Situations Vacant (sic)

Whilst scanning Herald Appointments in this morning’s paper…

But soft.  Why am I scanning Herald Appointments?  Am I seeking a situation?  These notices used to come under the heading Situations Vacant, and I always used to wonder, why are they not “Vacant Situations”?  Are they placing the adjective after the noun, after the fashion of the French, to afford these job ads a certain exotic frisson?  I was a Student Medical, then an Intern Hospital, then a Physician Emergency, before I was a Practitioner General.  Maybe the reason why I pause to glance at the situations, is that I entertain the Mittyesque notion that, like some obscure, rusticated, long-forgotten Roman Consul, I am to be summoned from the plough to save the Empire.  I will be offered the situation of Bombatoory Big.

Anyway, whilst scanning Herald Appointments in this morning’s paper, I came across the following:

Lead Specialist

My first thought was we were talking about Pb, the 82nd element on the Periodic Table.  I may have been attuned to Pb because I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s wonderfully witty series of essays and short pieces, Burning Questions (Penguin Random House, 2022) one of which is Frozen in Time.  This relates to the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845, an attempt to discover the North-West Passage.  The crew of the exploring vessel apparently all succumbed to lead poisoning, due to the high lead content of the tinned food they were supposed to survive on. 

However, having read the rest of the job spec, I am reasonably sure (though not entirely certain) that the core business of this concern is not remotely plumbeous, that this situation has nothing to do with Pb, unless it is the Pb core of a pencil.  But see what you think.  I give the ad in full:

Lead Specialist

This role is specifically related to supporting the professional learning of classroom practitioners, wider educators, and support staff whilst contributing to the work of Lead Specialists within the team.

Education Scotland is looking for someone with a track record of innovation, development, and delivery relating to professional learning, leadership, and programme development and secure knowledge of effective models and approaches to professional learning development and facilitation. 

Clearly this utterance has been composed by a robot.  Let’s give it the critical run-down.  What does it mean?  What is the job that is on offer, and what will be the successful applicant’s contribution to the organisation as a whole, whatever its function?

It seems to have something to do with education.  The key words here are “learning”, “classroom”, and “educators”.  Aside from the fact that Education Scotland has placed the ad, these three words provide the only clues as to what this job may entail.  The nature of the education, whether it be primary, secondary, or tertiary, adult, extramural, vocational, and so on, is not stipulated.  The job does not appear to be for a teacher as such, but seems to be a supportive role, supporting not only educators, but also “support staff”.  You will be in the second tier of support, offering support to the support, clearly not on the front line, at the chalk face.  You as a Lead Specialist will also be contributing to the work of other Lead Specialists.  There is a team of Lead Specialists. 

What qualifications do you need in order to join this team?  You need “a track record of innovation, development, and delivery”.  In other words you need to have thought of an idea, worked it up, and made it real.  For example, if you were a baker, you might say, “I think I’ll bake a cake today!”  That’s the idea.  You assemble the ingredients and put them in the oven.  That’s the work-up.  You take it out of the oven and serve it up.  That’s the delivery.  Is it any good?  The proof of the pudding is in the eating. 

Any requirement for previous job experience in any walk of life can be spelled out in terms of “innovation, development, and delivery”.  That is a template for all of the one-one-one social interactions that take place millions of times every day and which ensure our communities survive and prosper. All of these encounters, at the supermarket checkout, the doctor’s surgery, the care home, the citizens’ advice bureau, the lawyer’s office, the police station, involve the innovation of an exchange of courtesies, the development of a communication, and the delivery of an end result.  What is specific about the innovation, development, and delivery sought after by Education Scotland?

This is where this particular advertisement becomes most obscure.  Read its second paragraph again.  This is the paragraph in which it becomes evident that we are being addressed by a robot.  The innovation, development, and delivery apparently relate to six entities: (1) professional learning (2) leadership (3) programme development (4) secure knowledge of effective models (5) approaches to professional learning development and (6) facilitation. 

This extraordinarily clumsy sentence could be rendered marginally more intelligible by the insertion of a comma after the word “development” in the second of its three manifestations, and by the addition of the word “of” after “models” in order to indicate that the models relate to both “professional learning development” and “facilitation”.  But these syntactical improvements would not conceal the fact that this sentence is, basically, meaningless.  This is why it has all the hallmarks of a sentence generated by a robot.  It is as if some inert and soulless contraption has blown a fuse, short-circuited, and started to spew forth clusters of gibberish of the sort sometimes articulated by obtunded, semicomatose individuals, and known as “word salads”.  Note again the abstraction, the lack of specificity: leadership… programme development… effective models… facilitation…  It could be an ad for the manager of an Amazon warehouse, or a call centre, or a plastics recycling centre, or for the next director of the CIA, or NASA.   

But who on earth would read an ad like this, smack it with the back of his hand, and declare, “That’s the job for me!  That’s got my name written all over it!”  How sad would such an individual have to be? 

Well, such an ad might appeal to somebody who was not disconcerted by a disconnect between a thought experiment, and reality.  Such a person might innovate a model, with scant regard as to whether it reflected the real world.  I once sat on a hospital committee, chaired by a manager, entasked with the brief to produce a description of the hospital’s disaster preparedness.  As the Clinical Head of the hospital’s Emergency Department, I soon became aware that the document being produced was not a Disaster Plan which could immediately be implemented, but an entirely theoretical treatise, little more than a wish list.  I protested, in vain.  I once heard a manager in the same institution say, without any trace of irony, “If it works, break it.”  In other words, playing around with ideas in a recreational way is an end in itself.  You construct a model, and don’t worry if it works, or doesn’t work, in reality.  After you’ve done that you can move to the next stage of abstraction.  You construct a word salad, and don’t worry if it is entirely devoid of meaning.  Once you have succeeded in joining up sentences that say nothing at all, your transfiguration is complete.  You have become a robot.             

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