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As you’ll likely have seen, the UK Government launched a online quiz this week to help its citizens “discover their skills” and suggest potential new career paths.

You know, suggestions like ‘lock keeper’, ‘boxer’ and ‘football referee’…

…useful stuff like that.

The logic behind the campaign (if there was any), presumably went like this: “actors, waiters and millions of others will need to find new jobs, now that their industries are long-term screwed. A quiz could open their eyes to some new options.” Which arguably makes some sense.

It’s just that the campaign’s execution resulted in a spectacular own-goal, becoming a laughing stock for its totally bizarre and contextually-unaware suggestions (hey out-of-work actor: how about becoming an out-of-work actor?!)

the campaign’s execution resulted in a spectacular own-goal, becoming a laughing stock

Of course, there’s a strong argument – being rightly voiced by many – that since Covid-19 is still only a temporary event (albeit an increasingly long-term one), job viability has by no means vanished altogether!

It’s plainly obvious that things like theatre, live music and international tourism will do everything they can to burst back into our lives as soon as they are allowed. Those with valuable skills to offer – and who are prepared to wait it out – deserve our support to bridge the period until we get there.

Unfortunately that’s not how the government are playing it. And those heeding Rishi Sunak’s implicit encouragements to jump ship, and perhaps even invest in new training, face a brutal job market as reward for their efforts.

These contexts make the launch of an ineffective Careers Quiz seem not just ‘comical’ but in fact both insulting and offensive for its uselessness as a solution to the devastation of peoples’ livelihoods.

The Case For Designing Something Better

So, clearly the V1.0 of the Careers Quiz was an unmitigated disaster.

But with multiple industries in hibernation and unemployment set to spike, it’s inevitable that huge swathes of the population will need to take their careers in a new direction.

Not every actor will need to become a green energy consultant, but quite a few undoubtedly will.

Not every actor will need to become a green energy consultant, but quite a few undoubtedly will. A service that could assist with identifying career opportunities and advising on viable pathways to employment surely wouldn’t be a bad thing.

I’ve previously written about the need to re-humanise job seeking (and provided a 10 point manifesto for achieving that goal using tech.) There’s huge potential, but achieving it takes more than a lazy quiz launch.

Job applicants in today’s market have already tended to experience huge frustration, based largely around “not receiving feedback”,”not knowing exactly what qualifications or experience are required” and “not knowing who else is applying.”

Now, rising unemployment will exacerbate an already rough system, making the odds longer and deepening job seekers’ frustrations. It’s a long way from the idyll that TV adverts like ones currently being screened by Indeed make things seem.

Possession of information is vastly one-sided. Employers have all the answers, but little incentive to communicate with anyone beyond the tiny % of applicants they choose to interview. The majority experience a wall of silence; a void into which they pitch their CV blindly.

Personal feedback and guidance will never be available for everyone – but actually a well-designed tech system – ‘Careers Quiz V2.0’, perhaps – could provide genuinely useful advice at scale. It could help people escape futile pursuits and get themselves on career paths that lead to success.

Solving the coming jobs crisis will evidently require far, far more than just a quiz (job creation, funding for training and job seeker support, to name but a few of the major needs!), but there’s value to be found in making a better one nonetheless.

My Careers Quiz V2.0

Here’s how I’d approach the next iteration:

  • Take account of existing education and skills

    It beggars belief that Quiz V1.0 didn’t even reference this painfully obvious starting point – focusing instead entirely on personality. Personality tests can be a useful way to consider suitable job roles, but it’s frankly insulting, and bizarre, to ignore the value of academic credentials and hard-earned experience.

    Baristas with philosophy degrees don’t need to be told that they’d be ‘psychologically suited to a career in dentistry’. What might help, though, is a nudge that their caring and curious credentials could serve them well in a career like counselling.

    A useful tool would need, therefore, the ability to account for all of a candidates’ credentials (basically their CV), even if the algorithm is built to apply them in creative new ways.
  • Highlight current and expected “high-demand” job sectors

    Countless industries are experiencing dire skills shortages, but how are job seekers supposed to know which ones? High demand is a hugely attractive prospect for those seeking work; it means a better chance of success and (probably) a higher salary.

    Yet career services are often pitifully unhelpful in this area, offering no clear identification of the lines of work that will be most receptive to new applicants (something I’ve also written about before.) Job seekers are eventually shunted into viable jobs via market forces, but this can take years and even decades of painful adjustment.

    A data-rich resource that provided clear guidance on which industries need skills most would help individuals reorient their attention proactively.
  • Show what credentials recruits actually need (as set by market conditions)

    Without direct feedback, the vast majority of applicants to jobs of all kinds have no idea why they weren’t successful. This lack of knowledge can be personally traumatic, but also provides no opportunity to learn anything meaningful about any ‘skills gaps’ they’d need to fill.

    Visibility of what the real-world, market-led entry criteria is would go some way to addressing this point.

    Beyond knowing becoming a TV producers ‘requires a degree’, for example, it would help to know that in reality, market supply has pushed the requirements to ‘1-2 years direct experience, at least 1 foreign language and a 2.1+ from a leading university.’

    Of course, care would need to be taken to avoid excluding those with potential – but couldn’t an up-front reality check in some way help countless applicants avoid huge amounts of wasted time and effort perusing fruitless paths? Efforts that could be well spent elsewhere, perhaps.
  • Be up front about the odds of career success

    It’s bordering on criminal how many young people are ushered into expensive training programmes that lead to infinitesimally small chances of success. It is only fair that those embarking on a career path should know the odds.

    Hear-say provides us with a rough guide. It’s common knowledge that the chances of becoming an astronaut are 10,000’s to 1; but it’d be handy to know more specifics, something a smart tech platform with the right data inputs could plausibly provide.

    It’d be handy, for example, to know that a path into engineering (difficult though it may be to follow) has a near 100% hit rate for those who qualify.  
  • Be more useful!

    The criteria above, it has to be said, would be far from easy to achieve – though also not at all impossible, and arguably well worth the effort.

    Simplest of all, though; the quiz V2.0 could simply be more useful. That is, its authors could provide far more onward pathways for users to explore the realities of presented career paths. Every industry has an ecosystem of training and recruitment pathways, and this tool could easily do a better job of signposting toward them.

When all the above doesn’t happen (because let’s face it, we’d be foolish to expect otherwise), I feel for all those whose job seeking experience will amount to hours, days and months spend uploading CVs to Indeed and hearing nothing back.

There is a better way, and at some point soon we really need to find it.

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