‘I’ve wasted my life on science’ – government online careers quiz causes derision

Written by Sam Trendall on 12 October 2020 in News

Tool launched following chancellor’s speech in which he warned that people may need to retrain

An image of the online skills checker service   Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

An online service launched by the government to help citizens identify careers for which they could be suited has been widely mocked for its bizarre recommendations.

Last week, the National Careers Service launched a digital skills and careers assessment service that puts about 40 statements to users and asks them to rank, on a five-point scale, how much they agree or disagree with each. Once this process is completed, the tool points users towards sectors and careers to which they might be well suited, and flags up others that may be a good fit – subject to answering some secondary questions.

Statements among those in the initial assessment include “I am comfortable talking people around to my way of thinking”, “I will get involved if I think I can help,” “I like to get to the centre of the issue”, and “I try to think differently to others”. 

The tool was launched in the hours after chancellor Rishi Sunak gave an interview in which he suggested that, as a result of the coronavirus crisis, people “in all walks of life” may have to consider alternative careers.

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“I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis,” he told ITV News. “And that’s why we’ve put a lot of our extra resource into trying to create new opportunities for people.”

But many using the online skills-checker have been bemused by the new opportunities suggested. 

These include a humanities professor advised that they may be suited to become a “body piercer”, a neuroscientist directed towards a possible career as a DJ, and a barrister told they might consider becoming either a coroner or a bingo caller.

This reporter took the quiz and, after answering a few clarifying follow-up questions, was advised that there were no suitable careers in the media or creative industries. 

The emergency services was picked out as another possible sector of employment. But, after answering ‘yes’ to the question of whether we kept calm under pressure, this area too was ruled out.

A number of roles in the digital and engineering sectors were instead recommended. As was a potential career as a paediatrician – although the lack of any science qualifications more prestigious than two Ds at GCSE level 20 years ago could present a barrier to progressing along this path.

Despite the widespread mockery and confusion, some users – including lecturers, university attendants, and actors – reported that the tool recommended the career path they had, in reality, followed.


About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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