The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “unemployment”

Unemployment is a structural problem in capitalism

I came across this post the other day and thought it worth sharing:

Whatever political colour we happen to be, let’s not deny that all systems have their problems.  Everything is inter-related.



Who should prepare young people for work?

In a recent interview with the Daily Mail (albeit not exactly Britain’s most reliable source of news), Nick Hurd, minister for Civil Society has been quoted as having expressed a number of concerns about the fitness for work of Britain’s school leaving generation:

“young people are failing to find work because they lack ‘grit'”;  “social skills and discipline are every bit as essential for success as qualifications – yet they are not being taught in schools”;  “the ‘crushingly low’ self-confidence of many youngsters [affects] their employment prospects”;  “[employers] are saying [they] are not seeing enough of [the so-called soft skills, character skills, the ability to get on with different people, to articulate yourself clearly, grit, self-control] in kids coming out of school”

A message that has unfortunately been timed to coincide with those same young people receiving their GCSE results, surely not the best way to build confidence and resilience and help their employment prospects!

The Daily Mail article goes on to quote economic analyst at the Left-wing think-tank, Spencer Thompson: “employers … value employability and those skills are lacking among young people.  They need people who turn up on time, look presentable and know how to present themselves in an interview”.  And the British Chambers of Commerce  who say bosses are disheartened, if not downright frustrated by school leavers.

None of this of course is entirely new: Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and Socrates (469-399 BCE) are both much quoted as having complained about the youth of their day!

Nick Hurd’s interview has obviously struck a chord in other quarters, with articles appearing in Huffington Post, The Times, and the London Evening Standard, and more, each bringing their own take on the subject of what the statistics show is an increasing number of young NEETS (not in education, employment or training).  Ignoring the irrelevant personal attacks on Nick Hurd in some of the articles and comments they have attracted, some very valid points are made about the availability of jobs.

But what is the view of the educators?  Should schools be teaching the ‘soft-skills’: such as self-confidence, grit (defined here by Wikipedia) and self-control?  Actually, I can imagine teachers around the country reading this interview and shaking their heads in dismay.  These skills are promoted in schools if only to achieve the purpose of actually providing children with an academic education.

Can school truly prepare children for work?  I don’t think so, only work experience can really do that.  I remember well my first week of work after eleven years of education.  It was a shock!  But I got over it.  And in the year that followed I changed, I grew up a lot.  But that was a long time ago.

I would suggest that some things have changed in the intervening years:

* there are fewer jobs open to young people with little or no previous work experience; this is because
* the modern work environment of short-term contracts, pressure on productivity, the demise of the manufacturing industry in favour of trades that depend on the “soft-skils”, etc, is less conducive to giving young people the opportunities to gain experience; and
* modern apprenticeships have not filled the gap of the demise of the old-style apprenticeships; also
* young people are encouraged to expect more – more money, more responsibility, more rights – before they have learned how to earn or handle these things.

One thing hasn’t changed:

* as any parent will recognise, young people in their mid-teens are still a complicated mixture of adult and child, mature in some respects, immature in others.

The good news is that research in recent years is beginning to help us understand adolescent development.  International reports from National Geographic, Harvard Magazine, National Institute of Mental Health and other less academic websites tell the same story.  The adolescent brain is still developing – it is neither child nor adult, some of which goes a long way to explaining what is seen as typical teenage behaviour and accounts for the dichotomy of how the teenager can seem sensible one minute and act completely immature or out of character the next.  While frustrating parents (and employers) this apparent delay in brain development seems to play an essential role in providing teenagers with an adaptability as they find their own path into what is for them still an unknown adulthood.  In fact the research suggests that the brain is still ‘adolescent’ to varying degrees until the mid or even late 20’s.  See also articles here and here.

None of this is an argument for increasing the school leaving age, a concept popular with politicians, rather the opposite.  Teenagers don’t need another year or two of the same cloistered environment they have been in for the last 11+ years.

To help the teenage brain develop and strengthen the neural pathways, the frontal cortex, etc, to increase their skills of assessment of risk and what might be summed up in what we call common sense, they need new experiences; experiences akin to work in the real world; they need an employment system (not just employers) who can provide young employees with appropriate boundaries (such as time-keeping) and space to develop and grow in skills and experience; they need the opportunity to experience working with others of different generations and experience (unlike school where children are generally kept with others close in age to themselves), observing and learning from adulthood ‘on the job’.

But for now, the problem is that employers, and Nick Hurd, are asking of teenagers something their brains are just not wired to provide.  Teaching in schools will not overcome biological development.  Just as we can see that it’s silly to expect a week old baby to be walking and running like a six year old, as a society we need to understand that an invisible development is still going on for the teenager.

That’s not an excuse for bad behaviour.  It’s not a reason to allow teenagers and even young adults to cause mayhem.  It’s recognising that as a society, as employers, as government, we all have a role to play in enabling and supporting young people, teenagers and young adults to complete their natural development.

Young people don’t need to be told they are lacking essential skills, self confidence, the ability to get on with different people, etc.  They need to be told that they are moving through the next phase of their development and learning of life skills.  They need the opportunity to move out of the cloistered environment of school and into work (or further education).  Perhaps further research show the effects on brain development of young people who don’t get the opportunity these opportunities: will their brains continue to mature or will they remain ‘forever adolescent’?

Although the National Citizen Service volunteering programme (mentioned in the same article in the Daily Mail), providing young people with “two weeks of team-building skills while living away from home … then return to run a charity venture of their choice in a local area” seems good, what is really needed is for the government and employers to work together to create real jobs, earning real money, in real work environments, and not pass the buck to schools and teenagers to deal with something that is actually outside their scope to change.

Teacher training at PoundWorld

Yup, you got it right.  Teacher training, or should I say, NQT’s CPD (Newly Qualified Teacher’s Continuing Professional Development) is still available at PoundWorld courtesy of local agencies acting on behalf of the DWP (Department of Work & Pensions) in applying UK Government policy.

For anyone not familiar with the modern British High Street, allow me a diversion.  If you want to skip straight to the point – Getting your CPD at PoundWorld – click here.

PoundWorld is everything the name implies.  It’s the world of the Pound, where everything costs one British pound.  Like competitors Poundland, Poundstretcher and 99p Stores, the coin in your pocket, that nice little round pound, reigns as it jingles in the tills.

Since the world hit the credit crunch and we went into global recession in the late 2000’s, these stores have triumphed, alongside their multi-priced counterparts such as Wilkinsons, Shoe Zone and Superdrug.  Customers needing to eke out the pennies are on the lookout for new ways to save.  Shoppers who might normally have frequented the likes of Waitrose (probably the most up-market supermarket in the UK) and Marks & Spencer food courts started looking to Sainsbury’s and Tescos to stretch their pounds a little further.  Tesco’s have found themselves competing more with Aldi and Lidl, while Asda, the great British version of Wal-Mart, has hung on in there with its bottom tapping logo.

With the UK’s austerity measures still in full force there is little to entice the shopper away from these super discount stores.  Their strength will grow, if predictions from the Centre for Retail Research comes about, with a decline of as much as 20% or more in shops in the High Street and town centres by 2018, as they give way to Internet and supermarket shopping habits.  It will be the small independent retailers who will suffer the most.

Of course the PoundWorld’s of the world are not new in their strategies.  F W Woolworth set the scene over 100 years ago when he started his five cents and dime store in New York in 1878 and effectively founded modern retailing methods.  Modern management lost sight of their founder’s thinking and failed to develop a modern image, until debts and lack of profitability saw the closure of the main chain brand, with the UK division effectively declaring themselves bankrupt in November 2008.

Woolworth’s demise was PoundWorld’s opportunity.  In August 2011 the Guardian reported the chain had set their sights on filling the gap left by Woolworth’s.  Partly with more PoundWorld stores and partly with their multi-priced smaller chain, Discount UK (prices ranging from 28p to £25).  At the time the Yorkshire based firm had 120 PoundWorld stores and 13 Discount UK stores but by taking advantage of the credit crunch and the recession plan to more than double the number of outlets over three years.  By the time they were taking over bankrupt Peacocks stores in March 2012 their count had already risen to 130 PoundWorld stores and over 30 Discount UK stores.

Like so many High Street and out of town centre stores, PoundWorld don’t bother to specialise, except in getting those pretty little pounds into their tills.  They sell groceries, clothing, toys, household goods, stationery, pretty much anything.

In June 2013 they hit the headlines when they introduced ‘the world’s cheapest bra’ at …. Yup, £1.00.  World’s cheapest?  Is that true?  Well it’s not really true.  Britain’s favourite red-top, The Sun, were happy to report the new product and it got it’s very own product review on the Huffington Post.  PoundWorld were delighted to report that in just one day 100,000 were sold but it was left to the Metro blog to point out that the bra is a ‘loss leader’ for PoundWorld.  Even made in China it costs PoundWorld more than £1.00 to buy and sell the bra in what is a common marketing tactic: get the customers in with a bargain loss leader and hopefully they will buy other items that are sold at a profit.

Getting your CPD at PoundWorld

So what has this got to do with Teacher Training and Continuing Professional Development?  Good question.  I might like to ask that of People First, just one agency who placed a Newly Qualified Teacher with a PoundWorld store as suitable work experience.  But they are only complying with the requirements of the UK Government to put long term unemployed people into placements allegedly to give them a better chance in job-hunting by getting something positive on their CV.

And the various ‘pound stores’ are up there in the front of the queue looking for free staff.  After all, it’s not a particularly difficult job they are offering.  Low cost goods, high volume sales and high turnover, staff are mainly required to operate the tills, restock the shelves and keep the store to the required levels of cleanliness and tidiness.

However, I can’t imagine any head teacher seeing two weeks unpaid ‘work experience’ at a High Street discount store as being particularly relevant to the job of teaching in a school.  Communication skills might have been required, dealing with the general public, but literacy and numeracy levels are unlikely to have been enhanced by the experience, and, until the school subject ‘retailing’ takes off it is unlikely to have enhanced their particular field of study.

This is not a new story.  In February 2013 a court ruled as illegal this kind of pointless (and unpaid) work placement.  That this young woman’s placement at Poundland took her away from voluntary work that was probably more relevant to her CV makes this continuing policy even more bizarre.

I have no objection to the principle of ‘work experience’ for people who have been unemployed for a long time.  I also don’t think that graduates should be exempt from work experience just because they are graduates.  I don’t even object to companies such as PoundWorld benefiting from some free staffing if it helps the person who is actually unemployed.  But this is so often not the case as these stories illustrate.  These schemes and these placements have more to do with massaging the statistics and being seen to be doing something when nothing is being done.  Until back-to-work programmes become flexible enough to take into account the skills and needs of the individual these farcical situations will remain.

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