Saturday 31 March 2012

Should Job Applicants Provide Facebook Passwords? No. Unless It's the HR Manager Post They're After..

"Please enter your facebook log-in details." If that were one of the requests on a job application form, what would you do? When I first noticed streams of comments this week on the topic of employers asking (or demanding) to be able to view candidates' facebook pages I have to admit to thinking that this was just a limited bit of nonsense in some backward part of a distant state across the Pond.

It is real, though, and, whilst I am not sure how many actual instances have arisen or whether it might be restricted to applicants for professions where it might (I say 'might' - that doesn't mean I agree it should) be reasonable to make a thorough check of someone's personal publications, it is a worrying development.

If it is something that Human Resource Managers have decided to start including in the process of selecting from what must be an ever increasing pile of candidates for jobs in these days of high unemployment levels then I would like to add my voice to the objections being raised.

My first thought is 'Why just facebook?' This makes me think that there was a group of very intense and well-meaning sorts sat around a table one day who made the decision in a virtual vacuum, with little or no informed advice. One can imagine the discussion:

"Did you hear about that man who posted rude pictures on his ex-wife's facebook page?"
"Oh, terrible. Seems to be more of an unsocial network to me..."
"Yes, lots of youngsters putting silly images of themselves on there. No shame. What is the world coming to..."
"When I was young..."
"Exactly. It sounds a horrid place and not somewhere I'd want to let my children go."
"I suppose our employees do use it. Who knows what they're saying about working here..."
"Or us..."
"Hmmm. We ought to do something to check."
"We do. I regularly Google the names of some - you know, the ones we'd be worried about."
"So you know what they're doing there then?"
"No, there's some private setting or something they use to hide stuff from us. We would have to have their log-in thing."
"How about asking all our new applicants for that? That would give us some background as to what mischief they get up to and also probably cut down the number that get through to interview as well."
"Good idea. I'll get that added to the form. If they don't like it then that's a good indication that we wouldn't want to trust them anyway. Probably the sort that will come in half awake after being on that internet all night."
What I do find odd, though, is why this is all about facebook. There are rather more places than just the one everyone talks about out there and, of course, Google+ which has so far survived remarkably longer than I had anticipated in being readily accessible at work and in the Colleges I know about. Whilst one might expect a better class of people using the latter, if the HR Committee is going to want to look for the dirt then they really do have to realise that the social networking world is not called facebook. It seems that uninformed managers are beginning to use the term rather like they might use Biro or Hoover.

Then there are blogs which they don't seem to have thought much about at all. That's where I would write the stuff that I am most likely to be thrown out for, where HR would see what I thought about something, or what I got up to In The Village and that would be far more informative than some snaps on facebook.

It strikes me as quite wrong. In the rare instances of someone being suspected of publishing comments that damage their employer's reputation, provide information that should not be made public for commercial or other reasons or in cases of bullying then one would expect investigations to be facilitated to ascertain the accuracy of accusations with specific permissions being granted but some general rule that says someone can roam freely through areas that an individual has chosen, probably on good advice, to restrict to certain friends, is wrong, very wrong.

I can imagine the band of social do-gooders raging against my comments and saying things like "If they have to hide what they say or do then they shouldn't say or do it." My view would be to say to the individuals concerned that they should continue to decide what they wish to be in the public domain and, if they're asked to reveal more, look elsewhere. Unless they're applying for an HR Manager post - in which case they should tidy up their act temporarily first, supply all the passwords with a nice smile, get the job and then fire whoever instigated this in the first place!

The section below is from ZDNetUK's article by David Meyer:

Asking job applicants for passwords is not in itself unlawful in the UK, according to Ed Goodwyn, partner in the employment team at law firm Pinsent Mason.
This disturbing practice represents a grave intrusion into personal privacy.
– US senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles Schumer
There is also unlikely to be a breach of the Data Protection Act if the applicant hands over login details willingly, he noted. However, Goodwyn agreed there are some risks for prospective hirers.
"If the employer relies on a protected characteristic which is apparent from the Facebook pages (such as that the candidate is a trade union activist, is disabled, etc.) then that will be unlawful," Goldwyn said. "Furthermore, once the employment relationship is formed, any further use of Facebook in this way without further permission from the employee would be a breach of the implied duty of trust and confidence."
Companies could also face legal problems if they treat a worker less favourably for refusing the request, he noted.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Professionalism in Further Education. Common sense, at last!

A fascinating interim report has just been released by the The Independent Review Panel established by the Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning. Brilliant stuff and finally someone has seen the light and proposes to cut through the nonsense that has been the compulsory membership of the Institute For Learning and requirement for qualifications that seldom seem to have produced any improvement in the classroom and certainly no better use of modern technology.

[Anyone would think I had contributed la great deal to this myself!]

Entitled Professionalism in Further Education, here are some key points:

Over the past decade, government has attempted to impose by statute a form of professionalism on the further education sector through the development of national occupational standards for teaching staff. As successive reports by Ofsted and academic research have shown, this endeavour has failed to achieve consistency in the diverse provision for acquiring vocational knowledge and skills.

This Review will endeavour to offer comprehensive recommendations to government which will not only reflect circumstances which are very different from those of a decade ago, but which also pay greater attention to the particular virtues of further education, its unique place in our national life, and a conception of professionalism which suits a body of staff who often enter teaching following a successful career in business, a trade or another profession.

Our intention will be to outline and encourage new directions which will be free of unnecessary compulsion (and the perverse outcomes so often associated with it), and to bring some fresh thinking to issues which, evidence suggests, have become confused.

There are sufficient statutory arrangements in place through, for example, employment legislation and the requirements for staff performance management and learner safeguarding set out in Ofsted’s Common Inspection Framework, to ensure at least a threshold level of professional competence. Above that, providers should have the freedom to stand or fall according to the service they offer to learners and the public accreditation they earn for the high quality of that service from Ofsted and others (e.g. IiP, EFQM, ISO etc). The example of the Higher Education Academy shows clearly that a shift from the intention to compel lecturers to achieve teacher-training qualifications, towards one where they and their employers are persuaded that this is in all their best interests in order to enhance standards, is much more effective than regulation.

Initial teacher training programmes appear to be largely generic and theoretical, rather than being related to the professional and occupational expertise of college lecturers; mentoring continues to be weak; the system of qualifications and credits is very inconsistent among teacher training providers; and the commitment of FE employers to support their staff to attain excellence in pedagogy appears distinctly uneven. It is at least arguable that most of the national effort has been made in the wrong place: towards standards, regulations and compulsion, rather than towards fostering a deep and shared commitment to real ‘bottom up’ professionalism among FE employers and staff.

The panel’s doubts about the validity of the 2007 Regulations; a conviction that it would be absurd and impracticable to dismiss those lecturers who have dissented from them (in some cases, from the outset); and our understanding of the tenor of government policy, lead us to conclude that the Regulations are unenforceable.

Setting aside the lack of any form of compulsion bearing on lecturers in higher education and the apparent illogicality of requiring lecturers who may have already worked successfully in FE for many years to become ‘qualified teachers’, the IfL on behalf of the FE sector, is unique in requiring post-qualification tasks before conferral of ‘qualified’ status.

these additional hurdles to qualification might be interpreted as meaning that FE and FE lecturers are inherently less professional than their peers in other sectors. The implication is that they are in need of special measures to assure ‘professionalisation’. The review panel believes that this is nonsense, contradicted by the fact that many colleges in the sector, for example, have been giving a good public service for a century or more.

The researchers were told that ‘validation and endorsement of the new framework was so rushed that things were cobbled together by teacher trainers working in isolation from one another – all having to take their own university criteria, structures and credit ratings into account’. When the qualifications of the nine national awarding bodies are added to universities, variability seems likely to be unhelpfully large.

The panel has noted that the current arrangements are disproportionately concerned with formal teaching in colleges, neglecting much of the breadth and richness of the FE sector. We will invite witnesses from these areas of neglect to describe to us what they need to contribute fully to an ambitious and professional sector during the next stage of the review.