Tag: skills

Working with Young People in East London

On Friday Nick and I were in London visiting Focus E15 – A Foyer for young people in the London Borough of Newham. They provide support in either a residential or non-residential basis with issues around housing, training, employment and personal development with 90 self contained units it is a busy, vibrant centre

We were  there for the launch of their hyperlocal website – East London Know How. The website has been developed as part of a programme we’ve been working on with them with to improve the relationship the residents of the  foyer have with each other, and the wider community.

I’ve been working with them to  deliver a social media surgery package to support them to use online tools that will improve their communication skills and the website is an opportunity for the residents to connect with each other and to showcase their hidden talents to the world.

Jon Harris and Alisia Myran arranged Fridays launch and are two of the residents who have been involved with the project from the beginning.

Jon uses the site to look outside of the Foyer to share news of things going on and any special offers he sees in shops to make shopping and socialising locally affordable. Alisha uses the site to look inwards – to showcase the talents of the residents to show the outside world that there is more to the people that live there then may be perceived.

I really enjoyed working with this group and they really seemed to enjoy the informal approach of the surgeries – here’s what Alisha has to say about her part in the project.

David Ahern the Foyer support worker had this to say about the benefits of this approach for the young people:

7 principles for digital mentors

Low Hill Social Media Surgery 11th October 2012

Last week I worked with VCS Learning Solutions in Manchester to train a group of people who are, or will shortly be, running social media surgeries in different areas of north west England.

A slide I showed describes seven principles for digital mentors, originally created by Stuart Parker. The principles aren’t online now, so I’ve reposted them here with Stuart’s permission.

These principles closely match the skills and qualities required of a social media surgery manager, in my view, and I hope you find them useful.

Attentive: Listen up and listen well. Understand needs, fears and desires.

Impartial: While you may be a fervent believer in a service or platform, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be right for others.

Social: Bow down to the network. Your fellow mentors are the key to achieving digital mentor nirvana.

Friendly: Confidence won’t improve with negative vibes.

Passionate: Believe in the positive changes technology can bring to everyone’s lives.

Lifelong: Understand that this is lifelong learning for everyone, Digital Mentors included.

Innovative: Recognise new and developing technologies and how they can be of benefit to everyone.

Photo: Low Hill Social Media Surgery courtesy of Wolverhampton Homes.

What skills do I need to become a social media surgeon?

two people ata a social media surgrey laughing
A Social Media Surgery in Dudley – image from Gavin Wray

This was the question Beatrice asked me. She wasn’t sure if she could help as a surgeon at one of these events designed to support local community and voluntary organisations in a relaxed one to one format:

I would like to make myself useful helping other people and I would like to know what skills I would need to be a good social media surgeon.

I am not a technical person by background. I have, however, spent a fair amount of time on the internet and it would be good to know what skills would be in demand at such an event.

It seems I have a bit of time to mug up on skills before the event but I’d be grateful for any advice on where to focus. Twitter is my platform of choice. I have just splashed out on a camcorder and digital recorder but I doubt I will feel confident with these tools before the event. Can I still be a useful person if I stick to Twitter/Facebook/general internet skills?

Oh yes – very. The fact that Beatrice wants to help is really the most important skill/thing she needs – but I also replied with:

  1. Ability to ask simple questions like “what are you trying to achieve” or perhaps  “how do you use the web at the moment”
  2. Willingness to listen to the answers
  3. Enough knowledge/experience of say twitter or blogging or facebook to be a couple of steps ahead of the person you’re helping.
  4. Patience, willingness to ask for help from another surgeon if they ask you something you can’t answer (including ability to google to answer questions you can’t answer)
  5. Ideally a laptop or similar so you can show people how the social web works in your experience.

That’s about it really! A sense of fun helps too (see the pic above of “surgeon” and “patient” in Dudley).

For other thoughts on keeping it simple at surgeries please see our recipe and later clarification.

Skills in Birmingham – our people, what they’re like and what we need

Two tins of peas
Great Value(s) P(l)eas(e) - photo by Tony Crider (click to view on flickr)

Later this month the Birmingham and Solihull LEP will start making some decisions about skills and work – asking themselves what skills do employers need and how to make them available.

I know this because of a set of “skills” that are hard to measure or teach.

One is being networked.

Peter Latchford (who’s doing some initial work for the LEP on skills) approached me to see what I thought businesses like Podnosh will need. On 30th January he’ll report back and tell the LEP what small business is asking for. So this is what I’d like them to hear:

Podnosh recruits for?


We are driven by making things better: improving public services, helping active citizens have a greater impact, allowing individual civil servants more freedom to improve lives, supporting good third sector organisations to help more people. We don’t work with anyone – if potential clients don’t share a good chunk of our passions or values we’d rather they found someone else to help them.

So for this we employ or work with people who:

  • believe in what we do
  • care about it
  • are accountable
  • transparent
  • honest
  • have integrity
  • are networked

In turn they often know what they want and believe in and are leaders in their own worlds.

They are usually enterprising: Steph Jennings runs her own hyperlocal blog, Josh Hart makes LIVEBrum happen, Gavin Wray has nurtured the Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery for years. They make things happen, adapt to change, accept and learn from failure.

On top of that they are flexible and committed. All seem to have an unstoppable ability to make things work, see things through and to learn everything and anything they need to make that happen.

So we also want to find people who start things themselves (not the same as self starters), can’t help but learn on their own, aware of their strengths and happy to be open about what they want to strengthen.

It may sound like a halcyon world of small enterprise. But these are the people who work at, or with, Podnosh and they all have remarkable qualities (and if it sounds like I’m expecting them to be superhuman I’m not, I could never keep up).

One thing I haven’t mentioned? A certificate in anything.

Certainly there are technical skills and we are looking for more folk who are good at Ruby on Rails, but in our world many technical skills get outdated very quickly. So at it’s simplest we recruit the person, get that right and the knowledge later.

What do you recruit for – what does the LEP need to understand are the skills or qualities we need to help Birmingham’s small businesses thrive?


Karl Binder at Adhere added these thoughts to the discussion in his post “Total Business”:

So I look for:

  • Aptitude, a readiness and quickness in learning
  • Love what they do, have a passion for their job
  • Flexibility
  • Desire to continually try something new
  • Recognition that their job role can and will change
  • Existing skill set

If I had to sum up my employment strategy in a catchy little sound bite I would say I always looked to ’employ people, rather than skills’. This effectively means if the person’s attitude is right, they have a willingness to learn and an ability to do so, don’t get disheartened and give up quickly and realise that their role is one that is constantly evolving, I would employ them over someone who was the finished product in one particular area of expertise.

Thanks Karl.