Monday 18 June 2018


Careers advice. We’ve all had it (if our schools were obeying the law, anyway) and it’s probably fair to say that for many of us it was a waste of time. Whether it’s the crossing off of nine tenths of our ambitions; the oh-so-encouraging ‘I’m not sure this is for you’; or the one-size-fits-all ‘have you considered teaching?’ almost everyone has their own story of the shoddy guidance we received for one of the most important decisions we ever have to make.

The work we decide to pursue influences pretty much every other aspect of our lives: where we live, the people we meet, our daily routine.  If we’re lucky enough to find our vocation, our job might even become our single most defining feature. And yet we make most of the decisions that influence our future careers at ages when we’ve barely begun to understand who we are. The things we value at sixteen, eighteen or twenty-one generally appear frivolous when we are faced with the reality of mortgage repayments, school catchment areas, and commuting distances.

It is perhaps this question – who am I? – that a child should most ponder when considering their future career. Once we know who we are, we can better consider who we would like to be. Taking this approach, careers guidance is participatory and individual, leading the young subject to a deeper understanding of their priorities – what they want from work, rather than what work will want from them.

These are the findings of Mark Wilkinson and John Ambrose, both of them renowned academics in the field of careers education and guidance. And having dedicated their professional lives to improving the provision of careers advice in the UK, they have now decided to take the question directly to children, with their debut book, The Bonkers Book of Jobs.

The book is aimed at children at Key Stage 2 and 3 – the stages where the provision of careers advice provision becomes a legal necessity for any school. Its premise is simple: thirty six different careers are detailed, with information of the general responsibilities, salary, levels of demand and entry requirements. The careers are split into six categories: weird, scary, cool, disgusting, delicious and stupid (it should be noted that, for Mark and John, strongly influenced by the irreverent style of the classic Horrible Histories series, stupid is very much a compliment). At the end of each job’s section, there is a brief quiz on the reader’s thoughts; these lead to a further interactive quiz at the end of each category; and at the end of the book is the final quiz, which draws on all the reader’s previous answers in order to provide them with a personal psychometric profile.

This profile is then tied back to the various paths identified earlier in the book, and their particular suitability depending on the reader’s own personality. But rather than dictating certain paths, Mark and John are careful to avoid prescriptivism; instead, the reader is encouraged to consider a job in relation to how they think and feel.

As Mark explains: ‘There’s reams and reams of research out there demonstrating that a child learns much better if they are enthused and engaged. The same is true for careers advice. Because, ultimately, a career is a choice. And if we are engaged with our decision-making processes, then ultimately we make more considered – better – choices. At the same time, what you never want to do – whether in education or careers guidance – is intimidate a child. Ultimately, a child knows that at, say, fourteen, they don’t have to make a career choice right now, and if you try to pressure them into it, they’ll simply disengage altogether. But if you say to a child, well, you like sport, you like the outdoors, you’re an extrovert, did you know you can, say, travel the world teaching golf? Or become a walking guide, and be out in all these picturesque places all day? Suddenly you’ll find them taking an interest. Because you’re tacking an interest in them, in what they like, in what they want.’

Like the Horrible Histories series, the book maintains this sense of fun through lively, jokey writing, and zany illustrations throughout. It revels in the unexpected, bizarre, even the icky elements of the job it describes. With a new strategy for schools’ career guidance provision coming into effect in 2013, school are now required to provide access to ‘useful information about career paths and the labour market to inform their own decisions’. The Bonkers Book of Jobs has been reviewed as fulfilling these requirements, but it is unlikely that many other classroom resources will feature such detail on the day to day of ‘portable toilet service deliver’; but perhaps they should, considering that, as the book explains, this particular industry has sixty years of unbroken growth.

It is this combination of fact and frivolity which makes The Bonkers Book of Jobs so effective. By engaging with its young readers, by entertaining them, most of all, by listening to them, it will serve as not only an indispensible aide to parents and beleaguered careers advisors everywhere, but a go to read for children too.

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