The idea of disintermediation ("cutting out the middle man") in terms of professional qualifications has been slowly but surely gathering steam in a variety of fields. Take a look at a range of Position Descriptions for new jobs these days and phrases along the lines of Tertiary qualifications in a relevant discipline, or equivalent experience and expertise/skills are becoming more frequent. Private companies (as we might expect) have been quicker to apply this in practice rather than rhetoric compared to educational institutions, mired as most of them are in conservative paper-reliant processes for verifying applicants' skills, but even here we are starting to see change.
As university qualifications become more expensive and fail to deliver effective ROI for the people who invest their time and money in them, the idea of cutting them out of the picture partly or wholly is becoming not only more attractive, but more feasible.
Another way of looking at this is linked intrinsically to the concept of brands. Up until quite recently, we relied almost entirely on Higher Education branding to support our qualifications and skills; the more prestigious and expensive the university brand, the more employable we were (supposed to become). Painful experience for companies, organisations and individuals themselves has shown this isn't really the case.
Branding is still important, however. Particularly for educators and training professionals, in some ways we are rapidly entering a sort of hybrid stage where the Higher Education brand can still be important but won't be enough on its own: with or without that degree you will also need your own brand. The challenge now is how well you manage to brand yourself, and support and build that brand with evidence of relevant knowledge and quality skills.
If, as so many are claiming, disintermediation of qualifications becomes more of a reality and the HE Brands diminish significantly or even drop out altogether, the ability to brand yourself will become increasingly crucial.
The challenge for education professionals here is, to me, divided into two interdependent priorities:
A. How you actually increase your knowledge and skills
B. How you generate evidence of the knowledge and skills
Taking these together, here are some of the things you can do -- as an educator or trainer -- to start building your own educational brand and, in the process, hopefully start a process of making yourself more employable.
1. Start a Blog and/or e-Portfolio
Blogs are relatively easy to start and with the great blogging platform options out there these days it's easy to create something that is tidy and professional-looking.
And what exactly should you do with this blog? The possibilities are vast:
Read and reflect
There's a tremendous amount of good quality content out there, whether freely available via articles and other blogs or through relatively inexpensive subscriptions and e-books. When you've read something, related it to your practice or just general teaching philosophy, post a link to it in a blog post and add your thoughts and impressions.
There are numerous (to say the least) examples of this sort of activity from teacher bloggers already out there, but one of the most impressive I've seen recently is actually from a good friend and ex-teacher who is now busily educating and developing himself in Sales and Marketing: check out B2B Books and try telling me this isn't compelling evidence of somebody improving their knowledge of their field.
This is evidence of your willingness and ability to continually research and reflect, but also to share with a broader community of practice (more on that a little later). It also demonstrates initiative - the professional willing to go out and learn more off their own bat rather than wait on (and potentially blame) an organisation's internal HR processes for professional development.
Be a Discoverer and/or Solution Seeker
No matter what field you work in, you are hopefully trying new things out, whether to find a solution to a problem or challenge you've identified, or just for the joy of new discoveries. These blog posts can make for quite compelling reading, rooted as they are in the real world of practice. Avoid using your blog as a venting mouthpiece and focus on identifying problems or opportunities, how you went about tackling them, and the sorts of new things you learned (or would like to learn) as a result of this process.
This is evidence of a professional who can identify challenges and seek appropriate solutions, and/or be an innovator. There is also evidence of how this person goes about improving their work situation and creating better outcomes for the various stakeholders involved.
Become a Resource Provider
If you've developed material or a process that has worked really well in your context, there's every chance it might help somebody else faced with the same or similar challenges. Good activities, resources and procedural guides not only don't do much if they are locked up in your hard drive, they also don't breathe well - as in, they don't get to grow to their full potential out in the open air. Allow and respond graciously to any constructive criticism of the material you share publicly on your blog (but also keep in mind you may have some organisational requirements to follow when it comes to sharing what you make).
I mentioned e-Portfolios as an and/or at the top of this section, and it's in the area of resources that a portfolio approach can really work well. I particularly recommend Mahara, as it actually facilitates a blend of blog and portfolio - see an example here.
This is evidence of the collaborative professional who can not only develop quality materials and procedures but actually share them, and add quality to a team endeavour. It also potentially showcases your ability to invite and respond to professional feedback.
Be a Professional
If you are attending conferences and workshops or (just as important), starting to lead and facilitate them, your blog is a perfect place to feature these sorts of activities or even extend them (for an example of what I mean by extending a workshop into the blogosphere, see this post and/or an example of getting a workshop attendee to write a guest post about it on your blog).
Putting a list of PD workshops attended or hosted on your CV is relatively meaningless; linking that list to blog posts explaining and reflecting/responding to the workshops is inarguably meaningful.
Blogging about this also potentially brings you to the attention of the workshop faciliator and/or attendees, increasing the chance of further discussion and debate, enriching and contextualising the learning experience even more.
This is evidence of someone who doesn't attend or host PD sessions in order to simply check a box on a compliance or performance review list; it showcases a professional who attends or leads compulsory and purely voluntary/self-instigated PD, and really makes the most of it. If you've been in or spoken to anyone in a company HR position, you'll know this is a genuine point of differentiation between quality ('gold' is the term I've heard a lot!) and run-of-the-mill employees.
Be a Human Being
This might sound like an odd thing to add here, but let's face it, a CV and cover letter don't do much to show what sort of person you are, how you express yourself, react to situations, etc. These aspects can, of course, emerge during an interview, but the interview doesn't always show the whole story (and if you don't make it to the interview stage, it could well be because your potential employer never got any sort of genuine taste of your personality shortbread).
A blog allows for texture and colour, the personal characteristics that define you as you go about your work and interact with your context. Not all of your blog posts need to be personal narratives, but they should always have a good slice of YOU in them. The comments section of blog posts are ideal opportunities to showcase how you interact with other people. If you feature some of your posts in video or screencast format (also referred to as 'vlogging'), you get even more of the real you across.
This is evidence of what sort of person you are, the human behind the list of experiences and qualifications on a resume, and an (at least initial) idea of who is actually going to join a team and interact in a staffroom.
2. Get 'Social-Medially' Active
A blog is an excellent start and, done well, certainly a great evidence-gathering activity and resource. But a blog is only one piece of the social media puzzle; to get people to actually read it and for you to add the very best resources and links to it, you'll need to engage with those other puzzle pieces.
In a nutshell, here's how I use the various social media tools out there now, to feed and be fed by my blog:
Facebook - Generally private network of friends and family; given many of my friends are educators as well, I do occasionally use it to share professional resources and thoughts (including links to my blog), and the interface plus privacy allows for some nice in-depth and relatively 'unfettered' discussion.
Twitter - Public mass content/resource curation environment; this is where I go to find a constant feed of links to interesting articles and resources relevant to my field - it can feel a bit like trying to sip from a firehose until you get used to the environment (which to me basically involves popping in every day or so, watching the feed and checking out whatever interesting links happen to be appearing there at that time, and/or posting a link to something new I've written or developed).
Google+ - Rather like a cross between Facebook and Twitter (I think that was their intention!); I get the rich contextualisation of Facebook, but the feed-like aspects of Twitter. Given the link to Google Search and a range of other great tools (for example Hangouts and Google Talk), I find it a bit of a must when it comes to finding Brand You, but also building and selling Brand Me.
LinkedIn - Think Facebook + Twitter + Google+, strictly for professional/employment purposes. This is where the companies and people who do the hiring are to be found, hence this is where you need to be on your very best behaviour and show the very best of what you do and why. The Groups area of LinkedIn is a great way to access and participate in targeted content curation, too. While there are jobs listed on LinkedIn, at present it doesn't go much beyond the corporations. However, this is where you can end up linked to the people who may end up shortlisting candidates for an interview, so it makes sense to get in there, present well and provide a constantly updated range of links to the quality things you are doing/making/experiencing on your blog.
Whether or not you believe something like a professional blog can ever dislodge officious tertiary qualifications, the fact is it can only enhance your prospects when it comes to demonstrating your knowledge, skills, attitude and experience.
And also consider this: every single teacher-blogger I've spoken to or corresponded with has indicated that blogging not only helped make them better at what they do, it also helped them enjoy what they do more.
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this notion of disintermediation is the potential for it to 'cut out the middle men' telling you whether or not you are good at what you do, and letting your experiences build this realisation all on their own.
Add and constantly re-examine your bag of evidence, sell your educational brand to yourself, because there's every chance you'll be your own most demanding customer.
After all, proving it to yourself could be more beneficial than you realise.