Pity the Child Who Has Ambition…

“Pity the child who has ambition, knows what he wants to do
Knows that he’ll never fit the system others expect him to” (Chess)

When I blogged about youth unemployment just over a year ago I pointed out that many of the traditional lower skilled entry level jobs within the economy were now being done by unemployed graduates. The level of youth unemployment had been rising since 2001 and the level attributable to 16-18 year olds (ie those leaving school at 16) was close to 50%, with the very real possibility that many of those would never know permanent, full time work.

And when I blogged about the future organisation I drew attention to the fact that the UK is a world leader in underutilising the skills of its graduates.

Well, another week another group of articles appear in my timeline all with views on what tomorrow’s workforce need to do to be ready for work. You know tomorrow’s workforce… the one whose hard work and taxes will pay for our pensions, healthcare and the like.

First up was Allister Heath suggesting that we stop encouraging kids to go to university.  He tells us that only 5 of the 30 fastest growing professions in 2020 will require a university degree and 10 will require no qualification at all. The first three he mentions are retail sales staff, food preparation (including fast-food restaurant jobs) and customer service reps…all roles that graduates currently do. I’m guessing that business to business sales people don’t really need a degree either but having one has largely been a pre-requisite for these roles for years.

Unsurprisingly for a right of centre commentator, especially one who also speaks for the Taxpayers Alliance, it’s the State’s fault that graduates end up as baristas…as if the private sector never wanted better educated trainees. They don’t need further education, they need work experience and traineeships which the State has to enable and guarantee. So having got the kids to largely fund their own further education it now needs to be replaced by state/taxpayer funded work experience. “To many employers, university education has become little more than a signalling device, a means to filter out potential staff” he identifies.

And there’s also a strong recommendation for Gove’s sepia tinged longing for applied maths, Latin and cold showers…whereas I would have thought programming and communication would be much more important. Soft skills for a social world.

The view from the US was more optimistic and creative. Children shouldn’t be college ready but innovation ready – “We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative”.

No longer will they be able to ‘find’ a job as previous generations have, but instead will need to ‘invent’ a job.  As Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner says:

Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, but they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated — curious, persistent, and willing to take risks — will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own — a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear.

We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose

Clearly the view here is one of optimism and opportunity. Instead of relegating much of the future workforce to a life of shifting low paid work, and turning the clock back for education, as Heath seems to suggest, in the US article they look to Finland’s innovative economy “They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives — all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing

Back to corporate UK and we had the Homebase example. Here you had a major company recommending that store managers make use of the free labour available through workfare to do the work that may otherwise require paid employees – with an internal document bearing the message:

How the work experience program can benefit your store.
Would 750 hours with no payroll costs help YOUR store?

So is this the ultimate future for the lower skilled workforce? A variable cost, paid by the taxpayer to provide free labour to the private sector in the hope that this may help them secure a paid assignment elsewhere?

And finally we square the circle with the latest research from the New Employment Foundation. A perfect conundrum:

Those with good graduate degrees are facing months of unemployment or free interning in order to gain access to paid work. Those with no or few qualifications are being left out in the cold


Graduates who “dumb down” their employment aspirations can find themselves stuck in low-skilled jobs for years

So there we have it. You don’t need a degree because most future jobs don’t need one…but then if you haven’t got a degree you may not be considered for the jobs that don’t need one.

And if you take any job, because work must pay…then you risk not being considered for a job that really pays.

But ultimately…it’s down to you to create your own job anyway…


Some Thoughts About Youth Unemployment

I’ve been worried about youth unemployment for some time. The recent rise to a figure over a million has really put this at the top of the agenda, both politically and in our everyday lives. Most readers will know someone who is either trying to get a start in the world of work, or will be doing so in the next few years.

But the problem is much wider than we think. The uncomfortable truth is that youth unemployment has been rising stubbornly for 10 years or more. The global downturn has thrown more graduates on the job seeking queues but for one category this has been happening for years.

The graph below shows how youth unemployment rose from 11.7% in 2001 to 19.6% in 2010 (it’s over 21% now) – between 1990 (not on graph) and 2001 it rose very slightly, from 10.4% to 11.7%, but between 2001 and 2008 (start of the recession) it rose from 11.7% to 15%…and this is during an economic boom.











Now look at this graph – taken from a House of Commons briefing document on Youth Unemployment from January 2011 – which shows it much more starkly, and also shows where the real problem lies… Continue reading “Some Thoughts About Youth Unemployment”