With people losing their jobs, and in another six months, hundreds of youngsters coming on to the labour market, it made me think back over the years of careers that I have had, and how most of them were derived through circumstance rather than any careful choice. In all, I have had seven careers, and three part-time jobs. We, adults and children, were totally disrupted as a result of Hitler’s rapacious appetite. When I had completed my education while evacuated to the country, I had to think about finding work. My aunt wanted me to go to Lever Brothers, then a very big soap manufacturer, to join, and learn from, their advertising team, but I had been a guinea pig used to test out a psychological means of job selection, and the result came out that I should be an architect. I had an aunt who was a renowned hairdresser and she tried to train me in her footsteps. I learned Marcel waving, the rudiments of wig making, and did all the rubbish jobs that those at the bottom of the ladder have to do, and as I hated it, I did not become a ladies hairdresser. The heat, the fact that the hairdresser has also to be an entertainer, and the long hours and poor pay made the decision simple. One member of the family had influence with a surveying firm in London, and I became articled as a valuation surveyor – circumstance, not choice. I enjoyed the work and proposed to make it my career after my war service. I then became a sailor, again chance, and while doing so became a teacher. Being a sailor in wartime is totally different from being one in peacetime, but strangely many years later, working under heavy stress, I would have given anything to do six months as a deckhand on a tanker, where I would do as I was told, and didn’t have to think. As to teaching, again teaching in the Navy was not comparable to teaching in school, and tended to be more repetitive because the courses were shorter, but I did decide that if I had to I could be a reasonable teacher, but the work didn’t attract me, any more than remaining in the Navy. When I came out of the Navy and discovered that there was no vacancy for me in the surveying firm, I had to choose yet again. I had the possibility of a university place, and as they didn’t do surveying or architecture I blindly chose civil engineering. Between leaving the Navy and becoming a student I had a period where I had to study to pass the entrance exam, during which I was unemployed, so at the time I helped out behind the counter in a small newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop, long enough to learn that it takes a very special type of personality to deal with the public, politely and with good humour at all times, irrespective of your inner thoughts. I was not suited! For a short time I worked as a clerk in the civil service. My problem is that I have a strong propensity for lateral thinking, with the result that if I consider something could be done in a better way, I have to try it, and this is totally disruptive in a clerical environment, which in general has arrived where it has through years of trial and error to the final resolution – again I was not suited.
Engineering, like many of the professions, whether you are at the top or the bottom, has constantly changing aspects often in location, often through development, and nearly always because of the demands of the client. Even at the bottom of the ladder, the level of the labourer, there is sufficient variety to retain one’s interest. Some are more fortunate than others, they can be in the right place at the right time, in which case the variety is almost endless. Another career I had was to do with inventions, where I tried to promote my own, and acted as a consultant to others in the same process. I discovered that national financial conditions are one of the factors which influence whether the product will succeed or not, irrespective of its quality. I also discovered that the inventor/designer should either take professional advice, or take his own true evaluation, but never that of friends and relatives, as a guide to the possibility of success. During the Blitz I was a part-time soldier with the Guards which was not totally rewarding, but in the short term interesting and an eye opener. Having also been a part-time constable during the Northern Ireland troubles, I am fully aware that while you may have spasms of interest if not excitement, the general run of the mill in the lower grades in the services can in peacetime be very tedious.
Finally, we in our day, had no Internet. My advice to the young people starting out, or someone unemployed thinking of changing his work ethic, is that they should read up and take careful note before making a decision. I was very lucky, but I could equally have been deeply disappointed if I’d gone in other directions suggested by friends and relatives.