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Archive for the ‘Careers’ Category

(A)battoir Worker to (Z)oologist

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

When I was at school, there was a set of filing cabinets in the corner of the school library containing information about careers. It was arranged alphabetically. The first entry was “abattoir worker”, which we found an ongoing source of amusement. I think it went all the way through to “zoologist”.

What I liked about this was that it presented a “flat” view of possible careers. There wasn’t some notion that some careers were more important, prestigious, favoured compared to others. As pointed out in Judith Flanders’s fascinating recent book A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order (ISBN 978-1509881567), the fact that alphabetical order removes hierarchy from collections was seen as radical, uncomfortable, or just “wrong” when it was first introduced. Surely, an organisational system that ranks “angels” before “gods” much be deeply flawed?

Of course, we don’t have any such qualms about alphabetical order these days. But, I think that we also neglect the power of listing things things in this flat, neutral, arbitrary way. One thing that our school did very well was to present the whole gamut of careers as a set of possibilities, and that the role of careers advice was to help us to think about the career that suited our skills, aptitudes, and temperament.

It is easy to criticise this as naive. Surely, we should be warning people from a comprehensive school in the middle of a council estate that they would face certain challenges if they choose a career that is “inappropriate” for them socially. It it really right to encourage such people to think that they could be barristers or whatever? Surely, the social barriers are too great.

But, I think that this gave us the naive confidence to bluster through these barriers. Because we hadn’t been warned, we blundered—I’m sure somewhat naively—into a huge variety of careers. I think a certain naivety can give you confidence—if no one has told you that you will face barriers, you can blunder though those barriers.

Perhaps we should give alphabetical order more credit!

Worse than Nothing?

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

Here’s a thought, which came from a conversation with Richard Harvey t’other week. Is it possible for a degree to harm your job prospects? The example that he came up with was a third class degree in some vocational or quasi-vocational subject such as computer science. If you have a third class degree in CS, what does that say to prospective employers? Firstly, that you are not much of a high-flyer in the subject—that is a no-brainer. But, it also labels you as someone who is a specialist—and not a very good one! The holder of a third in history, unless they are applying specifically for a job relating to history, isn’t too much harmed by their degree. Someone sufficiently desperate will take them on to do something generic (this relates to another conversation I had about careers recently—what are universities doing to engage with the third-class employers that will take on our third-class graduates? Perhaps we need to be more proactive in this area, rather than just dismissive, but this requires a degree of tact beyond most people.). But a third-class computing/architecture/pharmacy student is stuck in the bind that they have declared a professional specialism, and so employers will not consider them for a generic role; whilst at the same time evidencing that they are not very good in the specialism that they have identified with. Perhaps we need to do more for these students by emphasising the generic skills that computer science can bring to the workplace—”computing is the new Latin” as a rather tone-deaf saying goes.