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What can I do when I grow up: a young person's guide to careers, money - and the future

What can I do when I grow up?

The titular question reminds me of that patronising question adults always ask children, and that I never knew the answer to when I was a child at school and even a young adult at university.

The book for young people, presumably teens from the language of the text and the ideas discussed, begins by reassuring the reader that this is a "really tricky adult question" rather than a question for a child and that there are ways of thinking about this question and answering the person who asks it. The strength of the book is in its reassurance that not knowing the answer to this question is not a problem. In fact, the aim of the book is not to provide the answer but some food for thought about the future, careers, employment and livelihood beyond school. In short, What Can I Do When I Grow Up? aims to create an awareness of the issues and challenges young people face in choosing a career path, and offer some useful suggestions.

The book offers some discussion around the choices to be made: how people in history went into certain jobs; the kind of jobs there are; the purpose a job can serve; why some jobs pay more; why jobs need to be enjoyable and how school does or does not prepare us for working. And finally, it offers ways to actually answer that curly question when asked by an adult. There are clear and helpful explanations of the issues of career, employment, pay and choices here but despite the useful ideas, I think it will be limited in its appeal to its intended youthful audience.

The pastel cover and stylised drawings of people at work seem to be for much younger children than teenagers ​or could perhaps be described as having an old-school textbook feel, and the title itself has a child-like ring​ that does not match the ideas and vocabulary of the text which are at a level suitable for over twelve-year-olds. ​Its layout with workbook-like spaces to make your own notes seems to encourage engagement with the text. But I thought the discussion had a didactic tone, reinforcing the feeling that a well meaning and rather long-winded "grown-up" has the answers that the young reader does not. Especially when telling the young person what to say when asked the dreaded question.

The School of Life, the publisher, is a global educational company which produces books and films, and other resources, to educate people about all those aspects of life that the traditional school with its focus on academic knowledge does not. In other words, it seeks to teach individuals to manage their relationships, their careers, their feelings and emotions and acquire the self-knowledge, and the personal skills to be able to lead a satisfying and fulfilled life. Being under this umbrella, and without the acknowledgement of a named writer, may be what contributes to the obviously well-intentioned but slightly impersonal authorial voice.

Despite the didactic tone, the information and ideas are useful in preparing teenagers for the adult working world ahead. It could be a helpful resource for teachers and parents to stimulate thought and engage discussion with their teenagers about what their future place in the world could look like and what kind of work they could do.

Reviewer: Clare Lyons

Published by School of Life Press


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