Convenor Keynote 2019

The Australian Career Book Award – supported by the RSA ANZ 2019

Career books at work!

Australian Career Book Award Finalist Books 2019

When the Award Committee reviews the nominated books it uses the award criteria – readable, reachable, reliable, relevant, and researched.

You’d hope that every career book would be readable, but what we mean by this is ‘do the writers understand the audience and purpose of their books … and do they engage with their readers?’ We all like a good story, and this helps us to keep turning the pages so that narrative becomes education, and education becomes career development, and career development becomes career action. There’s a true story about Cecil B. de Mille being interviewed. The journalist asked him how he went about making his blockbuster movies. The answer was: ‘I like to start with the volcano, and work up from there.’ We don’t have any volcanoes in this year’s books, but we do have the Christchurch earthquake, an engine explosion on an Airbus A380, and a spiral-dive landing into a Middle East war zone … I also recall a helicopter in a swimming pool! 

These are great openings and great stories, but for most of us with modest careers in the city or the suburbs, these are not things we’d usually encounter in our daily commute. Our bland workplace, however, is where our volcanoes and exploding engines lurk to ambush our jobs and careers, and our confidence. In the award we want to see how writers turn drama into education – and education into career development. I suppose it’s then up to the readers to turn that into career action. That’s why we’re so interested in reader engagement, and why we’re looking at the techniques writers use to keep the pages turning.

But … this writing artistry must be balanced by reliable and relevant research to cement the fiduciary relationship between writer and reader. There’s plenty of relevant high-quality Australian research presented by institutes like the University of Melbourne Centre for Workplace Leadership and the Swinburne University Centre for the New Workforce , not to mention the BIG4 firms like Deloitte and PwC. We’re also informed by international takes on work issues – as long as they are accurate for Australia. The RSA Future Work Centre has scoped four ‘scenarios’ on Future Work, and reminds us that nothing is pre-determined and many options exist. The scenarios are: 

  • The Big Tech Economy where AI dominates business production and work processes, and human underemployment is widespread. Goods are cheap and efficiencies in public services are beneficial;
  • The Empathy Economy is a world of responsible stewardship where automation is contained by regulation, and the benefits of higher living standards flow to the wider society;
  • The Precision Economy is a world of super-surveillance of low-paid humans, and a boom of Uberisation turning resentment into liberation; and 
  • The Exodus Economy shows protracted economic slowdown after a GFC-style financial meltdown that destroys many physical firms and businesses, and leads to ‘yellow vest unrest’. Old-style economic co-operative models rebound, but with a high-tech shine.

These four scenarios have positives and negatives, and we need to control them, before they control us. At the Australian level, the positives and negatives of the Commonwealth Government’s Robodebt tracking system with pensioner accounts may show us which scenario we’re moving towards. I think I’d prefer the Empathy Economy!

As an example of the RSA ANZ commitment to linking reliable research to real work issues in Australia, next year during National Careers Week the award will be launched with a workshop with the Foundation for Young Australians on using recent research for career development practitioners. 

We don’t expect writers to turn their readers into research experts, but we do expect them to use reliable research to educate their readers, and turn education into career development with engaging text, challenging propositions that excite and extend the reader, practical exercises that commit the reader to action, and reliable information to assist career decisions. 

This research has to be balanced with readability, and engaging the reader. Even ‘engaging the reader’ needs to be balanced with the need of the writer to present the challenge of change. Nobody buys a career book to stay the same!! Most career writers do intend to change lives. Robert Gerrish in The 1 minute commute uses a well-known quote from Henry Ford: ‘If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses’. So writers have the mission of expanding the horizon by engaging the reader with accurate information in the reader’s play space so that infotainment, becomes education, education becomes career development, and career development becomes career action. And to assess how the writers balance these factors and keep their readers turning the pages we use the award criteria – readable, reachable, reliable, relevant, and researched.

Lawrence Arnold – Award Convenor                                                                    October 2019