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In times of looming unemployment, the government has been giving online careers advice. But algorithms don’t always give helpful answers. Kaye McIntosh investigates.

What does the government’s career page have in store for you?

You’d think civil servants would have learned from the shambles of A Level results that algorithms don’t always give helpful answers. But no, apparently the government careers service has been inspired. It must have been a desperate brainstorming session that produced the instruction ‘teenagers aren’t the only ones whose futures we can screw up – let’s move on to adults!’  (I blame Zoom – meetings are weird these days. And you have to buy your own biscuits.)

Then they decided to release their brilliant advice about jobs onto social media.

But the great British public turn out to be an ungrateful lot. Sarah, a lawyer for 20 years, refuses to entertain the idea of joining the army: “I’m not sure they need a middle-aged woman with asthma who hasn’t bothered a gym for several decades.”

Helpfully, the questionnaire gives you a range of ideas. “At least I got a lot of ‘ologies,” says Alice. But she’s not sure about moving from her current MSc on Egyptology into nanotechnology. Or meteorology – apparently the weather might have changed a little in the past 5,000 years.

Liam was told to become a funeral director. Or a meat processor. I suppose he could combine the two in some sort of Sweeney Todd nightmare but it’s hardly career progression. My teenage son’s future is in cake decorating, apparently. It’s a shame his A Levels are in maths, biology and psychology. I suppose at least we’ll save on tuition fees.

I’ve been a journalist for 20 years. Won awards, even (admittedly, so long ago the trophy’s lost in a cupboard somewhere. Possibly in our last house). But it seems I’ve missed my true vocation – in IT, of all things. I fear I’d make an even bigger mess of data than Track and Trace. But then, Health Secretary Matt Hancock did give the chair’s role to Dido Harding. Her previous record includes running TalkTalk, the mobile phone company, when hackers seized the details of 4 million customers. Actually, maybe I should consider it…

Still, that makes more sense than telling pretty much everyone who fills in the form to become a boxer. From English teachers to nurses to accountants, we should all climb into the ring. Strange, because I’d always assumed you would need experience and training and someone to spot your talent. Maybe it’s something to do with Brexit? They expect hand to hand (glove to glove) combat with EU officials?

Luckily for the government, they aren’t known for making the same mistake twice. Except of course they did – releasing ads telling a ballerina to retrain in IT: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber, she just doesn’t know it yet.”

It sparked a torrent of creative responses – my favourite is “Dominic’s next job is castle tour guide” with a picture of Cummings.

Turns out it’s a scheme to encourage more young people into cyber security. Someone tell Dido Harding…

Photo credit: Monster Jobs

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Kaye McIntosh

Kaye McIntosh is a freelance journalist and the former editor of Health Which?, Pregnancy & birth and WI Life.

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