A lot of years ago now I was in the 5th form at school; (This is in the good old days before they changed everything to years etc) and we had, believe it or not, a careers master who would talk to us.
Admittedly he was a maths master who did careers as well but he was keen, and obviously had a mate working in the field because we were used as the guinea pigs when they tested a ‘computerised careers questionnaire.’ Really that should be in flashing lights or at least italic because no one had heard of them before.
Anyway I did the questionnaire along with the other ninety lads in the year and thought to more about it: Until I was called back in to answer a question that had been troubling them.
The format, if I remember it properly, was the questions were in the form of ‘would you prefer to do x or y.’ This doubtless made the answers easy to put into the computer (remember this is a 1970s computer) and they were comparatively easy to answer. There was one small issue which had brought me to their attention. The question was, “Would you prefer to clean out pigs or look after old people?” I, alone of all those who had filled in this questionnaire had answered, “Clean out pigs.”
Because this question was apparently to calibrate the system and ensure that those filling it in were being serious and could read etc, the guy whose project it was really wanted to see me. What he discovered was that I had read the question, pondered it carefully and then, based on my knowledge and experience, answered it.
After all, I knew that cleaning out pigs tended to be a high pressure hose job, done in working hours, sometimes preceded by a quick pass or two with a tractor loader to get rid of the heavy stuff. Looking after old people was constant, hard, demanding work; often thankless, often unending and normally unsocial.
The problem is that the questioner had written his question without any real comprehension of the nature of the alternatives he’d included in his question. What he had been thinking was ‘clean out pigs’ equals dirty disgusting back breaking work. On the other hand was ‘looking after old people’ cuddly, virtuous, socially desirable. Pity about the reality, yet I was the only person who was apparently grounded in the reality.
What set this off was someone said that they felt that David Cameron should be put to cleaning out pig sties. Firstly there aren’t any, or if there are it would be a doddle of a job because they’ll be the proud property of smallholders with a cherished pig or two. Secondly the last thing we need in one of the most efficient industries this country has is some untrained noddy wandering in and doing a job he isn’t trained for. If you doubt the efficiency, look at the farm gate prices. Currently milk is now about 33 pence a litre. We got 30 pence a litre back in 1996. (I use milk as an indicator because I know the prices without checking.) Perhaps civil servants could survive with their departments still on 1996 budgets.
But it also showed (and I’m not picking on one person) how food production and the people involved in it, is regarded in this country. We’re a suggested dumping ground, a gulag for politicians. I can think of no other class of people less suited to taking part in a real job where you have to take responsibility for your actions and own up when you screw up.
Oh, and the ‘computerised careers questionnaire.’ Well much to the surprise of our Careers master, it said I ought to be a farmer or a journalist. Actually I’m both simultaneously, and occasionally over the years I’ve often wished I could meet the guy who designed the system, just to tell him he got at least one right.