Social media and social justice in the context of career guidance: Is education enough?

Dr Rachel Buchanan - Social media and social justice in the context of career guidance: Is education enough?

Dr Rachel Buchanan has published a chapter as part of the 2018 book Career Guidance for Social Justice: Contesting Neoliberalism, published by Routledge.

Dr Buchanan was invited by the editors of the book to contribute a chapter after hearing of her research project into equity and digital footprints.

“My work is always focused on social justice, so when I was on study leave at the International Centre for Guidance Studies in the United Kingdom I met the book’s editor and told him about my project. He thought that digital footprints and their implications for career guidance would make a good addition to the book,” Dr Buchanan said.

Her chapter Social media and social justice in the context of career guidance: Is education enough? uses the concept of digital footprints to illustrate the complexities of social justice work in the contemporary neoliberal context. These complexities are detailed via five sections.

The first situates the need for a social justice perspective in career guidance in a context shaped by neoliberal globalisation. Secondly, the growing importance of having an online presence for career development is detailed. Dr Buchanan says that despite employers’ increasing usage of digital footprints to screen candidates, research with university students in Australia indicates that their understanding of digital footprint management is variable.

“There is some awareness that digital footprints can be liability, but there is very little awareness that your digital footprint can be an asset in career development,” she said. “In this chapter I’m making an argument that for the sake of equity, universities need to better help students to develop a professional digital footprint that is an asset. That shouldn’t be a just a matter of showing students what they shouldn't do online, but also showing them what they can do to build a digital footprint that will aid them as they’re looking for employment,” Dr Buchanan said.

The third section draws on this research to detail the current status of career guidance within higher education in Australia, in relation to digital footprint awareness.

Through her research on equity and digital footprints Dr Buchanan found that there is a large national focus on work place skills, however there is no mention of the need to build digital career management skills in national policy.

“Australia has a work place skills development document called the Australian Blueprint for Career Development. Canada and the United Kingdom have similar policy documents but none of these documents has a focus on digital career management skills,” Dr Buchanan said. “So even though over fifty percent of organisations now have a policy for screening new job candidates on social media and lots of discourse in the media about people losing jobs or not getting jobs because of their poorly managed digital presences, there’s still no policy for teaching skills for digital career development and management.”

Dr Buchanan’s research also found that choosing not to have a social media presence can cause problems with identity verification in the recruitment process.

“What we’re starting to find is that a lack of presence on social media is just as harmful as a badly managed social media presence. It’s often the first step that recruiters will do to verify you are who you say you are. They want to see your CV is supported in your online presence. Not being able to check that information can put up a red flag in the same way that a poor post puts up a red flag in the recruitment process,” Dr Buchanan observed.

In the fourth section of the chapter Buchanan uses feminist theory to illuminate emergent dilemmas regarding the use of social media.

“There is collective work to be done on the question of whether social media increase injustice. Does it function in a way that is equitable or does it cause more problems? In using social media you are participating in this capitalist consumption economy. If you like something you are endorsing it and you’re also doing a lot of unpaid work for corporations by participating.”

The final section outlines a possible social justice agenda regarding social media and the implications of this for career guidance professionals. In this exploration of social media Dr Buchanan offers new theoretical insights and explores opportunities for social justice work in contemporary career guidance practice.

“In terms of social media and social justice, it’s about ensuring we’re evening the playing field and giving access to the knowledge that is going to help students to create their own online presence that doesn't harm them when looking for work,” she said.

“What we found in the Equity in Digital Footprints project is that students who come to university from higher social economic backgrounds have more knowledge about this, so they are more likely to use LinkedIn and are less likely to post unfortunate content on their social media.  Students that are coming from a disadvantaged background are less likely to be using LinkedIn and are more likely to make poorly judged social media posts that may harm their digital footprint. So social justice is about making that knowledge more transparent and available to everybody and providing guidance on how to use social media to expand your networks and get into the industry you are going into.”

The book Career Guidance for Social Justice: Contesting Neoliberalism is available for purchase through Routledge.

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