A tough job to choose

JUST THE JOB SERIES. 27 titles. Hodder amp; Stoughton Pounds 5.99. Tel: 0171 873 6024

WORKING IN..SERIES. 43 titles COIC Pounds 5. Tel: 0181 957 5030.

GREAT CAREERS FOR PEOPLE INTERESTED IN...WORKING WITH PEOPLE. By Helen Mason. SPORTS amp; FITNESS. By Lois Edwards. THE PERFORMING ARTS. By Gillian Bartlett. Kogan Page Pounds 8.99 each. Tel: 0171 278 0433.

THE A-Z OF CAREERS AND JOBS. Edited by Diane Burston. Kogan. Page Pounds 14.99. Tel as above.

THE WHICH? GUIDE TO CHOOSING A CAREER. By Barbara Bufflon. Which? Books. Pounds 9.99. Tel: 0171 830 6000.

The most difficult career move to make is the first one. Bridget Patterson looks at texts that should allow parents to help their children make the right selection

If you ask your child how she got on at school today, she is likely to reply "all right". Should she volunteer the information that she had a careers interview you might be interested to know what was discussed. But unless you attended the interview with her or she involves you by showing the action plan she was given at the end of the talk, you are unlikely to find out.

In my experience, parents' active involvement in their child's school-based career planning rarely happens before Year 11. Only when the sixth-former seems to be drifting from one poor module result to the next, with no clear ideas about the future, do parents sometimes step in. At the end of last summer term, several boys at my school said their parents would also be coming to the careers interview.

So what can parents read to help their children decide what to do with their lives? An enormous amount is available, but however much parents read they must always bear in mind that the decision cannot finally be theirs.

Writers in this field are now trying to encourage their readers to broaden their outlook and consider more unusual ways to use their qualifications and aptitudes.

The Just the Job series has an excellent, wide-ranging selection of titles. The books are lively, well-presented and easy to read. The part in each chapter that describes what the job is actually like and "what it takes" is refreshingly down-to-earth.

In Working with Children and Young People, for instance, a chapter on residential child care makes the point that "it is not enough just to like children" - you also need patience, tolerance and stamina. Recent additions to the series include Working Outdoors (fish farming and courier work as well as agriculture and the building industry), Consumer amp; Home Services (from trading standards to pest control) and Working with the Past (archaeology, museum work and heraldry, to name but three.) The series draws directly on the careers information database developed and maintained by Lifetime Careers Wiltshire.

An equally sound introduction to the exploration of career ideas can be found in the Working in I series published by the Careers and Occupational Information Centre, the publishing arm of the Department for Education and Employment. Unlike the neat A5 paperback format of Just the Job, these are glossy A4 booklets that concentrate on case studies of people in a particular occupation describing a typical day.

The text is broken up with good colour photographs, and I like the highlighted box at the end of each description that summarises the "best part of the job", as well as the drawbacks, and gives some general advice. Working in Airports, for example, points out that having to get up at 4am when you are working in passenger services is a disadvantage, but the variety in a day's work is a definite plus.

In a similar vein, Kogan Page publishes a series under the general title Great Careers for People Interested in I, which is a serious attempt to cover more unusual ideas. Working with People, for example, has chapters on being a diplomatic service officer, a restaurant manager and a food stylist among others.

The profiles add a real-life touch and there are useful sections on getting started and the prospects for each career in the next millennium.

These books could be worth a look for parents but they also suggest activities that would be helpful in a careers lesson. Sports amp; Fitness,for example, contains a chapter on being a kinesiologist. The activity shows how you can compare limbs to levers, see how joints move and work out the easiest way to carry a heavy bag.

Each of the books carries a warning that the publisher accepts no responsibility for damage caused by carrying out any of the ideas suggested.

Careers teacher may need to know some physics for this exercise, but they will be on more familiar ground with the section at the end of each book on "Who got the job?" Performing Arts shows two applications for a part-time theatre usher position with brief notes on how the candidates got on at interview. This could also provide an excellent basis for role-play activities.

Two recent encyclopedias provide useful factual information about most careers anyone could think of. The A-Z of Careers and Jobs is now in its eighth edition. Under each entry are details of qualifications and training, important personal qualities, the starting salary and where to get more information. Descriptions of each occupation are clear and straightforward. At the end is a page of useful addresses and a full index.

At Pounds 9.99, the Which? Guide to Choosing a Career is Pounds 5 cheaper than the A-Z. This first edition, by careers writer Barbara Bufflon, has an introduction on the education system and government initiatives. This is followed by a section aimed at students explaining how to prepare for a career. I like the advice to avoid making any decisions based on what your friend wants to do.

The author is clearly aware of the difficulties young people face in making these sorts of decisions. The introduction to the main section of the guide suggests using it as an "ideas generator" to find something that might appeal.

A helpful list of common school subjects and the sort of career in which they might be useful will be invaluable for those times when you are faced with a student asking what he can do with geography and your mind goes blank.

Each entry comes with its Careers Library Classification Index reference,easing the task of researching information from the school careers library or careers service. A glossary at the end of the book makes you realise how many acronyms we use in education. As well as the index there is a list of useful addresses given by each career area. This is an excellent reference book - for student, teacher or parent.

Most careers teachers will have placed their book orders at the end of the summer term - it is certainly worth updating your collection with the series mentioned here.

Bridget Patterson is head of sixth-form careers and a language teacher at Northgate High School, Ipswich

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