Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
Job for life - shadows of echoes of memories of songs — LiveJournal
Job for life
The Subject: field is intended to give everybody an Iggy Pop earworm, the way Sainsbury's "Bag for life" always does to me.


Apropos of the article I pointed at in my previous post, addedentry says, "Some of us make bad judgments [sic]. And this is news?"

No, it's not really news. (This is the slow news season, remember, where the fact that some people can run and jump higher than others is supposed to count as exciting international news.) It's mildly interesting, though, that more people seem to be willing/able to change their job when they realise that they've made a bad judgement.

Also, your "some of us" seems to be "more than half of us":
Half of more than 1,000 graduates interviewed admitted that, rather than planning their choice of profession, they fell into careers which many found unsatisfactory within just two years.
Okay, it's a small sample size, but I'd be surprised if it was grossly unrepresentative. The impression given is not that people are "making bad judgements" but that they're not really thinking about it at all -- just falling into the first available job/career. That's slightly more interesting than the -- as you point out -- unremarkable fact that people make bad decisions sometimes.

Why are people not thinking about their jobs/careers? Is it because the idea of a "career for life" is so discredited now that people see no need to think in the longer term about their choice of job? That there are so many more opportunities for adult education that people know they can retrain if they want to, hence there's less need to get it right first time? That there's so much cross-pollination between fields of work that it's more likely -- perhaps even more desirable -- that people should move sideways as much as upwards? Or that fewer jobs have the kind of simple career structure where you can move directly upwards?

Is it that there are more jobs which are sufficiently boring, unchallenging, dead-end, unfocussed, ill-thought-out[1] that nobody could really be expected to do them for longer than a couple of years?

Is it that the ridiculous plurality of choice that we have on a day-to-day basis has destroyed our ability to make a definite choice? Are we paralysed by the range of options open to us, so that we end up falling into something chosen out of desperation, in a panicky need to choose something before time runs out?

teleute raises an interesting question about whether young graduates' expectations are unrealistically high; instinct tells me that there's probably some truth in this, that in this culture of "rights" there are probably people who think they have a "right" to have a job which never involves any mundane work, or any difficult or unpleasant tasks.

Also, the trend in education seems to be towards teaching in the specific rather than the general (so people are less likely to learn to work out how to deal with specifics they haven't previously encountered), teaching practical skills rather than theory; I wonder how many people feel resentment that they weren't "taught" how to find a good job, or how to make a mediocre job into a good job, how to make decisions about their life and work to achieve them, or even simply how to get along with other people? In another article one young teacher comments on her PGCE course: "writing essays about the post-compulsory sector is very different to actually working in it. There are quite a few nitty-gritty things you have to work out for yourself, like managing relationships with other staff." One wonders if this was her first experience of having to work something out for herself.

Something is deeply wrong with education today. minkboylove has ranted about this better than I could ever manage, but it's not clear what the solution is, or even (my inner pessimist mutters) whether there is a solution. How do we "de-junk" the spurious choices which only serve to make us dissatisfied with our lives, how do we get "back to basics" in a useful way? How do we produce a society where "education" is for life, not just for exam-time ... or election-time? How do we reclaim the buzzwords of reform as words with meanings?

[1] I say "ill-thought-out" because it strikes me that a lot of jobs in the field of <mumble>information</mumble> have come about partly by accident, have just grown up between the cracks like weeds; and, like weeds, their growth potential is ultimately limited by the paving-stones around them (not to mention the Big Boss with the can of weedkiller). They started out being secretarial/clerical jobs, and have grown into "web" jobs ... because "putting stuff on the web" is a bit like typing, and that's what secretaries do, right?
Read 27 | Write
juggzy From: juggzy Date: August 24th, 2004 10:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Also, the trend in education seems to be towards teaching in the specific rather than the general

I am not sure exactly what you mean here; are you referring to outcome based education?

I would love to quit my job, but I don't have the skills to transfer into another job that would give me equal pay. Although I suppose I could devote time to learning those skills - but I suppose I don't want to quit it that much. My primary choice of new job would be "Lottery Winner."
nja From: nja Date: August 24th, 2004 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
are you referring to outcome based education?

As it seems to be "put words into other people's mouths" day today, I'll join in by answering for j4. I think she probably means the sort of thing we've been discussing on uk.misc about teaching people skillsets for specific careers rather than general foundations which give increased flexibility (see my discussion of geology degrees with SAm and hoiho).

I've never had a career. I started a PhD because it was the easy thing to do, and realised too late that I wasn't nearly obsessive enough to do a PhD (when you are reading Shelley's letters to Leigh Hunt instead of Phys Rev B while waiting for the infra-red spectrometer to warm up, your subconscious is trying to tell you something). And then I got my current job because one of my mates knew Engineering was looking for a computer bod and thought it would do me while I wrote up my thesis (which never happened).

I've drunk some B33R and I'm tired, but this:
Is it that the ridiculous plurality of choice that we have on a day-to-day basis has destroyed our ability to make a definite choice?
reminds me of Erich Fromm's The Fear of Freedom which I read earlier this month. It's basically about what makes people turn to fascism, and Fromm's thesis is that it's in the nature of a "free" society that people become anxious when faced with the choices that freedom brings, and are more willing to turn to any system which offers security. There's a big Soviet Union-shaped hole in the book, probably inevitable given that Fromm was a Frankfurt School Freudian/Marxist writing in the USA during WWII, but it's a glaring omission.

I might be able to make a more intelligent comment on this tomorrow, but more B33R and sleep is beckoning me.
ewx From: ewx Date: August 24th, 2004 04:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd draw the opposite conclusion from the German experience to the one you attribute to Fromm (though he was there at the time and I wasn't) - that authoritarianism thrives on (perceived) lack of choices. Hitler was politically ineffective until the Depression; the Sturmabteilung were recruited predominantly from the unemployed.
nja From: nja Date: August 24th, 2004 11:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Fromm was more interested in the lower-middle-class political support for Hitler - he devotes a lot of time to pointing out how they are given theoretical opportunities and freedoms by capitalism which they actually have very little chance of fulfilling, which leads to a general resentment and a subconscious feeling that freedom isn't to be valued. He also discusses the way that in "free" societies a lot of people deal with the same problem by conformism, avoiding making choices by behaving the same way as everyone else while believing they are free.

What I was trying to get at above was that a lot of people (including myself) are happier going with the flow rather than making active career choices. There's also the problem of student debt - if I owed several tens of thousands of pounds on graduation, I'd take the first job that came along offering semi-decent pay.

(In my day you might owe a few thousand - I graduated with a £600 debt, one of my mates worked nights in a hotel kitchen for a couple of years to pay his debts off).
ewx From: ewx Date: August 25th, 2004 01:44 am (UTC) (Link)

That makes more sense, yes, except that I'd disagree with the description of it as "freedom" - freedom that is only theoretical is not actually freedom at all. There's certainly something to critique there but let's not give it a misleading name.

Choosing the first job that comes along seems like the wrong strategy for dealing with student loans - you want to be either below the payment threshold or far enough above to be comfortable despite the repayments.


The original question seems to be phrased in terms of people picking the wrong career rather than job though which seems like a slightly different problem: not entirely an entirely orthognal, but not quite the same one either though.

A former girlfriend of mine initially went into teaching, but has since retrained as an accountant. This doesn't seem like an initial choice made because of need of money; the two careers would have to be in the opposite order for that. She had primary school teacher written all over her too, so if it was just a bad judgement then I suggest it was an easy one to make.

I think you just have to find some things out by trying them. Working for money full time is very different from education, so I don't think it should be surprising that the first few years of work fall into this class.

(...Janet's remark about the teacher who 'discovered' that they had to manage their relationships with other staff is valid though; that's an element of work that shouldn't really be new to most people.)

ewx From: ewx Date: August 25th, 2004 05:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I mean "not entirely an entirely orthognal one". I can type, honest.
ewx From: ewx Date: August 25th, 2004 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)

I can type

...I can't spot all the errors at once tho, it seems. fx: gives up
j4 From: j4 Date: August 24th, 2004 03:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't explain myself very well, sorry. Though I'm not sure what you mean by "outcome based education" so I'm not sure if it is that that I meant.

It seems (judging from a lot of anecdotal evidence rather than any objective evidence, if indeed there's any objective way of measuring this) that children are being taught more along the lines of "this is how to answer this specific question which will come up in the exam" than "this is how this system works, this is how you solve a problem like this".

There also seems to be a trend towards people wanting to learn, say, "journalism" rather than learning how to write well; to learn how to write neato games in C++ rather than principles of programming; to learn How To Do rather than How To Think or, god forbid, How To Learn. Is that "outcome-based education"? Is it just perfectly reasonable vocational education, am I showing my supposed Oxbridge snobbery? I don't think I have a problem with useful vocational education. But a lot of the stuff that people seem to be doing seems extremely specific, not "transferable", etc. Cf "Applied Golf Management" or whatever it was that somebody mentioned in misc. Even "Management Studies" is better than that; I mean, surely if you learn the general principles of "Management" you can apply that to Golf without too much difficulty?

I would love to quit my job, but I don't have the skills to transfer into another job that would give me equal pay.

What would you want to do if you were guaranteed to receive equivalent pay to your current job for it? (Apart from "lottery winner"!)
teleute From: teleute Date: August 24th, 2004 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I realised that the BA path had gone to hell when I heard about a BA in Car Salesmanship. I mean really *sigh*. AFAIK journalists used to be people with English degrees rather than journalism degrees. I don't know how much difference this makes, but I would have thought that it would mean they were more likely to find their own style of journalism in the former case, since they weren't being specifically educated for the job. Therefore they have more oppertunity to find their own voice/style. Does this make for better journalists, though? (this is just an example, there are parallels in almost all career paths)
addedentry From: addedentry Date: August 25th, 2004 02:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Loughborough's BSc (Hons) Retail Management (Automotive) is tragically no longer offered. It's been subsumed under the generic BSc (Hons) Retail Management. To believe the blurb, it's like a degree in General Useful Stuff with some retail-specific decoration added to attract students and employers, rather than a tailored course with transferable skills included only as necessary.

The most frequent complaint from students on my librarianship conversion course was that it was too theoretical!
teleute From: teleute Date: August 25th, 2004 06:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
library theory? Do tell...
addedentry From: addedentry Date: August 26th, 2004 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)
The exact angle at which to raise the finger to the lips.

Ethics, mainly: confidentiality, censorship, that sort of thing. The continuing debate on whether public libraries are for leisure or education, which ties in with Janet's question about how to make people accept responsibility for their own lives. Colonialism, paternalism and the market for books in developing countries. What is this thing we blithely call 'information'? Et cetera ad nauseam.

The highlight of my course, obviously, was the discussion on 'What is a digital library?' led by Prof. McKnight.
juggzy From: juggzy Date: August 25th, 2004 12:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Television and film reviewing; I'd want to turn a hobby into a lifestyle.

I don't know enough about other careers really to know what I'd want to do, apart from that.
geekette8 From: geekette8 Date: August 25th, 2004 02:37 am (UTC) (Link)
It seems (judging from a lot of anecdotal evidence rather than any objective evidence, if indeed there's any objective way of measuring this) that children are being taught more along the lines of "this is how to answer this specific question which will come up in the exam" than "this is how this system works, this is how you solve a problem like this".

Indeed. A lot of that is down to the pervasiveness of league tables, Guv'mint targets and the like. If you teach "this is how you solve problems like this" then some of the less able students will not understand, or not be able to apply that knowledge to a related problem, and will get lower grades as a consequence. OTOH if you teach "if the exam paper says X, you should write Y" then everyone can pass. Woohoo. :-(
rbarclay From: rbarclay Date: August 24th, 2004 11:56 am (UTC) (Link)
My experience is that most people fall into the first available job because they can't afford not to.
verlaine From: verlaine Date: August 24th, 2004 01:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Currently it's a source of much misery to me that - having fallen off my first, reasonably highly-paid career path because I didn't like it much - my financial situation is now in such a parlous state that I really now have to take any job that people are willing to offer me because I can't afford not to. AGAIN.
j4 From: j4 Date: August 24th, 2004 03:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Would you rather still be in the well-paid job you didn't enjoy?

At the end of last year I left a job that was driving me slowly insane, despite having no clear prospect for anything better, because I decided that I genuinely would rather be sweeping streets than waking up every morning feeling physically sick at the thought of another day in the job I was doing. As it was, I avoided street-sweeping, and ended up doing a completely braindead temp job for the princely sum of £6.06/hr, plus bar work (minimum wage, but some free food/drink) two nights a week. I'm glad I did it: the temp work kept my head above water while I looked for something better, but didn't tie me down to giving any period of notice. It gave me plenty of time to think, because picking out pieces of paper without red stickers on doesn't use up much of my brain power. It also gave me a chance to watch how the department worked while nobody was watching me, and to talk to my fellow temp, who was holding down 4 jobs in order to fund herself through a course which she was failing because, doing the jobs, she didn't have time to study. (Which was illuminating, in some ways, and extremely frustrating and saddening in others.) ... The temp position was also a job that nobody was expecting me to stay in, which mattered to me, but that's probably more to do with my own hangups than anything more generalisable.

And on my CV and at interview I did my best to make the temp work look like a positive career choice (having a degree in advanced bullshit helped there), and eventually I managed to get a better job, so I guess I did something right. :-)
arnhem From: arnhem Date: August 24th, 2004 12:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm definitely tempted by the assertion that (some) people (may) have unhelpfully high expectations of what they'll get out of a job? I was going to say "unreasonably" and then realised that very much wasn't what I thought - in an ideal world, we'd all find a niche that fulfilled us and did good and didn't tire us out more than we wanted it to and had perfect self-cleaning coffee machines always ready. Perhaps in a hundred years time (given how much better working conditions are now than a hundred years ago)? But perhaps in a hundred years time, the spoiled grand-brats will be complaining about jobs you or I would die for.

Me, I blame the media (and telly in particular).
j4 From: j4 Date: August 24th, 2004 04:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, in retrospect, "unreasonably" wasn't quite what I meant, and "unhelpfully" is much closer to it.

In an ideal world, yes, we'd all find something that fulfilled us, challenged us, nurtured us, helped us to grow as individuals, and provided us with endless free coffee. And I do think that's something worth aspiring to (well, apart from the free coffee, which would be unbelievably bad for my blood pressure), so long as one bears in mind that on the way towards that goal one will probably have to shovel one's share of shit, because sadly, that's the way the world works.

It's a question of balancing the realism against the idealism. Just because perfection isn't achievable doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for it, so long as we do so in the knowledge that we can't achieve it. If that makes sense. I wouldn't make it through the day without the realism; but I wouldn't get up in the morning at all if it wasn't for the idealism.

I don't think apportioning blame is particularly useful, to be honest; the way that "the media" have been used probably bears some responsibility, but "the media" are only a tool, and a tool is neither good nor bad on its own. (TV doesn't kill people's brains, people kill people's brains!) However, the box has been opened, we can't un-invent TV any more than we can un-invent the atom bomb; we have to start from here for the simple and tautological reason that now we are here we can't start from anywhere else.
teleute From: teleute Date: August 24th, 2004 07:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Adrian says he is provided with endless free coffee, but it's not very good coffee ;-)
hairyears From: hairyears Date: August 24th, 2004 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Career dissatisfaction. Hmmm... Interestingly, nobody who left the Square Mile for the web startups in the late nineties is coming back. I mean, none of them: the handful of them that you see are on temp contracts having rejected permanent offers. The coolest, most capable and ambitious people in London and New York have voted with their feet.

So much for generalities, I can only be specific about me... I had the golden-graduate route into Medicine, fluffed it, and another opportunity to go the same way in Civil Engineering. Both of which fascinated me, as a schoolboy and as a student, and neither of which would have satisfied me as a career. My conclusion is that early specialisation is a curse, and that there's a lot to be said for those professions with two-year 'conversion' masters-degree-level courses available to the Bachelor generalist. Not that </i>I'd</i> want to do law, actuarial mathematics, or (say) take a masters' in materials engineering on the back of a good science degree.

hairyears From: hairyears Date: August 24th, 2004 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

comment to an aside that's quite interesting in it's own right

"putting stuff on the web" is a bit like typing, and that's what secretaries do, right?

Ok, I'm preaching to the converted, but putting stuff on the Web is the company communicating with the world and the customer. Any manager who dismisses that as 'secretarial' is:
(a): very dim about secretaries, who often run the place and definitely keep it running around the holes in his managerial ability.
(b): doesn't get the importance of their website visitors; ie: it's people who want something from the organisation and have taken the trouble to find out what you've got to say. Duh, how much are you paying marketing to make them aware that we even exist?

Now why would I state the obvious, apart from liking the sound of my own opinions? Just to toss in a tidbit about the Japanese, where IT penetration in junior-to-middle management is very limited indeed: 'typing' is 'Office Lady' work and its very demeaning for a man of any worth to be expected to sit at a keyboard. The impact on their banking ability is appalling: as is the look of horror on Japanese Fast-Track trainees' faces, fresh off the plane from Tokyo, when they realise the Awful Truth - they are expected to use a keyboard and their Manager is using one in front of them without the slightest trace of shame.

Edited and replaced due to embarrassing spelling error

teleute From: teleute Date: August 24th, 2004 07:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wanted to agree with what you've said by pointing out that I'm avoiding taking a teacher training course out here because all the people I know that have taken it have said it was no use: all the important things you learn, you learn on the job. Is there any use to knowing about the history when what you need is the practice?

I embody a one-woman campaign t bring back apprenticeships. I'm not doing very well so far.

(I hope that made sence. My parents are feeding me lots of gin.)
nja From: nja Date: August 24th, 2004 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I embody a one-woman campaign t bring back apprenticeships. I'm not doing very well so far.

I'll join. This ties in with what j4 says above about a degree in Management being more useful than a degree in Golf Course Management. I was talking to a relative 4-5 years back who worked in traditional heavy industry in Birmingham. He said companies were moaning about the poor skills of potential recruits, but none of them were willing to restart apprenticeship schemes. Industry used to do a lot of education to teach employees exactly what they needed to know to do the job, and it was generally really effective. Costs money, though.

My middle brother's comments on his one year PGCE agree with what your friends said - the college was a waste of time, he only learnt anything during his teaching practices.
sion_a From: sion_a Date: August 25th, 2004 03:02 am (UTC) (Link)
It does seem that the resistance to apprenticeships (or at least Modern Apprenticeships) comes from the employers rather than anyone else. The television advertising accompanying this push was definitely slanted at trying to get people to provide them rather than take them up.
teleute From: teleute Date: August 25th, 2004 06:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Except that I'm sure it would end up costing the company less money if they ended up with employees that could do the job. Yes, they would have to pay them while they were trained as apprentices, but you wouldn't have to pay them at full price. Surely it would be better for the company to have a couple of well trained/usefully educated employees, which had cost them more, than half a dozen BA-qualified people which will also cost a lot of money and can't do the job well.
rysmiel From: rysmiel Date: August 25th, 2004 07:25 am (UTC) (Link)
You have successfully earwormed me with Iggy Pop, at least. Though I can segway out of it via his rant from Hardware into "Ace of Spades".

There are lots of serious points here the which I do not have time to address right now, damn it. I will throw out two entirely anecdotal observations; to wit, that I am personally convinced that general problem solving ability is something which is at least partially hardwired in the brain - and that you find people who are really good at it by looking at people who get flatline high results on aptitude tests because where their aptitude really lies is hacking the tests, and that - at least in my end of academic bioinformatics - the interaction I as a nominally-postdoc group leader have with the professionals in my team has many of the characteristics of a guild master working with apprentices or journeymen, in that it is teaching things at a level for which formal academic teaching is not suited.
Read 27 | Write