The potential of social media to bridge the UK skills gap: exploring organisations’ soft skills

The potential of social media to bridge the UK skills gap: exploring organisations’ soft skills

In this context, the global spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have resulted in schools being shut all around the world. It is estimated that 1.2 billion students have been impacted due to the measures taken by the affected countries to stem the outbreak (UNESCO 2020). Amongst the chaos, the education technology and online learning sector are presented with the biggest opportunity with the rise of e-learning; whereby classes are conducted remotely and online. A similar opportunity was presented across the workforce as business meetings, conferences, and other occasions where face to face meetings were required were terminated. Technology and social media have become an almost indispensable part of people’s lives. Proud technophiles were able to adapt much more successfully to the changes than those who were not digitally proficient.

In enterprise, there have been widely held debates on how this can manifest itself through a skills-gap dilemma. In general, the U.K. workforce has been suffering from low productivity which is largely attributed to a lack of appropriate skills (Churchill 2019). Henceforth, the logical exploration into 21st century learning, and today’s focus on skills-based learning; social media has already begun provoking thought into this area.

Social media influences 21st century operation and whether referenced with communications, business practice or education, social media is at the heart of the modern-day individual. Almost all industries including corporations, non-profit and government organizations share the need for employees to have social media expertise (see Freberg & Mae Kim 2017).

The ubiquity of social media including Facebook and Twitter is no more apparent than in the education industry (see Tess 2013). Drawing on anecdotal evidence, pupils arrive at school and instantly recall last night’s social media activities. Many social networking sites have been thought to break down traditional hierarchies in terms of society and global geography (Lewis 2017). As an example, Twitter empowers learners to engage with individuals from all over the world, often sharing educational resources for free. The benefits of using Twitter and the growing role it has on education accelerates debates in how best it can be used to promote learning and improve engagement (Lewis 2017; Juno et al. 2011; Junco, Elvansky & Heiberger 2012).

Many employers seek their employees to have a combination of soft skills and technical skills, whereby tangible data analysis skills can be complemented with emotional intelligence and behaviour such as problem solving and communication. Nevertheless, the skills gained from using social platforms in the personal and in the professional is contentious. Scholars have argued that a new age of connecting is essentially a good thing as it encourages soft skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication (Fox 2013; Junco 2011). Yet, cyberbullying and hate speech on social networking sites illustrate the scepticism amongst academics. 

Despite these historically foremost concerns, during the period of enhanced remote learning, social media abuse has fallen, and this is largely down to campaigns around ‘being kind’ and ‘positivity for mental health’ (Jardine 2020).  

Additionally, Longfield (2018) argues in an editorial that children aged 8-12 years find social media fun, stimulating and that this helps build relationships during digital tasks. The report continues to argue that those who feel marginalised by disability, migration or sexuality are introduced to a wider selection of peers, thus benefitting their social well-being. Furthermore, the use of social media for personal and health issues is on the rise (Househ, Borycki & Kushniruk 2014) with newer research now showing evidence of social media having other perceived benefits such as improved motivation, enhanced self-efficacy and a development of leadership qualities (Househ, Borycki & Kushniruk 2014; McLaughlin & Sillence, 2018).

The indispensability of soft skills and the benefits that social media present mean employers are now looking for social media savvy graduates. For example, networking is a useful skill for individuals who aim to grow in their field or career. Furthermore, the ability to capture people’s attention whilst maintaining social etiquette may well be instrumental.  

Social media and pedagogy

Research on study skills and associated learning processes suggest that social media may benefit students in a pedagogical sense (Thompson 2017; Veletsianos & Navarrete 2012). Alongside these findings, it is argued that students now enter universities as ‘digital natives’ with an expectation that social media is integrated into all their experiences (Prensky 2001). With such demand on HE institutes, it is unsurprising that many embrace social media within pedagogical practice. Freberg & Mae Kim (2017) found teaching faculties use social media for professional reasons at least once per month. More studies are finding social networking goes beyond facilitating class connection and has potential to enhance the learning (see Tess 2013; Kinsky, Kim, Kushin & Ward 2016). For example, Facebook groups may be effective for supporting student engagement with mass lectures by facilitating discussion of course material (Bowman & Akcaoglu 2014). Although, it is now becoming common practice for academic staff in HE institutes to engage with social media, it has not been without resistance. This links into my PhD thesis which explores social media as a pedagogical tool. Some of the key themes that I have identified include an underdevelopment of CPD in this area, the term TEL being problematic, and further requirement of thought into pedagogical processes from policy makers. 


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