This week I attended the second New Professionals Conference at the University of Sheffield on Proving your worth in challenging times, organised by the Career Development Group of CILIP (in partnership with the Department of Information Studies). I’ll be breaking my report down into three parts to match the conference programme.
First up is the welcome, opening address and plenary, which will later be followed by Session one: Developing your skills on a shoestring and Session two: Attitudes that add value. During the day parallel workshops on blogging, effective CVs, Twitter and elevator speeches ran but as I didn’t attend any I’ll just add in links at the end.
Opening, Welcome and Plenary
Maria Cotera (past President, CDG) welcomed delegates with the general housekeeping and introduced Sheila Corrall for her welcome discussion about core competence and what it means in practice.
Sheila began the address by defining the notion of core competence as:
a bundle of skills and technologies (rather than a simple or discrete skill or technology) that enables the company to provide a particular benefit to customers (Hamel and Prahalad, 1994)
before moving on to focus on the characteristics of core competencies in the LIS profession and how these demonstrate a special contribution to the organisation.
Establishing our unique competence is a key factor in proving our worth during the ‘economic down-turn’ or challenging times if we want to illustrate the importance of our skills and knowledge as librarians and Sheila went part of the way to describe these for us:
- professional/technical knowledge and skills - data, information and knowledge organisation and management, information, communication and learning technologies;
- business acumen/institutional understanding - generic transferable management skills, context-specific knowledge or own organisation and sector;
- personal qualities and abilities - self-awareness and personal effectiveness, interpersonal behaviours and relationship management.
(Corrall, 2005; Fisher et al, 2005; Skelton & Abell, 2001).
It’s our special knowledge and understanding of information and how we articulate this that leads to the expansion of our knowledge bases, a greater involvement with institutional strategies, the development of new partnerships and growth in our technical abilities. Communicating these core competencies in a way that makes sense to the particular situation is therefore crucial, whilst also illustrating the continual expansion of our core skillset and the increased overlap with other professions/specialisms e.g. librarians as teachers, researchers, business managers and technical specialists.
The key message to come out of Sheila’s discussion was the importance of continuous professional development and a number of examples on how to do this were presented – cross-organisational projects, knowledge sharing, professional networks, formal training, trial and error, writing publications, engaging with professional literature etc.
Eleni Zazani was up next to talk about bridging the gap from employability to employment – the challenges of job hunting and remaining positive. Dividing up her talk into three parts – our major challenges, what employers are looking for and how a positive mind-set can make a difference whilst job hunting – Eleni emphasised the changing nature of our world and how we make sense of it through passion and enthusiasm for the profession.
Budgets, technological advances and new roles are redefining the information environment and we need to assess how our skills fit into this. We need to be able to demonstrate our core competencies (like those Sheila discussed earlier) to our potential employers to prove our worth with evidence. Networking is the key point here. We were encouraged to find like-minded people, share ideas and support each other to fuel our passion and recognise its importance. But how do we do this? Eleni suggested we:
- ask for help or advice;
- get involved (with CILIP special interest groups or committees for example);
- introduce yourself (face-to-face networking too);
- and engage with social media (Twitter, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn etc).
I’d also like to add to this by stressing how easy it is now to build up a portfolio of professional activities. Blogging has never been easier and it’s a good way to get into the habit of reflective writing and reporting. Remember that employers are looking for flexible and adaptable professionals prepared to think out of the box and it’s likely they’ll be researching you as much as you research them pre-interview. For Eleni proving your worth as a new professional really means providing potential employers with evidence of your core competencies, core librarianship skills and specific skills to the role that represent ‘the bigger picture’ and your attitude to moving with the times/adapting to the changes effecting the professional environment.
Coming next: Session one – Developing your skills on a shoestring.