It seems incredible in an era when Facebook and Twitter are getting the credit for throwing down autocracy in the Middle East, that this supposedly civilisation-changing development isn’t being applied to dealing with smaller but still important problems plaguing our modern world.
Take recruitment, for example. Is there still a company owner out there who has yet to have a moan about how they can never find the right people to fill the positions they have available? The recruit who arrives fully formed and able to hit the ground running remains the Holy Grail for Welsh and UK businesses that cannot afford to move at the speed of the slowest runner.
Employers that must engage in the “necessary evil” face a plethora of options, with recruitment agencies duking it out in a tightly contested sector. It inevitably leads to guarantees that businesses are increasingly cynical about.
This approach is also very piecemeal and requires an awful lot of Googling and wading through promises. What it doesn’t do is take advantage of a unified network that, were it a country, would be the third largest on earth, and one that is accessed via mobile phones by 200 million people (making that particular population the fifth largest).
What makes it even more extraordinary that neither business organisations nor government at any level use Facebook to track graduates is that this is exactly what it grew from in the first place, albeit for different outcomes. A US college facebook, from which the site takes its name, is a directory of both students and staff, a means of allowing to contact – keep track – of one another.
The rest as we know is history. Facebook owes its early success entirely to the people most in demand by employers – students – spreading like wildfire through American campuses. Whether UK under-graduates trailblazed in the same way as their counterparts across the Atlantic isn’t know, but that isn’t really important. As the UK is the third most prolific user of Facebook in the world, it’s a pretty safe bet that our brightest people are also using it.
So how would this idea work? It needs initiative from the universities to begin with. The alumni departments need to put up pages that students can be incentivised to join. How these incentives would work – could be student offers, could just be the promise that this is a tool for their futures – would be up to bursars and their budgets. It could be at this point that the Welsh Government steps in with funding. Given that this initiative would offer treats at most, its cost could be limited (and can be measured against return).
Students would leave minimal information about themselves – such as where they’re from, what they’re studying and when they graduate. Upon leaving university, they would be further incentivised in the ways outlined above (and prompted through Facebook) to update and include employment (they could also persuade their own employers to get involved for their own tracking aims). And it could be left to grow from there.
One of the reasons that social media is so successful is that it lets its participants believe that they are in control. That is true, to an extent, given the highly customisable nature of the most popular sites. This belief is well evidenced in social media’s marketing power, with some 78% of users saying they trust peer recommendations ahead of advertising. In other words, what you find on there is expected to be more honest. This is of benefit to the employer, who can go to a Welsh graduate group page and find potential candidates that can be directly headhunted through Facebook.
Of course, this is only an outline and not costed in any real way. But there are two points worth making in advancing this further. First of all, some 80% of US businesses are already using LinkedIn to find candidates. Audiences need considering. Where LinkedIn last reported 120 million users across 200 countries (as of March this year), Facebook has 750 million users in just about every country, save those under the occasional rogue regime. In addition, it is adding around 100 million users every nine months, which even if it grows steadily (which it most certainly will not, given the acceleration in take-up that has become a hallmark of its growth), will reach and breach the one billion mark in less than two years.
Many employers will probably pause at this point and put the two sites side-by-side and compare. Facebook still has a reputation as a lark-about distraction in the workplace, while LinkedIn has successfully worked at cultivating a reputation as the place for business professionals. In fact, it has become aspirational, which should further guarantee its success, at least until something better comes along. But this idea could also work on LinkedIn, and given the effort in becoming involved, employers can choose to use both site rather than making an either/or choice.
For the Welsh Government, the benefits are straightforward. A unique interface between business, universities and graduates, of the sort that politicians frequently enthuse about, and the kind of thing that proves devolution is good and that the Welsh Government is willing to engage with original (and relatively low-cost) thinking.
Lastly, back to the numbers, and a question: reckon you can find a suitable candidate in 750 million people?