying to teach the kids you’re working with. Kids aren’t going to want to do or learn anything that you talk about with a frown.

These are just five skills and qualities that you need to master if you want to successfully work with children. Most of the more technical skills, you’ll find, will fall under one of these umbrella traits.

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